The Weekly Chirp: Massachusetts birding

Time to shift gears this week and give you all some details about the birding world that surrounds Tufts. And yes, it is indeed known as “birding,” not “birdwatching” —  a common misconception made by non-birders, or as birders call them, “the less fortunate.”

The state of Massachusetts, despite its small size, is home to hundreds of species of birds, and as a result, hundreds of birders as well. According to eBird, the international database for bird sightings all over the world, birders have recorded a total of 499 different avian species in the state (That’s insane!). I know what you must be thinking — how could a temperate state with such limited area host that much diversity? Well, it’s partly due to high birding intensity (more birders birding leads to higher chance of species detection) but results mainly from the fact that Massachusetts is geographically situated in one of the main migration routes of North America. Therefore, at least half of the close-to-five-hundred species simply utilize Massachusetts as a stopover area during their migration south from Canada in the fall, and their migration north from the tropics in the spring.

Favorite birding spots for most birders tend to be locations with high species densities, as they don’t want to have to work hard to see a lot of birds (mainly because they are old people and walking more than half a mile is fairly unfeasible). In Massachusetts, the quintessential examples of these favorite birders spots are Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Newbury and Mt. Auburn Cemetery in  Cambridge, Parker River NWR composes most of Plum Island, a barrier island connected to the Newbury/Newburyport coast by a small bridge. This is an ideal stopover spot for birds of all shapes and sizes, because a) most migratory birds follow the coastline during migration, and b) the presence of relatively undisturbed salt pannes, scrubby areas, pine forest, beaches and early successional forest provide most species with sufficient foraging opportunities. As a result, birders flock here (excuse the pun) every year during fall and especially spring migration to attempt to find as many species as they can. If you go on the right day during spring migration, it is possible to encounter over 100 species in a matter of eight joy-filled hours!

Mt. Auburn Cemetery is absolutely loaded with birds during both fall and spring migration as well, but it is an entirely different birding experience. Unlike most cemeteries, Mt. Auburn hosts a cluster of exotic tree species of differing structural diversity, which has converted it into a popular stopover spot for many migratory birds. In an area surrounded by urbanization, Mt. Auburn plays the same role as an island, particularly from the perspective of a bird — urban areas are undesirable places to rest, so birds all target the mosaic of trees amongst the sea of buildings. Mt. Auburn is especially popular for its astonishing warbler diversity during spring migration, and is a must-go for birders around the New England area.

Love always,