• Atlas progress update: Winter birding
  • Atlas Corner: Winter courting waterfowl
  • Changes: Revising block completion guidelines
  • Species Spotlight: Long-eared Owl
  • Atlasing tips: Atlasing with long COVID
  • Bird Clubs: How clubs can support the Atlas
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December 2022

It’s the busy holiday season and that means…some birds are getting ready to nest! Yes, really! Even though the cold weather is just settling in and we haven’t had much snow yet, some birds are busy repairing their nests (ravens and eagles), while others are busy courting (waterfowl and Great Horned Owls). 

Be on the lookout for breeding activity when you go birding this winter and be sure to enter your observations in the Atlas portal. 

Learn which species to be on the lookout for this winter.

Winter Courting Waterfowl
Hooded Mergansers performing their courtship display © Marina Roell/Macaulay Library (ML286745661)

One of the most common questions we get is, “What do I do when I observe a breeding behavior outside of the breeding season?” For example, you observe some male Hooded Mergansers with white hood blazing, bobbing their head up and down, when it suddenly thrusts its head back and sticks out his chest while letting out a funny low growl sound. Courtship! But it’s December. Do you enter it in the Atlas or not? 

Find out why the answer is “yes”

Changes are Coming!

In the new year, we’ll be rolling out some changes we think you’ll be excited about. We’ve heard your feedback about the excessive time it takes to complete blocks according to the current block completion guidelines. We are in the process of revising the block completion guidelines to bring them more in line with our goals. We want to ensure we reach all priority blocks with an adequate level of effort. What we don’t want is people spending lots of time trying to confirm one or two birds when they could be covering another block. 

Look for the revised block completion guidelines in the next newsletter.

Are you participating in a Christmas Bird Count?
Don’t forget about the Atlas! If you detect any early nesting species doing anything, well, nesty, enter it in the Atlas portal. Early nesters count!
Learn more about the Christmas Bird Count.
Species Spotlight - Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl perched in a tree © Erin Sandle/Macaulay Library (ML409067461)

Long-eared Owls are among the most difficult birds to confirm breeding in NY. Though cryptic and enigmatic, they have the potential to breed in dense tree cover near open fields across the state. Their infrequent hooting, nocturnal nature, and tendency to hide out in dense conifer thickets make Long-eared Owls difficult, but exciting, to find. Surprisingly, they may be easier to find later in the breeding season when fledglings are mobile and actively begging for food from their more secretive parents. Nests can even be spotted during the day if you know where to look!

Click here to learn more about this illusive owl and how to find them.

Atlasing with long COVID
Molly Adams atlasing in the Adirondacks from her travel chair. Photo © Corey Rubin.

Molly Adams, founder of the Feminist Bird Club and former Atlas Regional Coordinator for the New York City area, was recently interviewed for BirdNote on public radio. She talks about how long COVID has impacted her birding and how appreciative she is that she discovered the slower pace of atlasing before she got sick. 

Her tip for people that can’t walk for long periods is to bring along a portable travel chair or stool and position yourself so you have a good but inconspicuous vantage point to observe their breeding behaviors without disturbing them. Some parks within priority blocks may have bird blinds and benches that you can use as well. You may also be lucky enough to live in a priority block or have a friend with a large deck in one! 

Atlasing doesn’t need to require a lot of walking or driving, we want everyone to be able to participate however they feel most comfortable. 

Listen to the BirdNote episode

State of the Birds—Tipping Species in NY
Evening Grosbeak on a branch © Jon Corcoran/Macaulay Library (ML325827431)

The State of the Birds 2022 was recently released, and it highlighted the achievements and challenges of bird conservation over the past 50 years. The report highlights 90 species that are not federally listed as threatened or endangered, but which have lost 50% or more of their breeding population. 

Some species, like Chimney Swift and Great Black-Backed Gull, might surprise you. 

The upshot is the strong population growth of waterfowl in the same time period, demonstrating that bird populations can stabilize and recover if we take action. 

Learn which tipping species breed in NY and how the Atlas supports their recovery.

How Bird Clubs can support the Atlas
There are a lot of ways bird clubs can get involved with the Atlas! "Birdwatching with grandpa Claytor Lake State Park Virginia" by vastateparksstaff is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Breeding season is pretty much over for 2022 but there are still ways you and your bird club can support the Atlas:

Another fun way to celebrate the Atlas is to get in on Big Atlas Weekend! In 2023, Big Atlas Weekend falls on June 23-25. Plan a field trip to a priority block near you, teach people how to use eBird, and record breeding behaviors for the Atlas! 

Upcoming Events

We don’t have any events coming up in December or January. Instead, we encourage you to participate in your local Christmas Bird Count, winter waterfowl count, first day of birding competition, Project Feederwatch, or other local birding event near you.

And while you are out this winter, don’t forget that some birds are busy doing more than just surviving the bitter cold! Please enter observations of breeding activity into the Atlas portal.

Get your swag on!
  • Visit our online store to purchase atlas-themed items. A percentage of the proceeds go to the Atlas. Look official while supporting the atlas!
  • Sponsor a Species of your choosing and have your name featured in the final Atlas product! Together we've raised $42,900!
  • Donate directly to the atlas. Donations go toward supporting outreach events and data collection all in the name of conservation.
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