Early History of Bird Ecology in Acadia

by Catherine Schmitt, Science Communication Specialist

The lives of humans and birds have always been intertwined. Beyond being a source of food, birds figure prominently in Wabanaki culture and attracted the attention of European and American naturalists beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Early “bird ecology” consisted of documenting the presence, absence, and abundance of bird species in a given location.

The earliest bird specimens from Acadia are a pair of flycatchers from 1869, collected by Roland Thaxter on Mount Desert Island. Other early collectors included Charles Foster Batchelder, William Brewster, Henry Munson Spelman, and Charles Wendell Townsend. Spelman and Townsend were members of the Champlain Society, a group of Harvard students who conducted the first comprehensive natural history surveys on Mount Desert Island in the 1880s.

By the twentieth century, photography and extensive museum collections made it unncessary for people to kill birds in order to study them. There was also increasing concern for the welfare of birds, culminating in 1896, when Harriet Lawrence Hemenway of Boston organized her friends (including Maine writers Sarah Orne Jewett and Celia Thaxter, mother of early bird collector Roland Thaxter) into what became the Audubon Society.

The Champlain Society’s bird list was used by Francis Henry Allen in “A Preliminary List of the Summer Birds of Mount Desert Island, Maine” circa 1900, issued by the Joint Path Committee of the Village Improvement Societies of Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and Seal Harbor. Other birders refined the list over time, as study expanded to focus on migration, breeding, habitat, and interaction with other species.

Through visual observation, photography, and bird banding, Eleonora Morgan, Margaret Bodine, Helen C. Gilbert, Mrs. Franklin Anthony, Marion Pellew, Cordelia Stanwood, Carroll Tyson, James Bond, Acadia National Park naturalist Arthur Stupka, and Barbara Patterson contributed to knowledge of Acadia’s birds through the middle of the twentieth century.

These lists and associated notes suggest that seabirds like Black Guillemot and Common Tern are more common today, while migratory songbirds like Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Chestnut-sided, Magnolia,  and Bay-breasted Warblers are less common. Data from current monitoring programs coordinated by Schoodic Institute, such as Cadillac Mountain Hawkwatch and the annual Christmas Bird Count, are helping us better analyze changes in bird populations over time.

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June 2020

Acadia Birds by Land and Sea II – CANCELLED

June 19 @ 3:00 pm - June 23 @ 10:00 am

Due to COVID-19, this event has been CANCELLED and may not be rescheduled.  Please continue to check our website calendar…

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Puffins of Petit Manan 2020 I – CANCELLED

June 26 @ 5:30 pm - June 27 @ 3:00 pm
Schoodic Institute, 9 Atterbury Circle
Winter Harbor, ME 04693 United States
Puffin sitting on water with fish in its beak

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July 2020

Puffins of Petit Manan 2020 II – CANCELLED

July 3 @ 5:30 pm - July 4 @ 5:30 pm
Schoodic Institute, 9 Atterbury Circle
Winter Harbor, ME 04693 United States

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Puffins of Petit Manan 2020 III – CANCELLED

July 10 @ 5:30 pm - July 11 @ 3:00 pm
Schoodic Institute, 9 Atterbury Circle
Winter Harbor, ME 04693 United States

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Puffins of Petit Manan 2020 IV – CANCELLED

July 17 @ 5:30 pm - July 18 @ 3:00 pm
Schoodic Institute, 9 Atterbury Circle
Winter Harbor, ME 04693 United States

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Puffins of Petit Manan 2020 V – CANCELLED

July 24 @ 5:30 pm - July 25 @ 3:00 pm
Schoodic Institute, 9 Atterbury Circle
Winter Harbor, ME 04693 United States

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August 2020

Puffins of Petit Manan 2020 VI – CANCELLED

August 14 @ 5:30 pm - August 15 @ 3:00 pm
Schoodic Institute, 9 Atterbury Circle
Winter Harbor, ME 04693 United States

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Acadia Birds by Land and Sea III – CANCELLED

August 21 @ 3:00 pm - August 25 @ 10:00 am

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Winged Migration Birding Tour – CANCELLED

August 28 - September 1

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September 2020

Fall Migration Workshop – CANCELLED

September 10 @ 3:00 pm - September 12 @ 10:00 am
Schoodic Institute, 9 Atterbury Circle
Winter Harbor, ME 04693 United States

Due to COVID-19, this event has been CANCELLED and may not be rescheduled for 2020.  Please continue to check our…

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