ProjectsMountainsMountain BirdwatchFAQ

Mountain Birdwatch Frequently Asked Questions

Have a question that you’d like to see answered? Email Jason Hill

What are the time and dates of the survey?

Surveys can be conducted on any date with fair weather in June. We encourage observers to try and complete their route(s) in early June–who knows, it may rain for the last two weeks of the month. Early June also corresponds with the seasonal peak in vocal activity of mountain songbirds. Observers should begin their first point count at ~45 minutes before dawn and finish before 8 am.

How do I locate the survey stations?

You will be provided with GPS coordinates for each point along your route. Using a GPS or your smartphone’s GPS (via an app that renders topo maps offline) is a good option. Also, each route document contains descriptions of each point and photos of each survey location. Where permitted, a small metal tree tag is discretely affixed to the back of a tree at each point; these tags are meant to confirm the exact location of each survey station.

Do I need a GPS unit to find my point count stations?

Since it is essential that MBW surveys are conducted at the exact same locations each year, we highly recommend that you navigate to each point using a GPS and confirm your location using the pictures and descriptions provided. However, if you don’t have access to GPS, or a smartphone (all modern smartphones have GPS units built in) it should be possible to locate your survey stations using only the verbal descriptions and pictures. Regardless, you should scout your route in May and locate each sampling station before the count day.

In what weather conditions should the survey be conducted?

The route should be run in temperatures above freezing and when rain and wind do not interfere with the intensity or audibility of bird sounds. Occasional drizzle or a brief shower is acceptable, but steady drizzle or prolonged rain is not. A light wind is acceptable, but a breeze blowing strong enough so that small trees sway (>20 mph) is not.

Is it permitted to temporarily suspend a count?

In rare circumstances, yes. If the weather deteriorates then immediately suspend the survey and retreat to safety. Less commonly, a loud group of hikers might stop to (try and) talk to you. If they pass quickly, and only disturb the birds and your count for a few seconds, then simply keep counting—no need to suspend your count. This is a good opportunity for your companion to run interference for you and approach the hikers before they get to you and ask them to move quickly and quietly through. Use your judgement, if the loud group stops for a water break and disrupts the birds, then you can suspend the count. Give the birds a few minutes to return to normal after they’ve moved on. Discard the partial data from your first attempt of that 5-minute count, make a note in the comments, and restart the 5-minute period. You would follow the same procedure if it suddenly started raining hard during a count.

What if I can’t complete my survey within the time frame?

Life sometimes interferes with the best-laid plans; weekends become over-scheduled or a week of rain prevents a mountain ascent! If you find that you can’t complete your survey route, please email the Mountain Birdwatch coordinator as soon as possible–NO LATER THAN JUNE 21–someone else may be able to scramble and survey your route. If you were able to collect some data (e.g., before you got rained out) that’s still great–go ahead and submit it.

My route seems to be too low to support Bicknell’s Thrush. Why is that?

Mountain Birdwatch monitors 10 montane bird species–you know, Bicknell’s Thrush and those other nine species. These species have a range of habitat requirements, and no sampling station will contain the habitat needed for all 10 species. The climate and forest community in the mountains is changing, and you’ll be surprised at some of the places these species show up. To monitor these populations effectively, especially in response to climate change, we must survey habitat where these species are and are not currently found.

Can I start my survey at point 6 rather than at point 1?

No–please survey each route in the order indicated on the route information sheet that the Mountain Birdwatch coordinator sent to you in April. The locations of routes, and the direction of travel for each route, were randomly determined.

How am I going to get to my route at such an early hour?

Many Mountain Birdwatchers hike to the starting station before dawn by the light of a headlamp. Others elect to camp nearby the first sampling station on the night before the survey. Whichever approach you choose, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time and observe local camping regulations.

Do you have suggestions to help me learn to identify the MBW focal species?

We provide each new volunteer with a training CD containing songs and calls from each MBW focal species, along with some vocalizations from sound-alike species. You can also listen to our audio online. Also, Dendroica is a new website aimed at citizen scientists who want to improve their bird identification skills. This site allows users to create lists of focal birds, look at pictures and listen to a variety of calls and songs, and take bird identification quizzes. We strongly recommend signing up for an account and quizzing yourself on MBW focal species and sound-alikes.

How can I estimate the distance to a singing bird that I can’t see?

It takes practice, which is why we strongly encourage you to practice the point count protocol and estimating distances to singing birds in May. When practicing, use a laser range finder or pace out the distances to singing birds.

Can I “phish” or use bird calls or recordings during my point counts?


What if I hear a bird call 1 second before the first 5-minute count at a station, but then I don’t detect it during the next 20 minutes? I know it’s there—can I count it somewhere?

No. You only record a bird during a five-minute count if you actually heard (call or sing) or saw it during that 5-minute period.

Can I bring along a friend?

We encourage you to for safety reasons and so you can share your passion and train someone else to survey an MBW route. Pay it forward. However, only the primary observer can detect and count birds, without any assistance from your companion. The consistent use of a single, trained observer increases the reliability of monitoring results. Like you, to avoid disturbing the birds during your count, your companion should not be walking around during the surveys.

Can I bring along my dog?

Is your dog trained to count birds? It is important that you are quiet during the survey so you don’t disturb the birds. It is best to leave the dog at home or ask a friend to come with you and care for your dog on a different part of the trail while you conduct the survey. Probably best to leave your companion fish at home though.

How do I submit my data?

We ask you to submit your data online and then to mail in your original datasheets (after you’ve made a photocopy of them) to:

Jason Hill
Mountain Birdwatch
Vermont Center for Ecostudies
PO Box 420
Norwich, VT 05055

How do I contact the Mountain Birdwatch coordinator?

Email Jason Hill or call him at: 802-649-1431 Ext.212

What else can I do to help Mountain Birdwatch?

  1.  If you finish your route(s) and have time and energy to spare–you can certainly tackle another route.
  2. Just as importantly–spread the word about Mountain Birdwatch. Most of our citizen scientists were personally referred to us by existing MBW observers.
  3. Contact the MBW coordinator–you could help update photos and trail descriptions for current routes, or help establish new sampling locations.