News & Features

Somerset Hosting the 2016 Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology Annual Meeting, May 20 -22

Upland Sandpiper, PA Endangered species, by Jake Dingel

Pennsylvania birders should start making plans to attend the 27th annual Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology (PSO) in Somerset, a premier birding location. The meeting will be held at the Quality Inn and Conference Center in Somerset on May 20 to 22. A diverse bird list is possible because of the variety of habitats ranging from high elevation forests to grasslands. There is a superb line-up of field trip destinations, including Somerset Lake Nature and Wildlife Park, Quemahoning Reservoir, North Fork Reservoir and Sammy Swamp, Flight 93 Memorial and game lands, the southern grasslands and farmlands, the Confluence area, Kimberly Run Natural Area, and Mount Davis area. The meeting’s many target species include Sora, Virginia Rail, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Henslow’s Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, and many more. This is one of the higher elevation locations of southwestern Pennsylvania and will surely produce a wide range of bird species including rarities. The Society also will be presenting awards to worthy recipients, Bob Mulvihill of the National Aviary and the Somerset County Conservancy.

2016 Osprey Nesting Survey

Osprey descending on nest by Jake Dingel

The Osprey is one of our most recognizable and popular raptors. Like the Bald Eagle, it is a charismatic bird of conservation concern strongly associated with aquatic habitats. Yet often it is found near humans. Unique in appearance, it is truly the “people’s fish hawk.” This year, the Game Commission is performing an extensive statewide survey of osprey nests. It is an initiative that’s not possible without the help of volunteers. Those who are interested in taking part can learn more at the Game Commission’s website,( Information on the nest survey is available on the Bird Conservation part of the Birding and Bird Conservation section under the Wildlife tab. Just download the Osprey Nest Survey Form along with the Nest Observation Protocol, and submit it to

April eBirder of the Month Challenge – Get Specific!

Perched Tree Swallow by Jake Dingel, PGC

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on fine-scale reporting and helps promote good eBird location selection habits. Almost everything in eBird depends on choosing your location correctly and precisely. Whether online or with eBird Mobile, having an accurate location associated with the birds you see makes your checklists accurate and thorough, helps you and others refind birds you report, and most importantly, gives scientists and conservationists the best possible data—allowing for everything from local analyses to global models. The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit 15 or more complete no-X checklists in April as stationary counts or traveling counts of two kilometers (1.25 miles) or less and five hours or less. This means a total of 15 lists is required as a minimum; if you think in miles, just shoot for one mile or less. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

The single most important thing in eBird is to report accurately how you went birding. If you covered 12.5 miles, please enter that as your distance in your traveling count. If you seawatched for 14 hours straight, we are impressed (!), but we also want you to report your duration accurately.

With that in mind, your eBird checklists are much more valuable if they are more specific. This includes both space and time.

2016 Working Together for Wildlife Features Great Blue Heron

2016 Working Together for Wildlife Patch

The 2016 Working Together for Wildlife program features the familiar and popular Great Blue Heron. This is a fitting choice because this iconic bird represents environmental quality and species recovery, two themes of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Great Blue Herons are our largest and most widespread long-legged wading bird. Now they are commonly found across the state but once they were rare and seemingly headed for extirpation.
Great Blue Herons are our “watchers of the wetlands” as well as other aquatic resources. Without clean water and the accompanying fish and other finny wildlife, there would be no herons. Over half of the state’s endangered and threatened bird species are dependent on wetlands, giving it special importance to the state’s biodiversity. The Working Together for Wildlife program provides a way for the public to support the nongame wildlife program of the agency. The heron’s long, stellate bill points the way to making an easy contribution to these efforts. The print “Blue Haze” and the 2016 Working Together for Wildlife patch are available as merchandise at the Outdoor Shop of Pennsylvania Game Commission. More information about Working Together for Wildlife and the agency’s Wildlife Diversity program can be found at the new website

Global Big Day the Pennsylvania Way – May 14

Crimson-colored Tanager in Nicaragua by Doug Gross

May 14, 2016. The second Global Big Day. We need your help to make it the biggest day of birding the world has ever seen. With less than three months until the day, it’s time to get started! Birds surely show us how political boundaries are fairly meaningless when it comes to migration and for birding. Our own state’s birds migrate to many other countries in the Western Hemisphere, prompting us to think globally when we consider the birding habit. Your checklists contribute to everyone’s understanding of the world’s birds wherever they were collected and submitted.

Last year, thanks to participation from eBirders worldwide, we were able to engage more than 14,000 people in 135 countries to submit almost 45,000 checklists, featuring 6,085 species of birds. All in a single day. More importantly, it introduced eBird to hundreds of new people, resulting in thousands of valuable checklists of bird sightings that are used for science and conservation worldwide. Thank you to all who participated, and we look forward to seeing many new faces joining the ranks this year!

Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz 2016 Starts Now!

Male Rusty Blackbird in habitat by Keith Williams

Birders are invited to participate in the 2016 Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz. The Spring Blitz has already begun in over half of the participating states in the south where Rusty Blackbirds spend the winter. Migration already has begun and probably will proceed even faster than previous years considering how mild the winter of El Nino was in 2015 – 2016. The birds are ready to move north! Officially, Pennsylvania Rusty Blackbird Spring Blitz spans from mid-March through late April, but it is worth looking now for Rusties in our state. Pennsylvania birders have contributed a tremendous amount of information about migration through the state in the last two years. Many of the gaps in coverage in 2014 were filled last year. This year can be even better with more participation. Check out the very informative Rusty Blackbird website which is chock full of resources: And to see how you can help check out the page

March eBirder of the Month Challenge: New Locations

A striking Lincoln's Sparrow at the Clinton County wetlands. By Wayne Laubscher

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on exploring new areas. eBirders have entered sightings from more than 3 million locations across every country in the world. Even though that sounds like a big number, there is still a lot we have yet to learn, and a lot of areas where we have very little information! In March we’re encouraging you to explore, and fill some of those knowledge gaps. The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit 1 or more complete no-X checklists in March from at least 15 locations new to your eBird account. This means a total of 15 lists is required as a minimum. These locations can be hotspots or any kind of location, they just have new in your specific eBird account. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month. In Pennsylvania, we have encouraged the discovery of new birding locations that fill in the gaps of our bird distribution knowledge. Most of the state’s birders live in the urban and suburban settings, but most birds are found outside those areas. Many rural counties receive poor eBird coverage even at easily accessible state parks, game lands, state forests, and county parks. It has been long said that birders should go “where no birder has gone before” to explore the possibilities in our state. With migration starting strong in 2016, there are many reasons to seek out new territories!

Citizen Science Reveals Annual Bird Migrations Across Continents

See the full map animation here

For the first time, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have documented migratory movements of bird populations spanning the entire year for 118 species throughout the Western Hemisphere. The study finds broad similarity in the routes used by specific groups of species—vividly demonstrated by a brand new animated map showing patterns of movement across the annual cycle. The results of these analyses were published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The Strange El Nino Winter

American Robin eating Staghorn Sumac by Jake Dingel, PGC

Normally, Pennsylvania birders are talking winter finches, Snow Buntings, and Snowy Owls at this time of year. At least that is what we want to remember about our winter birding. In reality, winters are quite variable and none are quite alike. For me, this has been an odd winter of robins and vultures. Yes, I know that there have been those very rare oddities of flycatchers, tanagers, and other vagrants, but I have had lots of robins in my own backyard and get calls about vultures in places just down the road. What? This is supposed to be winter! It has been mild, so American Robins, Hermit Thrushes, and other frugivorous semi-hardy species have been “short-stopping” in Pennsylvania, eating their way across the state. Robins love wild fruits and berries, so they can spend time further north than usual if the winter weather stays away and there is lots of sumac, cedar, and holly berries around. There also have been some reports of Gray Catbirds which also eat a lot of wild fruits and can skulk in protected areas in brush and stream sides in cold times It has been so mild that many vultures and other raptors have stayed a bit further north than usual. This winter has seen more than its share of unusual visitors perhaps due to the curious weather patterns. Flycatchers, tanagers, and western oddities! The features of eBird allow users to see these records and even photographic evidence and sound recordings of the unusual finding. With longer days of February, more opportunities may present themselves for finding some of the El Nino birds. The Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend, giving everyone an excuse for adding to this incredible story.

eBirder of the Month Challenge for February

Northern Shrike by Jake Dingel

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on the mobile world. As of December 2015, eBird Mobile is available for FREE on both iOS and Android devices. eBird Mobile makes in-the-field data entry just a few taps away, no matter where you are in the world. Increased use of mobile provides greatly improved accuracy in counting, precise location selection, and overall birding effort information. And, no more data entry when you get home at the end of the day! The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit at least 15 complete no-X checklists using eBird Mobile in February. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.