25 Best Birds to Watch for in Maine

Maine is a top destination for birdwatching in the United States. With its extensive coastline, dense forests, and diverse wetland habitats, Maine is home to over 400 species of birds throughout the year. From rare seabirds and elusive warblers to abundant waterfowl and striking raptors, birding enthusiasts can find plenty of feathered friends across the state.

To help you plan your next birding adventure, we’ve compiled this guide to the 25 best birds to watch for in Maine. Whether you’re a casual enthusiast or a seasoned birder, be sure to look for these special species on your next visit.


Maine’s geographic location makes it an ideal stopover for migratory birds traveling the Atlantic Flyway each spring and fall. Millions of birds use Maine’s plentiful resources to rest and refuel during their long journeys between their breeding and wintering grounds.

The state’s varied habitat supports both resident and migratory species throughout the year. Coastal birds thrive along the rocky shores and islands. Forest birds breed in the sprawling woodlands that cover much of the state. Grassland species nest in the open fields and meadows. And a wide array of waterbirds and wading birds take advantage of the state’s abundant wetlands, lakes, and rivers.

With this diversity of habitat and location along a major migration flyway, Maine provides excellent birdwatching opportunities across all seasons. The spring and fall migration periods see the greatest influx of species, but avid birders can find rare or unusual birds during the winter and summer as well.

This list covers some of the top targets for birders visiting Maine, from rare visitors to the state to abundant residents. Keep reading to learn more about 25 of the best birds to look for during your Maine birdwatching adventures.

Bald Eagle

The bald eagle is one of Maine’s most iconic birds. Once endangered, bald eagle populations have rebounded thanks to conservation efforts. These majestic raptors are now a fairly common sight across the state.

Look for bald eagles perched in trees near waterways or coastlines. You may also see them soaring overhead or snatching fish from the water’s surface. The best places to spot bald eagles include Merrymeeting Bay, the Penobscot River corridor, and Acadia National Park. Mid-winter eagle surveys regularly tally over 400 individuals statewide.

Atlantic Puffin

With their colorful beaks and clownish appearance, Atlantic puffins are a seabird specialty along the Maine coast. These pelagic birds breed on offshore islands and rocky outcrops from mid-spring through late summer.

Some of the best places to spot puffins include Eastern Egg Rock, Seal Island, and Petit Manan Island. Schedule a pelagic birding trip during the breeding season for close views. Puffins spend the rest of the year far out at sea, so they are only visible from land during summer.

Pine Grosbeak

The pine grosbeak is a northern specialty bird that occasionally irrupts southward in winter. When food supplies are low farther north, pine grosbeaks may appear at feeders even in southern Maine.

Males exhibit a distinctive pink-red color. These chunky finches prefer conifer forests, where they feed on seeds and berries. Watch for them in stands of spruce, fir, and pine. Pine grosbeaks breed in Canada and the northern U.S., retreating northward as winter ends.

Snowy Owl

Snowy owls breed in the Arctic but may migrate south in irruptive years when food is scarce. Maine’s coastline provides hunting habitat similar to the tundra, making the state a regular wintering area for snowy owls in irruptive years.

These massive white owls are a prize sighting for birders during winter. Check coastal beaches, marshes, and fields for these diurnal owls. They often perch on the ground, utility poles, or other elevated vantage points when hunting. Snowy owl numbers decline by spring as the owls return north to their Arctic breeding grounds.

Northern Gannet

Northern gannets are large seabirds that breed in crowded, noisy colonies on rocky islands and sea stacks. Though they nest exclusively in Canada, northern gannets frequent the Maine coastline while foraging and migrating.

These striking birds are unmistakable with their sleek white bodies, black wingtips, and pointed yellow bill. Late summer through fall offers the best gannet sightings as adults and juveniles feed voraciously before heading south for the winter. Excellent viewing locations include Cape Elizabeth and Acadia National Park.

Red-throated Loon

The red-throated loon is a strikingly-patterned diving bird that breeds on coastal lakes and ponds throughout Maine. Its eerie, trembling call is a haunting sound of the northern forests. Peak viewing for red-throated loons is during spring migration along the coast and on inland lakes.

Focus your efforts from mid-April through May when these loons are decked out in full breeding plumage. Bold red throat patches and checkerboard backs make spring red-throated loons an unforgettable sight.

Roseate Tern

Roseate terns are endangered seabirds that nest in isolated colonies along the Maine coast. These graceful, Arctic-breeding terns suffered precipitous declines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to hunting for the millinery trade.

Today, roseate terns number fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs along the Atlantic Coast. Maine hosts the species’ largest colony at Petit Manan Island. Strict protections have aided the roseate tern’s gradual recovery. Late summer offers the best chance to observe these endangered birds as they care for newly fledged chicks.

Black Guillemot

The black guillemot is a year-round resident breeder along Maine’s rocky coastline. These tuxedo-clad seabirds stand out with their black bodies and bright red feet. In summer, watch for them fishing inshore and bringing fish back to chicks waiting on rocky island ledges.

In winter, black guillemots migrate just offshore but remain common and possible to spot from land. Look for these birds resting on buoys or rocky outcrops while you scan for other alcids and seabirds.

Boreal Chickadee

The boreal chickadee is a denizen of coniferous and mixed forests across northern North America. In the northeast, boreal chickadees reach the southern edge of their range in northern Maine.

These tiny, hyperactive birds are easy to identify thanks to their namesake chick-a-dee-dee call. Watch for them year-round as they join mixed flocks of other chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Boreal chickadees prefer mature spruce-fir habitat but may turn up in a variety of northern forest types.

Spruce Grouse

The spruce grouse is Maine’s state bird and a specialty of the northern coniferous forest. Male spruce grouse perform an elaborate mating display in spring, spreading their tail, erecting head feathers, and making soft whooshing sounds.

This cryptic species blends into the boreal environment, where it often goes unseen until spooked into flight. Finding a reclusive spruce grouse remains a much sought-after prize during northern Maine birding expeditions. The best opportunities occur in spring and early summer in habitats with dense conifers.

Black-backed Woodpecker

The black-backed woodpecker is a fire-adapted species that relies on burned forest habitat across the boreal regions of North America. This striking woodpecker sports bold black and white plumage and males exhibit a yellow cap.

In Maine, black-backed woodpeckers reside year-round in recently burned mature spruce-fir stands. They use their powerful bills to excavate beetle larvae from dead and dying trees. Their specialized habitat requirements make black-backed woodpeckers a challenge to find outside of recent burn sites.

Boreal Owl

The elusive boreal owl inhabits northern forest regions across the globe. This rare nocturnal hunter reaches the southern edge of its breeding range in northern Maine’s boreal forests. Boreal owls use tree cavities for nesting and roosting and feed primarily on small mammals, especially red-backed voles.

These small, long-tailed owls are highly sought after by birders. They are most vocal and active early in the breeding season between February and April. However, boreal owls remain difficult to observe even when calling actively due to their reclusive forest habitat.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Don’t let its tiny size fool you – the fierce northern saw-whet owl is a bold nocturnal predator. Northern saw-whets are widespread across Maine, inhabiting all forest types statewide. However, their strictly nocturnal habits make them a challenge to observe.

The best opportunity to observe these feisty owls comes during fall migration, when saw-whets are captured and banded. Visit the Acadia Birding Festival in October to observe the owl banding process and see these captivating raptors up close as they are measured, banded, and released.

Great Cormorant

The great cormorant is a large, fish-eating waterbird that has expanded its range along the Maine coast over the past few decades. While still uncommon, great cormorants are regular breeders on several Maine islands and continue to increase statewide.

These hefty, black-plumaged birds often perch with wings spread to dry after fishing. Watch for them along the coast year-round as well as on inland lakes and rivers during migration periods. Fall brings the largest numbers of great cormorants to Maine.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill cranes are giants among Maine birds, with a towering stature and impressive 6-7 foot wingspan. These graceful gray birds breed in open wetlands across North America. Northeastern populations migrate through Maine in spring and fall.

Sandhill cranes announce their presence with loud, rattling calls that carry long distances. Search flooded agricultural fields and wet meadows statewide for migrating cranes in April and late September through October. Seeing and hearing sandhill cranes is a memorable highlight during Maine migrations.

Black Tern

The black tern is a striking marsh bird that breeds in scattered colonies across interior Maine. Despite their name, black terns exhibit dark gray and white plumage in breeding season. These agile fliers feed exclusively on insects snagged from the air above freshwater marshes and rivers.

Black terns arrive in Maine in May and nest in secluded marshy areas on floating vegetation mats. Late spring through summer offers the best chance to observe them dipping and diving over wetland habitats statewide before this species returns south in early fall.

American Bittern

Solitary American bitterns inhabit wetlands ranging from expansive marshes to small roadside ditches. Their cryptic brown-streaked plumage provides ideal camouflage in these habitats. Look and listen for bitterns during spring and summer when males give their distinctive hollow, pumping call, dubbed the “pump-er-lunk.”

American bitterns nest worldwide but face threats from wetland habitat loss. Many of Maine’s key wetland areas provide safe havens where bitterns and other wetland birds can thrive. Don’t miss your chance to spot these secretive herons before they migrate out of the state in fall.

Long-tailed Duck

The long-tailed duck breeds on tundra pools across the Arctic but spends winters diving in frigid, coastal waters including off Maine’s southern shore. The male’s lengthy tail feathers give this duck its name and make it unmistakable in flight.

Oceanfront locations like southern Maine offer a front-row seat for observing these diving ducks. Scan the ocean surf using a spotting scope to pick out long-tailed ducks mixed in with scoters, eider, loons, and grebes. Mid-winter counts regularly tally over 15,000 long-tailed ducks scattered along the Maine coast.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple sandpipers overwinter along rocky coastlines across the northeastern United States. These hardy shorebirds thrive along the wave-swept Maine shoreline during winter months when most other shorebirds have migrated south.

Check rock jetties, piers, and other structures along the immediate coast from December through March for these rock-loving specialists. Watch for them dodging waves and foraging at the tide line. Counts of 10,000-15,000 purple sandpipers occur during some midwinter surveys along the Maine coast.

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin ducks breed along fast-moving streams in the northern forests of Maine and adjacent Canada and spend winters along rocky coastlines. The male’s striking combination of colors makes this species a highly sought after bird for many Northeastern birders.

Coastal locations like Acadia National Park and Cape Elizabeth provide reliable viewing locations for wintering flocks of harlequins. Scan just offshore using binoculars or a spotting scope to pick out these agile divers among the waves. Harlequin hotspots include Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs in Acadia National Park.

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Barrow’s goldeneye is a western cousin of the common goldeneye that occasionally turns up along the Maine coast during winter months. Males exhibit a distinctive crescent of white between the eye and bill not seen on common goldeneyes.

Check flocks of wintering diving ducks carefully for this uncommon species. They often mix in with rafts of common goldeneyes and other diving ducks like scaup and long-tailed ducks. Finding a Barrow’s goldeneye takes patience and practice but provides a special treat for persistent waterfowl watchers.

Gray Jay

The gray jay, also known as the Canada jay, is a boreal forest songbird that resides year-round in the northern Maine woods. Their dark gray plumage and fluffed appearance makes them stand out against winter backdrops. Gray jays readily approach humans in search of food scraps.

Look for gray jays sitting quietly in conifers or dropping in to investigate as you pass through northern forests. They are a common sight in Baxter State Park and at boreal specialists like the Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary. Offering a handful of nuts or seeds is often rewarded with close approach and photos.

Boreal Chickadee

The boreal chickadee is a denizen of coniferous and mixed forests across northern North America. In the northeast, boreal chickadees reach the southern edge of their range in northern Maine.

These tiny, hyperactive birds are easy to identify thanks to their namesake chick-a-dee-dee call. Watch for them year-round as they join mixed flocks of other chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers. Boreal chickadees prefer mature spruce-fir habitat but may turn up in a variety of northern forest types.

Cape May Warbler

The Cape May warbler breeds across the spruce-fir forests of Canada and the Northeast before migrating to wintering grounds in the West Indies. These striking warblers sport a bold facial pattern and yellow-streaked underparts.

Cape May warblers pass through Maine during spring and fall migrations, feeding actively in mixed deciduous and coniferous trees. Their preference for foraging high in the canopy makes them easier to hear than see in many locations. Listen for their sharp chip notes as you crane your neck skyward in search of this beauty.

Bay-breasted Warbler

The bay-breasted warbler migrates between boreal forest breeding grounds and tropical wintering habitat in Central and South America. These handsome warblers display chestnut flanks and throats during spring migration through Maine.

Their buzzy wingnut-like song rings through northern forests as they pass through in May. Search mixed deciduous and coniferous woodlands statewide for migrating bay-breasts, particularly near conifers and in spruce-fir dominated habitat. Their numbers vary annually based on conditions on the wintering grounds.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

As their name indicates, yellow-bellied flycatchers sport bright yellow underparts that distinguish them from other empidonax flycatchers. These birds breed across Canada and winter in Central and northern South America.

Spring migration brings yellow-bellieds through Maine for a few short weeks starting in mid-May. Identify them by habitat, plumage, and their distinctive call – a rising cheer-wee! Finding one of these empid flycatchers always makes for a good day during spring migration.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

The olive-sided flycatcher is a rangy tyrant flycatcher that patrols the edges of clearings and open forest habitat for insect prey. They announce their presence with a loud, whistled song. Olive-sided flycatcher populations have declined precipitously in recent decades due to habitat loss on the wintering grounds.

These “Quick! Three Beers!” birds pass through Maine during migrations beginning in mid-May. Search around forest openings and clear cuts statewide for olive-sides perched prominently on the tops of dead snags as they hawk for insects.

American Pipit

Pipits breed in remote tundra regions but migrate through Maine by the thousands in spring and fall. Flocks of pipits descend on fields and beaches, foraging at the tide line or water’s edge before continuing their journey.

Pipits differ from other songbirds in their habit of shifting positions constantly while feeding. Watch heads bobbing and tails wagging as they run about hurriedly eating insects and seeds. Listen for their flight call – a high-pitched spee! – as flocks pass overhead.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian waxwings breed across the boreal forest regions of Canada and Alaska. In winter, they may wander nomadically south of their breeding range in search of food. Maine occasionally sees winter influxes of Bohemians when fruit crops fail to the north.

These elegant crested songbirds travel in noisy flocks numbering in the dozens or even hundreds of individuals. Watch for them invading suburban fruit trees or devouring winter fruits along forest edges. A winter appearance by Bohemian waxwings provides a splash of life to the cold, bleak days of February