While Maine is renowned for hiking, camping, sailing, and various other adventurous activities, this state is also a prime spot for birding. Maine features an impressive coastline and off-coast islands as well as great national parks that await exploration to discover the diverse population of birds. The state boasts an amazing avian abundance that will appeal to both casual and more experienced birders. If you’re looking for the best birds to check out in this destination, take a look at our great selection of bird species that you shouldn’t miss when visiting Maine.
Before you start exploring the bird populations of Maine, make sure you grab some essential birding equipment:
- Maine Field Guide
While many birders have embraced digital smartphone apps to help with identifying birds, it’s safe to say that old-fashioned field guides are still the preferred choice. Check out this field guide that will make your birding expeditions more enjoyable when visiting Maine.
A solid pair of binoculars is critical if you want to properly observe and identify birds. We recommend the Nikon Monarch 5 as it offers excellent value for the money.
Many birders enjoy taking photos during their observations so it’s a good idea to invest in a high-performance camera like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
1. Atlantic Puffin
The Atlantic puffin is an iconic bird for the state of Maine. If you get a chance to visit the coastal islands of the state, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity of seeing this beautiful bird. The main highlight of this puffin is the large bill with a patterned and multi-colored look. Any birder who wants to see Atlantic puffin should get the timing correct for the best chances of success. It’s recommended to search for this bird in its breeding season because the bird is far out at sea in other time periods.
2. Iceland Gull
There are lots of gull species that can catch the eye of a birdwatching enthusiast. The Iceland gull is a great example if we’re talking about the state of Maine. It’s an elegant bird dressed in pale gray plumage. The yellow bill and eyes stand out against its immaculate appearance. You can expect to see this gull in Maine during the winter season. It mixes freely with other gull species when foraging gracefully over the water. Iceland gulls can be found on the western US coast as well but they show darker plumage.
3. Blue-Headed Vireo
The state of Maine has many great bird species to offer in terms of colorful songbirds. Look out for the blue-headed vireo if you find yourself in mature forests. The birds are known for their industrious singing and foraging for insects in trees. You might have a hard time getting a good look at this bird due to its tendency to move rapidly from a branch to another. The plumage of the blue-headed vireo makes use of multiple shades of blue, gray, yellow, and green to provide the bird with its unique look.
4. White-Winged Crossbill
Here’s an interesting bird to see in the northern woods of Maine. The white-winged crossbill shows off a rose-pink look (for the males) and boasts an active social life as flocks add some life to the spruce trees. The name of this bird comes from the crisscrossed style of its bill. It’s perfectly adapted for getting seeds out of cones. You can spot white-winged crossbills year-round in the state of Maine. Wandering birds can be attracted to ornamental spruces in parks or occasionally find their way to feeders.
Razorbills resemble penguins but they have a few more distinctive characteristics that will certainly appeal to birders. This robust seabird has an interesting black-and-white look that grabs the most attention in the breeding season. Although its head is fully black, there’s a thin white line on the face of the razorbill. Compared to juveniles, breeding adults will also show off a thicker bill in the same dark color. The offshore islands of Maine are populated by this large auk as they’re used for their nesting grounds.
6. Ruffed Grouse
Although Maine’s coastline offers lots of impressive sights for birders, there are some great birds to watch in the state’s woods as well. A notable example is the ruffed grouse. This plump bird shows off an eye-catching crest while its tail is marked with a black band. Ruffed grouse males engage in displaying behavior that provides the best opportunity to spot the characteristic ruff of neck feathers that gives the bird its name. This is a fairly secretive bird but you can track it in a forest by the drumming sound it makes.
Known for being the largest falcon in the world, this powerful predator relies on the Arctic regions for its breeding season. While it’s a rarer encounter in the northernmost regions of the US, you can still spot a gyrfalcon in areas that resemble best their tundra habitat. Maine residents can see this falcon during the winter season. The main difficulty when it comes to identifying this bird lies in distinguishing it from Peregrine falcons. Keep in mind that gyrfalcons are bulkier and show blunt-tipped wings, characteristics that set them apart from other species.
8. Northern Gannet
Comparable in size to an albatross, the Northern Gannet stands out when it comes to Maine’s seabirds. This is a bold and strong bird that spends its time hunting fish in a spectacular manner. Flocks of Northern Gannets rain down into the ocean guided by their reliable vision in the search for prey. These seabirds are also noted for their loud vocalizing that helps them communicate during the intense diving process. As the sharp-billed birds hunt off the coast, they can be difficult to see from shore unless you get some special birding binoculars like the Celestron Nature DX.
9. King Eider
There’s no waterfowl that can compare to the King Eider when it comes to colorful adornment. This bird stands out among other sea ducks found in Maine thanks to its rich orange/red bill and greenish cheek. Only adult King Eiders have this stunning appearance with a basal knob and pearl-blue crown. This waterfowl enjoys Arctic tundra regions for nesting so you can only expect to find nonbreeding King Eider birds off Maine’s coast. They can be more difficult to spot when mixing with common Eiders.
10. Snowy Owl
With a regal air and pure white look, the snowy owl is sure to draw some attention even from non-birders. This large bird can be spotted in Maine in the winter season but it’s hard to find unless you search for it in wide-open areas. Due to having multiple brown patches, snowy owls can be often confused with rocks covered in snow. These birds have a tendency to perch in conspicuous places so any strange irregularity in the snow needs to be carefully examined to increase your chances of seeing this majestic owl.
11. Canada Jay
Canada jays can be found throughout Maine’s forests year-round. This curious bird is highly adaptable to difficult environments and is always searching for food. While it’s a primarily ground forager, the Canada jay has quite diverse eating habits. It can sustain itself with berries, seeds, and even small animals. Birders don’t really have to put in a lot of effort to find this bird as it’s more likely for it to investigate your presence in their territory. You can also attract it with the right feeder in your backyard if you live within their northern range.
12. Black-Capped Chickadee
The black-capped chickadee is the state bird of Maine and can be found year-round throughout the forested parts of the state. This little bird is actually widespread in most areas of North America. It’s characterized by an oversized round head and fascinating curiosity that makes it a cute bird to look for. As its name suggests, this chickadee has its signature black cap on a mostly gray body and a pale white underside. If you want to attract birds using a feeder, it’s safe to say that the black-capped chickadee will be among the first to investigate.
13. Manx Shearwater
Taking pelagic trips can be worth it for any birdwatching enthusiast that wants to observe the diverse seabird population of Maine. One great bird to look for is the Manx shearwater that has a smoky appearance with snappy wingbeats. These seabirds are smaller than gulls and can’t be easily seen from land. The Manx species can often hang out with other shearwaters but you can recognize it by checking for some distinctive traits like the white curling up behind its eye.
14. Black-Backed Woodpecker
A specialized bark forager, the black-backed woodpecker feeds on wood-boring beetle larvae. You can recognize this bird by its characteristic sharp white stripe on the black face. Males are simple to identify thanks to the presence of a yellow crown patch. This woodpecker species is adapted to endure the tough winters of Maine so you have great chances to see the bird in action in the state’s northern coniferous forests. If you happen to visit burned out areas, you can usually find this bird living off the bounty of insects appearing after the fire.
15. Cape May Warbler
With a breast adorned in tiger stripes and a distinctive rust-colored cheek patch, the Cape May species stands out among other warblers. Maine’s spruce forests are the recommended grounds for encountering this boldly patterned bird. The Cape May warbler is found in remote regions during the breeding season. Its favorite food is the spruce budworm caterpillar so this is why the birds can be commonly found in spruce-fir forests. Birders can have some trouble finding them visually as they usually forage high in the trees. Listening to their high-pitched vocalizations can help.
Although it’s common in Scandinavia and Russia, the fieldfare can also be a rare sight in the northeastern parts of North America. Its range extends from Canada provinces to some US states such as Maine. The fieldfare is usually found in flocks in various regions including open woodland and parkland. This European thrush can be sometimes mixed with other types of thrushes when on the lookout for fruiting trees. Fieldfares are often larger than other thrushes and can visually stand out through their peachy-buff spotted breast.
17. Piping Plover
While most birders prefer the winter season for their Maine expeditions, that doesn’t mean that the summer period would be disappointing. You can catch glimpses of some interesting birds such as the piping plover. This tiny round bird can easily sit camouflaged on sandy shores. It’s a fairly active shorebird though, so it’s likely that you’ll spot the plover when moving around on its orange legs. The bird has big eyes and can also be identified properly with the help of its distinctive black collar.
18. Great Cormorant
Large and blocky-headed, the great cormorant is a must-see bird for the state of Maine. It can be spotted along the shorelines mixing with other cormorants. To help with the identification, look for a white throat patch. New England or Atlantic Canada are better spots for seeing great cormorants but you can definitely find these birds during your Maine visits. Due to having weak water resistance for their plumage, these cormorants can spend some time getting dry on rocky shorelines. You might even spot this cormorant diving for bottom-dwelling fish.
19. Common Eider
Known to be the largest duck in the entire Northern hemisphere while showing off smooth-sloping features, the common Eider is fairly easy to spot in offshore areas of Maine. It lives in fairly large flocks and makes surface dives to feed on various aquatic invertebrates. The common Eider duck may seem bulky and slow but it’s actually a very skilled flier. Only the males have brightly colored plumage whereas females can be recognized by their plain brown appearance.
20. Harlequin Duck
One beautiful duck species to look for on the coast of Maine is the harlequin duck. You can quickly see where it got its name considering the male’s stunning multi-colored plumage. It forms a more spectacular view against the natural habitat of the duck. If you plan on spotting some elegant harlequin ducks, your best bet is to check the rocky shores of Maine in the winter. The coast of this state is thought to hold a significant part of the population of wintering harlequin ducks.
21. Barnacle Goose
Although it has its native range in Greenland, the barnacle goose can be sometimes sighted in geese flocks in Maine. While its neck and bill show off a black look, the face of the bird stands out due to contrasting white patches. The dark brown patterned back of this duck can also help birders identify it. It’s interesting to note the way the black breast of the barnacle goose is sharply demarcated from the white underside. The bird migrates in the winter to wetlands and coastal lowlands.
22. Surf Scoter
A distinctive sea duck, the surf scoter is hard to confuse with other species due to its orange-red bill with a swollen shape. Another notable characteristic is the presence of white patches on the nape and forehead. The bright eye of this bird creates strong contrast with the black plumage giving the scoter a slightly silly appearance. Keep in mind that only the male duck looks like this as the female ducks are plain brown. Surf scoters live in small flocks together with other scoter species. The winter season is the right time to spot them in Maine.
23. Bicknell’s Thrush
This declining species can be extra hard to see nowadays, especially considering the limited breeding and wintering ranges. The thrush skulks in the underbrush where it’s searching for its preferred insect food. Bicknell’s thrush is also easily confused with the more common gray-cheeked thrush. Distinguishing between them involves checking the color of the tail which is usually redder and shorter for Bicknell’s. If visual identification is too difficult, the best solution is to listen closely to the songs. The melodious performance of Bicknell’s thrush ends in a rising note.
Compact and elegant, brant is a black-headed goose with a distinctive white necklace. The body of this bird makes use of white and brown patches that complete its attractive appearance. Brants have a fairly restricted range but you can find them in different environments including bays and saltmarsh lagoons. The geese can be spotted on golf courses and parks where some can be friendly enough to allow a relatively close approach. Getting the best view of this bird in Maine will usually require a spotting scope as brants are generally skittish. Try this model from Gosky for a satisfying birdwatching experience.
25. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Despite being the most common species of owl in Maine, it’s still quite difficult to find unless you’re an experienced birder. It’s not just the small size of the northern saw-whet owl but its elusive nature as well. This is a strictly nocturnal bird that requires careful listening to its calls for proper identification. The best period for finding a northern saw-whet owl in Maine extends from the middle of winter to the end of spring. Its characteristic “toot” has a similar sound to a spinning grindstone, hence the name of the owl.
26. Black Guillemot
If you missed puffins or other seasonal bird attractions of Maine, it’s good to know that you can find black guillemots year-round. You also don’t need to put in extra effort because these beautiful auks can be seen from pretty much any rocky coast in the state. The summer plumage of this bird is fully black except for some white patches on the wing. Black guillemots also feature brightly red legs that make them stand out against the cold landscape. As opposed to other birds in the area, they forage quite close to shore.
27. Great Black-backed Gull
Gulls have a bad reputation for being quite daring and stealing food. You might rethink your opinion of these birds when you get a glimpse of the great black-backed gull. This majestic bird is the largest among gull species and will definitely stand out compared to other gulls found in Maine. The bird is aptly named considering how the large size and dark-gray back characteristics are useful for making a correct identification. Compared to more common gulls, this species also tends to spend most of its time on the coast.
28. Spruce Grouse
This dapper-looking bird can be challenging to find due to its reliable camouflage. The spruce grouse’s diet includes a lot of conifer needles so you need to visit the northern forests of Maine to catch a glimpse of the chickenlike bird. Males of the species stand out thanks to vibrant red eyebrow comb displays. While the spruce grouse can be hard to spot because it blends easily with its surroundings, this bird is famous for having surprisingly little fear of humans. Birders can get a good view of a specimen if they manage to find the bird.
29. Snow Bunting
Black-and-white snow buntings travel in large flocks in the winter. You can spot these restless little birds in Maine but they’re quite widespread across other northern US states and Canada. The crisp white plumage of the bird won’t be seen unless you visit the high Arctic but its winter look is also fairly attractive thanks to rusty color tones. Snow buntings are commonly sighted in crop stubble and along open shorelines. They’re ground forager birds so expect them to blend well in their natural grassland habitat.
30. Black-Throated Blue Warbler
Colored in a dashing midnight-blue shade, this warbler species makes an appearance in Maine during the summer. The bird is characterized by a more sluggish behavior that helps birders recognize it. It’s a foliage gleaner found in hardwood forests whose relaxed song matches its behavior. Only the male warbler has the distinctive black throat patch and blue feathers on its head and back. Interestingly, the bird maintains this colorful plumage year-round which sets it apart from other warblers.