Maine Bird Superlatives: Our Fastest, Heaviest, Oldest Birds, and More!

Don’t put away those decorations, because the holidays aren’t over yet: Saturday, January 5th is National Bird Day!

We at Maine Audubon are constantly celebrating our feathered friends, but for National Bird Day we wanted to share some of the superlative birds in our state. These are species that stand out in some way, that have surpassed all other Maine species in a particular attribute. Just as your high school yearbook included photos of the Most Likely to Succeed and Most Athletic, Maine’s birdlife has its own exceptional characters. Let’s get to them!

Maine’s Fastest Bird: Peregrine Falcon

This should come as no surprise, as many of us know that the Peregrine isn’t just the fastest bird in Maine, it’s the fastest creature on earth! These ferocious falcons can hit speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour during their famous hunting dives. What’s more, thanks to the work of Maine Audubon and many others, Mainers now have more chances to see these incredible birds in person. Peregrine Falcons were extirpated from the eastern United States by the mid-1960s, primarily due to the pesticide DDT, but have made an amazing comeback since then, and are now nesting in many parts of the state, including downtown Portland and Acadia National Park.

Heaviest Bird: Wild Turkey

Though you may think that larger birds like eagles or cranes might take this category, it’s the Wild Turkey that’s our heftiest. According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, large tom turkey can reach a whopping 25 pounds. Bald Eagles and Sandhill Cranes weigh much less, at about ten pounds each. Turkeys are another of Maine’s conservation success stories: after being hunted to extinction in the state they were re-introduced in the early ’80s and have since spread to much of the state.

A male Wild Turkey displays in the North Meadow at Gilsland Farm on March 30.
A male Wild Turkey displays in the North Meadow at Gilsland Farm on March 30.

Lightest Bird: Ruby-throated Hummingbird

On the other end of the spectrum from the Wild Turkey is the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Our state bird the Black-capped Chickadee weighs just 0.39 ounces but is a giant compared to our only regularly-occurring hummingbird. Ruby-throats register at just 0.11 oz., barely heavier than a penny.  Look for them zipping around your flower beds in summer.

Loudest Bird in Maine: Whichever One Is Singing Outside Your Window While You’re Trying to Sleep

Unfortunately, our staff here wasn’t able to come to a conclusive answer as to what Maine’s loudest bird is. But we all know that the loudest bird is always whichever one wakes you up in the morning! Maybe it’s an American Robin, singing well before dawn. Maybe it’s a Mourning Dove on your windowsill, cooing away. We all love bird songs, but we love our sleep too!

Largest Wingspan: Bald Eagle

When you see one it’s obvious: Bald Eagles are huge. A soaring adult Bald Eagle spans about 80 inches — nearly 7 feet — from wingtip to wingtip. We’ve got other large birds in Maine, but none of them beat our national bird. Sandhill Cranes are close, between 73 and 77 inches, while others are further back: Turkey Vultures average a 67 inch wingspan, Osprey are about 63 inches, and Great Blue Herons can hit 72 in.

A Bald Eagle perches on a pine tree along the Sheepscot River.

Longest-lived Bird: Manx Shearwater

Believe it or not, certain species of seabird can live to be the oldest on earth. You may have heard of Wisdom, the female Laysan Albatross who was born on Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 1951 and has returned each year since, and who laid her most recent egg in December 2018. Wisdom is the oldest confirmed wild bird in the world … but Laysan Albatross don’t live in Maine. However, a smaller but related seabird species, the Manx Shearwater, does breed on Matinicus Rock in the Gulf of Maine. Manx Shearwaters have been found elsewhere to live at least 55 years, making these birds likely the longest-living in the state.

Deepest Diver: Thick-billed Murre

Some seabirds are as home in the water as they are in the air. Loons, cormorants, puffins, Razorbills, guillemots, and other species are all adapted to hunt fish underwater. Of the birds found in Maine, the species recorded diving the deepest is the Thick-billed Murre. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Thick-billed Murres have been recorded swimming 690 feet down in pursuit of fish!  These beautiful black-and-white seabirds only visit Maine waters in the winter and can be hard to spot – in part because they spend so much time underwater!

Highest Flier: Mallard

I bet you didn’t see that coming! The lowly Mallard – overlooked denizen of city parks – has been recorded flying at over 21,000 feet, or about four times the height of Mt. Katahdin.  The world record for highest-flying bird is the Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture of Africa, which was seen flying at 37,000 feet above the Ivory Coast.

Most Populous: Mourning Dove (we think)

It’s difficult to know for sure what species is the most numerous in Maine. There are certainly a lot of European Starlings, but they’re largely concentrated in developed areas and farm lands. There are always a lot of gulls and House Sparrows and Black-capped Chickadees around, but are they the most numerous? The best bet might be the Mourning Dove, which is estimated to be the most numerous bird in North America, with more than 350 million individuals. Mourning Doves breed in Maine, and though they aren’t seen in huge flocks like Starlings, they live an a large variety of habitats and so they’re nearly always around. The American Robin is next at 320 million, and European Starlings round out the top three at around 200 million.

Class Clown: Atlantic Puffin

Every class needs a Class Clown, and in Maine it’s definitely the Atlantic Puffin. Cute and bright and jovial, the Atlantic Puffin brings a smile to everyone’s face. When the Maine Mariners hockey team was looking for a new mascot, it was no surprise that they chose a puffin to lead the charge.

But, of course, every bird is a winner on National Bird Day! We hope that you celebrate all the birds you see on this holiday and throughout the year, each a superlative species in its own way.