Melissa Laurino, November eBirder of the Month

By Team eBird 11 Dec 2023
Melissa Laurino, November 2023 eBirder of the Month holds camera while aboard a boat.
Melissa Laurino, November eBirder of the Month

Please join us in congratulating Melissa Laurino of Villas, New Jersey—winner of the November 2023 eBird Challenge, sponsored by ZEISS. Melissa’s name was drawn randomly from the 4031 eBirders who submitted 20 eligible shared checklists during November. Melissa will receive a new ZEISS SFL 8×40 binocular for her eBirding efforts. Thank you to everyone who participated in the November eBirder Challenge, we are grateful for your support and continued dedication to data collection and conservation. Here’s Melissa’s birding story:

Thank you for the honor of winning November 2023’s eBirder of the month!

I first became interested in birds while attending Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey working under John Rokita in the vivarium. I took Ornithology as an undergraduate student in close proximity to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. I now use eBird data as an adjunct professor when discussing speciation and gene flow using the hybridization of Black-capped Chickadee and Carolina Chickadee as an example.
I currently serve as the Research Director with Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center in Cape May, New Jersey. I curate our marine mammal photo-identification catalogs and oversee our undergraduate and graduate research internship program with our non profit, Cape May Marine Mammal Research Center. We use eBird to collect data and document sightings with Tom Reed from the Cape May Bird Observatory and other excellent leaders on our pelagic trips. Pelagic trips, ranging anywhere from 6, 12, or 24 hours long, are an excellent opportunity to explore, learn, and document diverse species of birds and marine mammals – including rarities like the Bermuda Petrel! The endangered Bermuda Petrel observed on a 24hr pelagic was the first state record for New Jersey.


Grey and white sea bird soars over open water.

Northern Fulmar © Melissa Laurino / Macaulay Library

In addition to pelagics, we have been lucky to document a few rarities close to shore too! While photo-identifying individual Bottlenose dolphins outside the Cape May inlet, we came across New Jersey’s first photographed record of a Masked Booby! Every trip is different when you are traveling in nature, you never know what you may see! The best thing about finding the Masked Booby was being able to share the experience with so many great friends made along the way. This unexpected encounter highlights the exciting unpredictability and biodiversity of our local waters.


A white-backed bird with dark wings and a gray face perches atop rocks, looking back at the photographer with the ocean as a backdrop,

Masked Booby © Melissa Laurino / Macaulay Library

I value the opportunity to research, educate and promote the conservation of local wildlife with Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center. As we continue to explore and learn, I am excited to see the potential impact our efforts may have on future conservation.


Two black birds with long necks, yellow bills and peachy cheek colorations sit atop a post and metal overhang.

Great Cormorant (North Atlantic) © Melissa Laurino / Macaulay Library