Bird-a-thon Guidelines, Rules, & Regulations

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Participating on a Team

You don't have to be a birder to participate in Bird-a-thon!

Everyone is welcome to join a team—whether you're into birding, love exploring nature, or just want a good reason to get outside on a spring day. During Bird-a-thon weekend, all teams will compete head-to-head by earning points (from nature activities and/or birding) and by attempting to identify the greatest number of bird species in 24 hours.

→ Every participant is strongly encouraged to fundraise for their team. ←


Everyone can help their team win fundraising awards. In addition, any team member can earn points for their team by birding at their own pace and/or completing nature activities.

  • Out-of-state participants are allowed to join any team.
  • Teams and team members must follow the Birding Code of Ethics.
  • A family is considered one team member; points cannot be reported separately for each family member.
  • Team members who choose to go birding on their own or with others (and are not part of a strategic birding sub-group) should keep track of the number of species they see. Each species is worth one point.
  • The list of Bird-a-thon 2021 Nature Activities will be released the week of May 10. Each activity is worth one point.


Teams may also choose to form sub-groups of birders in order to compete for the following birding awards: Brewster Cup, Forbush Award, County Cup, and Sitting Duck Award. Birders who wish to participate in a strategic birding sub-group:

  • Can apply to their Team Captain via this online form.
  • Must follow the Birding Code of Ethics.
  • Must bird within Massachusetts state lines.
  • Must submit an Official Species Checklist to their Team Captain(s).
  • Cannot earn team points for the birds they record, but can complete nature activities for points.

Applicable to Individuals
By signing up to participate in Bird-a-thon, all participants have certified that they understand and accept the rules and regulations described on this page.

Applicable to Teams
In order for teams to be eligible for any Bird-a-thon awards, all team members must adhere to the official event rules and regulations described on this page.

Participant Guidelines

General Participation

  1. Follow all Massachusetts COVID guidelines, including wearing a facemask and physical distancing (out-of-state participants should follow their own state's guidelines).
  2. Use of drones, airplanes, helicopters, or hang gliders at any time is prohibited.
  3. Avoid going off-trail or "bushwhacking" in easily impacted habitats, particularly wetlands, fields, & beaches.
  4. Follow all sanctuary guidelines when visiting Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries.
  5. Make an effort to minimize your team's impact on the environment—walk, bike, or use public transit when possible.

Birder Conduct & Etiquette

  1. The use of any audio recording to lure birds to you is not permitted during Bird-a-thon.
  2. Avoid approaching within 50 feet of obviously active nests.
  3. Observe the Birding Code of Ethics at all times.

Rare or Sensitive Breeding Species ("Free Birds")

Spring is a sensitive and critical period in the annual cycle of many bird species, particularly those that are breeding. Please avoid birding behavior that might unduly disturb the nesting activities of rare or sensitive breeding species.

To emphasize the importance of birding conscientiously, we have implemented the "Free Birds" rule to avoid the possibility of placing any additional stress on particularly sensitive nesting birds. Each team can count ALL the following "Free Birds" in team species sightings without observing or hearing them during Bird-a-thon:

  • Northern Goshawk
  • King Rail
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Eastern Screech-Owl
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Long-eared Owl
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Barn Owl

Prize Eligibility

  1. Meet All Deadlines: Team captain(s) must turn in the team's official roster, preliminary estimated fundraising total, and final fundraising estimate to the Bird-a-thon Coordinator by the stated deadline(s).
  2. One Team Per Participant: An individual cannot participate on more than one Bird-a-thon team.
  3. Use the Official Species Checklist: The Bird-a-thon 2021 Official Species Checklist is the only bird species checklist recognized in this event. Any additional or exceptional bird sightings must be confirmed by the Bird-a-thon's birding judge in order to be counted. For birds marked with an * (asterisk) on the checklist, teams must submit the name, phone, and email address of the birder who saw the bird.
  4. Eligible Time Period: All species and activities counted or completed must be recorded during the official 24-hour period of Bird-a-thon 2021, which begins at 6:00pm ET on Friday, May 14, and ends at 6:00pm ET on Saturday, May 15.
  5. Submission of Final Species & Points Lists: The Team Captain(s) must submit their team's final species checklist, birding points total, and activity points total via the official reporting method. More information will be given closer to the event.
  6. Birding Sub-Group Size Limit: Teams must limit their birding sub-groups to a maximum of 150 people total. Birding sub-group members are the only birders whose bird sightings will count towards winning the Brewster Cup, Forbush Award, County Cup, or Sitting Duck Award.
  7. Checklists for Birding Awards: Birds recorded by one birding sub-group effort may not be counted towards other birding award efforts. This means a team member can participate in a single County Cup effort OR statewide award effort OR Sitting Duck effort.

County Cup Rules

In order to be eligible for the County Cup, a Bird-a-thon team must limit a portion of their birding sub-group members to the boundaries that define one of the 14 counties in Massachusetts. Individual birders can only compete in one county.

If a team wishes to compete for both the County Cup, a statewide cup, and/or field more than one County Cup sub-group, they may. However, birds recorded by a County Cup sub-group may not be included in the statewide list or another county list and vice versa.

The winner of the Bird-a-thon County Cup will be the team (or sub-group) that records the highest percentage of the Birding Par Value Number for any county in the state. See the explanation below.

  • The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is divided into 14 different counties.
  • Each county has been assigned a Birding Par Number. The Par Number represents a reasonable approximation of the number of possible species able to be recorded in each county during the Bird-a-thon. The number does not include rarities or species highly unlikely to be encountered, although such species are completely countable and may count toward the Par Number total.
  • The objective for a County Cup team (or sub-group) is to record as high a percentage of the County Par Number as possible for whatever county has been selected.
  • Teams may select any county or counties in Massachusetts that they wish to cover during Bird-a-thon.

2021 County Birding Par Numbers

Barnstable County = 163
Berkshire County = 142
Bristol County = 169
Dukes County = 139
Essex County = 185
Franklin County = 136
Hampden County = 134
Hampshire County = 142
Middlesex County = 146
Nantucket County = 131
Norfolk County = 159
Plymouth County = 183
Suffolk County = 125
Worcester County = 146

County Species Lists

Teams (or sub-teams) opting to compete for the County Cup must also follow all of the regular Bird-a-thon rules and subscribe to birding ethics as noted by the Bird-a-thon ornithologist.