The virginia rail is among the bird species people can see in Orono one of the upcoming May bird walks in Greater Bangor sponsored by the Penobscot Valley Chapter of Maine Audubon. Credit: Courtesy of Bob Duchesne

This is the best time of year to be a fledgling birder. All the work is done for you. The returning birds make themselves obvious. They are so anxious to establish territories and attract mates, they barely worry about being watched. Best of all, experienced guides are ready to point them out.

Years ago, the Penobscot Valley Chapter of Maine Audubon launched a series of May morning bird walks. They were immediately popular, and that popularity has only grown since. There are 13 walks scheduled for this year, exploring some of the better hotspots in the Greater Bangor area.

May bird walks are fun for everyone, and they’re ideal for inexperienced birders. During a relaxed 90-minute stroll, participants can learn identity tips, bird songs and the importance of habitat. Leaders are familiar with the birds and their locations, and they are eager to share. Ask questions. Lots of questions.

These walks often reveal common birds that most people would overlook. For instance, the May 23 walk around Essex Woods in Bangor is famous for Baltimore orioles. Anyone could notice their bright orange colors, especially since the orioles tend to chatter a lot in May. But not everyone would notice the warbling vireos singing next to them. The vireos are more numerous, but less flashy than the orioles.

Some local birds are so good at hiding. They can elude even the most ardent attempt to find them. For instance, a walk on the University of Maine campus in Orono on May 25 has a good chance of turning up rails. Sora and Virginia rails spend their lives in marshes, hiding in the reeds. But this time of year, they are more apt to step into the sunlight. It helps that they are quite noisy in May, but the noises are so odd that most people wouldn’t recognize them.

While abnormal birds are fun to find on these walks, I think the best part is the opportunity to see normal birds — lots of them. Nearly 300 bird species nest in Maine. Most inexperienced birders have probably seen fewer than a third of that total, even though many species could be nesting right in their own neighborhoods.

Many warblers and flycatchers keep to the treetops. Thrushes stay in the woods. Sparrows look alike, sort of. Fortunately, they don’t all sound alike. Birds in May are courting and defending territories noisily. They are telling the world where they are each morning.

All that noise makes me lazy, as you’ll see if you join the walk I’ll be leading near Leonard’s Mills in Bradley on May 22. I don’t look for birds all that much. I merely listen, let the birds do all the work, and then point them out when they sing. Plus, I’ve led that walk so many times, I can nearly predict which trees certain species will be in.

Saturday, May 13 is a date to circle on your calendar. It’s World Migratory Bird Day, and you can join the celebration at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. An 8 a.m. bird walk will cover a variety of habitats, welcoming back the birds that are returning from a winter in the tropics. Just as the walk ends, a wood carving demonstration kicks off at 10 a.m., focusing on the tree swallows that nest throughout the wildlife sanctuary.

At 11 a.m., a binocular demonstration should draw a crowd. Choosing binoculars from the wide array of offerings on the market is daunting, with so many pluses and minuses in selecting the right power, durability and cost for your particular needs. Binoculars will be 10 percent off in the nature store for Maine Audubon members, and all other merchandise will be 20 percent off.

At noon, Maine Audubon’s Nick Lund addresses the challenge of preventing birds from hitting your window, a hot topic for many of us who have bird feeders outside the house.

The full schedule for May bird walks is listed in the PVC Chapter newsletter and at Maine Audubon membership is encouraged, but not required. Jump on one, several, or all. All walks start at 7 a.m., except the 8 a.m. World Migratory Bird Day walk.

It’s “no excuses” season. For all the folks who think, “There are too many birds to learn, I just can’t do it,” “I only know the birds in my backyard,” “I can never remember all the things to look for,” “Everybody on the walk knows more than I do.”

No, they don’t, and yes, you can.

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Bob Duchesne, Good Birding

Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at He can be reached at