From a birding standpoint, Maine can be divided into six regions, each with a characteristic mix of breeding bird species.
There is of course considerable overlap in these regions, and during the migration seasons these distinctions blur further as mixed flocks of shorebirds, passerines, raptors, and waterfowl take advantage of favorable habitat along their routes. During the winter months, interior Maine is largely deserted by all but the hardiest species, but the coast harbors large numbers of waterfowl, seabirds, and lingering passerines.
The following is a partial list of some of the better-known birding sites in Maine, the type of habitat represented, and what birds to look for in the region. Reports of unusual sightings and concentrations of interesting birds are recorded on the Maine Birds online discussion group.
- Interior & Southern Maine – Red Oak & White Pine Forests
- Northern Maine – The Maine Woods
- Western Mountains – Boreal Forest
- Southwest – Coast Salt Marshes & Sand Beaches
- Midcoast – Rocky Peninsulas & Spruce-lined Coves
- Downeast – Boreal Coast
Interior southern Maine is covered by a northern deciduous forest. Characterized by red oak, white pine, sugar maple, red maple, eastern hemlock and interspersed throughout with remnant and succeeding agricultural lands, this region supports birdlife similar to southern New England.
American Woodcock, Broad-winged Hawk, Ruffed Grouse, Alder and Great-crested Flycatchers, Black-capped Chickadee, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, Veery, Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Chestnut-sided and Nashville Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Song Sparrow are among the typical breeding species of the deciduous woodlands in this region.
American Bittern, Green Heron, Virginia and Sora Rails, Black Duck, Wood Duck, Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Swamp Sparrows are common in the many marshes and wetlands that dot the region.
Where to Bird
- Mount Agamenticus, York; deciduous forest, pocket wetlands; upland passerines, migrating hawks.
- Kennebunk Plains, Route 99, Kennebunk; blueberry barren; grassland species, including Grasshopper and Vesper Sparrows, Upland Sandpiper, Horned Lark, Prairie Warbler.
- Gray Meadow, Long Hill Road, Gray; wetland; waterfowl, herons, rails, Marsh Wren, wintering shrikes.
- Sebago Lake State Park, Casco; river, lakeshore, oak and pine woods; waterfowl and passerines, including Yellow-throated Vireo.
- Brownfield Bog, Brownfield; forested and emergent wetlands; waterfowl, rails, lowland passerines, including Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
- Sabattus Pond, Sabattus; lake; large concentrations of migrating waterfowl, including Ruddy Duck.
- Messalonskee Lake, Belgrade; lake, wetland; water birds, including Ringed-neck Duck, Black Tern.
North of Bangor the forest cover becomes progressively more transitional in character as balsam fir, spruce, tamarack, and cedar intermix with maple, beech, and birch. Sparsely populated but extensively managed by the wood products industry, this is a landscape of large forest tracts — and large clearcuts. It is also a well-watered landscape, with thousands of lakes, ponds, bogs, wetlands, streams, and rivers that are prime wildlife habitat (and nurseries for hordes of insects).
The abundance of food and large tracts of habitat support a high density of breeding birds, including many Neotropical migrants. For many birders, warblers are the region’s premier attraction; finding twelve to fifteen different species on a June walk would not be out of the question. In addition to warblers, some characteristic birds of this region include Common Loon, Northern Goshawk, Yellow-bellied and Olive-sided Flycatchers, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes, Rusty Blackbird, White-throated and Lincoln’s Sparrows, Purple Finch, White-winged Crossbill, and Evening Grosbeak.
Outside the northern forest, the blueberry barrens of Washington County and the agricultural area of eastern Aroostook County deserve attention from birders. The barrens in particular are a unique habitat well worth birding. Here one may find grassland birds in close proximity to those from the northern boreal forest, as well as strays from the nearby coast.
Now that logging roads penetrate virtually all of Maine’s northern forest, access to good bird habitat is almost unlimited. And because much of this vast region has never been thoroughly birded, the possibilities for discovering new hotspots are high.
Where to Bird
- Bangor Bog, Stillwater Ave., Orono; sphagnum bog, tamarack and spruce stands; waterfowl, wetland species, Palm and Wilson’s Warblers.
- Sunkhaze National Wildlife Refuge, Milford; bog, stream, wetland; northern wetland species.
- Lily Bay State Park, Moosehead Lake; lake and forest; Common Loon, forest birds.
- Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Calais; alder wetlands, ponds, forest; American Woodcock, northern warblers.
- Allagash Waterway, western Aroostook County; river, lakes, spruce-fir forest; the full cross section of northern forest avifauna.
- Christina Reservoir, Fort Fairfield; reservoir, farm land; migrating waterfowl.
- Deblois Barrens, Cherryfield; blueberry barrens, spruce-fir forest; Upland Sandpiper, Horned Lark, warblers.
The Appalachians extend into western Maine 200 miles from southern Oxford to northern Piscataquis counties. Average elevation in the region ranges between 1,500 and 2,000 feet, with numerous peaks over 3,000 feet. Katahdin is the highest point at 5,200 feet.
The climate in this picturesque region is relatively severe. Northern hardwoods cover many of the sheltered slopes, but a boreal forest of spruce and fir dominates the exposed and higher elevation areas. Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Northern Raven, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Winter Wren, Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Blackpoll Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco are all among the characteristic birds to be found here.
Many of the species that live in this region are among the most sought after by birders from all over the country. Although many of these birds are comparatively tame and allow close approach, they typically live in remote places that require some hiking.
Where to Bird
- Royce Mountain, Evans Notch area of White Mountain National Forest (trail access from Route 113); spruce-fir forest; Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee.
- Old Speck and Baldpate Mountains, Grafton Notch State Park; spruce-fir and northern hardwood forest; montane and boreal species.
- Bemis Mountain, Appalachian Trail southwest of Rangeley; spruce-fir and northern hardwood forest; Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, and other northern species.
- Saddleback Mountain, Appalachian Trail east of Rangeley; spruce-fir and northern hardwood forest; many warblers, Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and other northern species.
- Borestone Mountain, Elliotville; spruce-fir and northern hardwood forest; montane and boreal species.
- Baxter State Park, trails and perimeter road; mountains, spruce-fir and northern hardwood forest, lake, river; Water Pipits, all northern Maine species.
From Kittery Point to Casco Bay, the Maine coast is geologically and biologically an extension of the mid-Atlantic seashore. Distinguished by sand beaches and saltmarsh estuaries separated by rocky capes and headlands, the southwest coast offers breeding habitat for a number of species that reach the northern edge of their ranges here. In salt marshes, look for Glossy Ibis, Snowy Egret, Little Blue, Great Blue, Tri-colored, Green, and Black-crowned Night Herons, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard, Black Duck, Willet, Snipe, and Savannah and Sharp-tailed Sparrows. On the beaches, endangered Least Terns and Piping Plovers hold on as nesting species with help from Maine Audubon and other conservationists.
It is during the migration seasons and the winter, however, that the southwest coast offers the best birding. From mid May to early June, and then again from mid July through September, migrating shorebirds are on the move in Maine. At these times a birder may find 17 or more species of shorebirds, some in spectacularly large flocks. Mixed flocks of migrating landbirds also follow the coastline, stopping to rest and feed in available habitat that is also often easily accessible to birders. During the winter months the southwest coast easily provides the best birding in the state in terms of the number of species to be found.
The southwest coast is the most populous area of the state, and thus the most heavily birded.
Where to Bird
- Webhannet Marsh, Wells; saltmarsh, barrier beach; shorebirds, waders, wintering seabirds.
- Ogunquit’s Marginal Way; beach, ocean; wintering seabirds and waterfowl (Harlequin Duck and King Eider are regular).
- Biddeford Pool and East Point Sanctuary, Biddeford; tidal flats, headland, beach; shorebirds, seabirds.
- Scarborough Marsh, Scarborough; estuary, barrier beach, salt marsh, freshwater marsh; wading birds, waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors.
- Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth; headland, ocean; seabirds, wintering waterfowl, including Barrow’s Goldeneye.
- Evergreen Cemetery, Stevens Avenue, Portland; urban “oasis”; spring migrants (especially warblers).
- Portland Waterfront and Back Cove, Portland; tidal flat, harbor; gulls (including Black-headed, Iceland, Glaucous), shorebirds, waterfowl.
- Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary, Falmouth; estuary, salt marsh, fields; migrating shorebirds, wintering waterfowl, open-country species.
From Casco Bay to Penobscot Bay, Midcoast Maine is defined by long rocky peninsulas and island-studded bays. This is the beginning of the Atlantic boreal coast. The cool maritime climate and shallow soil favors a forest of red spruce and fir, which is in turn reflected by the land birds one finds here. Much like the mountain and northern forest regions, the Midcoast forest features a remarkable variety of northern warblers. Swainson’s Thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Dark-eyed Junco, and White-winged Crossbill are other typical species of the region.
The geology of this “flooded coast,” coupled with nine-to-11-foot tidal ranges, offers a diversity of habitat attractive to many bird species. Black Guillemots, which nest commonly along rocky shores, are the characteristic alcid, but Atlantic Puffins are increasing on offshore islands, as are Razorbills. Common Eiders are abundant throughout the year, while a dozen or so other waterfowl species spend October through April in the many coves and bays. Prominent, too, are terns and osprey, whose populations have rebounded from near collapse earlier in the century.
Midcoast Maine has been well scoped by birders. The geography is perhaps the most conducive in the state for finding vagrant migrants. And not only are there are a variety of habitats to cover, but the scenery is spectacular.
Where to Bird
- Bailey Island, Harpswell; headland, bay; a spring “migrant trap” for passerines (more than 20 species of warbler are possible here on a May morning).
- Basin Point, Harpswell; headland, bay; migrating fall raptors (especially falcons and accipiters).
- Merrymeeting Bay, Bowdoinham; river, mudflat, estuary; waterfowl, Bald Eagles and Osprey.
- Popham Beach State Park and Morse Mountain Preserve, Phippsburg; spruce forest, saltmarsh, barrier beach, ocean; northern warblers, wintering water birds (including Red-throated Loon), shorebirds.
- Reid State Park, Georgetown; spruce forest, saltmarsh, barrier beach, bay; northern warblers, wintering waterfowl (including Harlequin Duck).
- Pemaquid Point, Bristol; headland, ocean; seabirds, migrant passerines.
- Monhegan Island, offshore between Muscongus and Penobscot bays; headland shore, spruce forest, ocean; seabirds, migrant trap for passerines and raptors.
- Rockland Harbor, Rockland; harbor, bay; wintering gulls.
- Matinicus Rock; offshore
- Penobscot Bay; island ledge, ocean; alcids, terns, seabirds.
- Isle au Haut, off Deer Isle; spruce forest, headland, bay, ocean; wintering waterfowl (including Harlequin Ducks), boreal forest passerines.
From Mount Desert Island to Passamaquoddy Bay on the Canadian border, Maine’s Downeast coast has a distinctly boreal character. Cold, nutrient-rich water mixed by strong tidal currents supports a diverse marine food web, which includes many pelagic birds. The cold water is the cause of frequent fog that blows in over the exposed rocky shore, creating a lush environment for a northern maritime spruce-fir forest. Along the estuaries, a tidal range of up to 26 feet exposes vast mudflats for migrating shorebirds to feed.
Pelagic birds likely to be encountered offshore include Greater, Sooty, and Manx Shearwaters; Northern Fulmar, Wilson’s Storm-petrel, and Northern Gannet. On several offshore islands Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Leach’s Storm-petrels, and Arctic and Common Terns nest in the coast’s largest seabird colonies. Ashore among the spruce and fir one can find Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, and more than a dozen species of warblers.
East of Mount Desert Island, much of Downeast Maine is still remote with limited tourist traffic and services. Of all the regions in the state, this area offers probably the most interesting birding in terms of the species to be found — an area for serious birders to explore.
Where to Bird
- Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island (especially road to Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Ship Harbor trail, Big Heath); spruce forest, sphagnum bog, cove, headland, bay; boreal forest species, sea ducks.
- Schoodic Point, Winter Harbor; headland, ocean, spruce forest; winter pelagic birds, boreal forest species.
- Route 191, Machias to Lubec; various forest types, barren, heath, stream, headland, bay, ocean; breeding northern terrestrial and maritime species, wintering raptors, pelagics.
- Machias Seal Island, offshore from Cutler; seabird colony; alcids, terns, pelagic species.
- Lubec Flats, Lubec; tidal flats; migrating shorebirds, particularly in August and early September.
- Quoddy Head, Lubec; spruce-fir forest, headland, ocean; boreal forest birds, waterfowl, pelagic species.
- Passamaquoddy Bay, Eastport; bay; phalaropes, gulls, eagles.