Secretary’s Message – Resources for Birders in Maryland

Photo of man viewing a bird handler

Visiting the aviary at Tuckahoe State Park, photo by Anthony Burrows, Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The groundhog has emerged and says we will have an early spring. While the furry marmot from the north may lack meteorological training, it is true that spring arrives in a little more than six weeks, and we can start looking for its earliest signs in the coming weeks. 

One of spring’s most enduring signs is the arrival of more birds in Maryland, returning from their migration or just becoming more present as their food supplies become widespread. One of my own favorite harbingers of spring is the return of the osprey. These graceful birds of prey migrate each year from their winter homes in South or Central America to different parts of the U.S. Each year, more than 10,000 osprey breeding pairs summer in the Chesapeake Bay.  

However, birds are an important and fascinating part of Maryland’s wildlife scene all year. These animals bring a unique beauty to our diverse collection of wildlife and provide valuable insight into the health of our ecosystems and changes in climate.

Because of their importance, DNR conducts many efforts to monitor and protect the state’s bird populations through staff work, volunteer programs, and partnerships with outside organizations. We also encourage citizen scientists and bird enthusiasts to get involved.

One of DNR’s most popular efforts is Scales & Tales, an environmental education program of the Maryland Park Service, which affords people the opportunity to see wildlife, mostly native to Maryland, up close. This informative​ and entertaining program uses live, non-releasable birds of prey and reptiles to promote stewardship of our wildlife and other natural resources. In December, a Park Service team took two of our rescued eagles – Buck and Mo – to the White House in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. 

Earlier this month, we released our annual Midwinter Waterfowl Survey, which uses aerial surveillance over most of Maryland’s tidal shorelines and near-shore waterfowl habitat to estimate populations of ducks, geese, and swans. This survey allows our biologists to assemble a long-term picture of waterfowl abundance and distribution in Maryland. This year, the teams counted about 593,200 waterfowl, which was consistent with the most recent five-year average of 596,500 birds. The survey includes counts of the diverse waterfowl that visit our region each winter including diving ducks such as mergansers, canvasbacks, and buffleheads. 

An important research tool throughout the year is our use of bird-banding surveys to provide valuable information on a wide variety of migratory game birds. Bands recovered and reported by hunters provide valuable information about survival, migration, harvest rates, and distribution.

We welcome a number of volunteer organizations and citizen-scientists to help with this effort. 

Another important citizen science effort is the Breeding Bird Atlas of Maryland and the District of Columbia (BBA3), in which we encourage birders of all skill levels to contribute valuable data on the breeding status of our regional birds. We are now in the process of compiling our third such atlas, which began in 2020. Our goal for this comprehensive, 5-year field survey is to refine our knowledge of the current distribution, relative abundance, and the timing of breeding. 

This month, we encourage birders to get involved in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a nationally coordinated bird observation event, on February 17.

But if you are in it just for the fun, many of our State Parks host birding hikes throughout the year, or provide information in their visitors or nature centers that let you know what kind of birds you might find on their trails, and when. 

If you are looking for a pastime that can be as educational as it is enjoyable – any time of year – give birdwatching a try. Especially now, when we are between seasons of our favorite birds, the Ravens and Orioles. 

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