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Annual 'Bird-A-Thon' Scales Back As Birders Count From Home

Every year, Mass Audubon holds a 24-hour birding competition during peak migration season. But the coronavirus is forcing a redesign of this year's event, which starts Friday evening.

Since the 1980s, teams of birders have scattered to sites across the state — from nature sanctuaries to whaling boats — to see who can spot the greatest variety of species.

But since it's not safe right now to travel in groups and many parks are closed, Mass Audubon is asking participants to count birds from their homes or neighborhoods.

"We're going to put together a sort of a collective statewide total of birds, and use that as our flagship for this year's effort," said organizer Wayne Petersen, "as opposed to this highly competitive thing where one sanctuary is competing against another for these awards."

But Petersen said he's still expecting an eager crowd.

"People are looking for ways to commune with nature and to get outdoors, and so forth," he said. "I suspect a lot of people are, in fact, being more observant of things right in their yard, if they have feeders out, or if they've got nesting birds."

Petersen said last year's birders counted more than 270 species in 24 hours. He expects a similar number this weekend, as the recent warm weather makes it likely birds are passing through Massachusetts on their way north.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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