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Bird Checklists of the United States

Birds of Massachusetts

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This annotated list of the birds of Massachusetts contains 448 species meeting the listing criteria discussed below. It is subject to constant review and change in light of new species records, reevaluation of old records, and changes in nomenclature and taxonomy. Although Massachusetts is a small state, there are significant geographical differences that make it impractical to assign exact dates of occurrence that work for the state as a whole. As a result, the coded annotations represent only a general occurrence status for each species in Massachusetts. A bibliography of regional, state and local avian faunal lists pertaining to Massachusetts is included and may contain information useful in particular localities.


The first faunal list of Massachusetts birds listed 160 species and was prepared in 1833 by Ebenezer Emmons (Birds. Pages 545-551 in E. Hitchcock, A report on the geology, mineralogy, botany and zoology of Massachusetts, J.S. & C. Adams, Amherst). Howe and Allen (The Birds of Massachusetts, privately printed, Cambridge, 1901) listed 320 species; Griscom and Snyder (The Birds of Massachusetts, Peabody Museum, Salem, 1955) listed 384. Blodget (List of the Birds of Massachusetts, Mass. Div. Fisheries and Wildlife, 1983) listed 427 species. Veit and Petersen (Birds of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Lincoln, Mass., 1993) and the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee ("MARC") List (Bird Observer, vol. 22, 1994) offer recent, very useful but more subjective treatments, each listing 460 species.

Area Covered

The area encompassed by this list includes all areas within the political boundaries of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Additionally, birds recorded up to 100 miles seaward in any direction from any point of land in Massachusetts (excluding records within the 3-mile limits of neighboring states) are arbitrarily included for purposes of this list. This includes the area normally visited by seabird trips departing from Massachusetts ports.

Listing Criteria

This is a criteria-driven list. The list follows, with modifications, the rules used by Bull (The Birds of the New York Area, Harper & Row, New York City area. According to these rules as modified, a species is considered to be authentic for Massachusetts if at least one of the following three prerequisites is satisfied:

    (1) a specimen collected;

    (2) a recognizable and definitive photograph or videotape taken, 
        examined by at least qualified observers and documented in the 
        literature; or

    (3) an unambiguous sight record of an easily identifiable species 
        corroborated by three or more observers with extensive field 
        experience in Massachusetts and documented in the literature.

Species which have been reported -- some without doubt entirely correctly -- but which do not meet at least one of the above authenticity criteria are classified as "problematical." Species which do appear to meet at least on of the criteria but, in the author's judgement (a) cannot be shown beyond reasonable doubt not to be escaped captives or (b) are based upon evidence requiring further evaluation and study, may also be classified as "problematical" species. A file of these species is maintained in the author's office and is available for inspection.

Admission to the list is established by a specimen for 394 species (88%). Specimen evidence relies heavily upon the annotated list of Griscom and Snyder (The Birds of Massachusetts, Peabody Museum, Salem, 1955) and personal knowledge of specimens obtained subsequently. Where possible, attempts have been made to confirm the existence and location of the rare specimens obtained through 1955. The existence of specimen and photographic evidence obtained subsequent to 1955 has also been verified to the extent possible. Details on sight records of rarer species reported after 1955 are primarily extracted from published reports in American Birds, Bird Observer, The Chickadee, Bird News of Western Massachusetts and Veit and Petersen (Birds of Massachusetts, Mass. Audubon Soc., 1993) supplemented by personal knowledge of the circumstances and (since 1992) discussions of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee.


Placing this list in perspective, its 448 species compare with 2,008 listed in the 7th edition of The A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds (American Ornithologists' Union, 1998). A total of 59 taxonomic families is represented on the list. By far the most strongly represented family is the Parulidae, with 43 species listed, of which 24 breed regularly. Other particularly well-represented families that reflect both the state's coastal location and a high percentage of passage-only species include the Anatidae (42 species, 13 regular breeders), Scolopacidae (41/5), Laridae (36/8) and Emberizidae (31/13). Of the 216 species that have been known to nest in Massachusetts (see below), approximately 125 (58%) are "neotropical migrants".

Out of the 448 species recognized, 138 (31%) are vagrants. Approximately 24 (18%) of these vagrant species may dependably be expected annually, while the balance of 114 (83%) are recorded less than annually. Out of the latter group, 80 (70%) have been observed in eight or fewer of the last 50 years. The reader is left to draw his own conclusions from the fact that nearly a third (31%) of all the species recorded from the Commonwealth are of vagrant status!

Nesting Status

Based on the confirmation criteria employed by Sharrock (The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland, Poyser, London, 1977), 216 species have positively nested on at least one occasion in Massachusetts. These 216 species break fairly conveniently into three groups. Group A contains 189 species currently expected as annual nesters in Massachusetts (although 57 of these are rare and/or notably restricted in distribution). Group B contains 22 species that do not nest annually in Massachusetts and includes: (1) peripheral species (i.e. Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Warbler and Henslow's Sparrow) that are at the fringes of their normal range; (2) irruptives (i.e. Pine Siskin and certain "northern finches") that nest unpredictably but sometimes in considerable numbers after winter invasions; and (3) species that have established isolated, extra-limital nesting records (i.e. Least Sandpiper) far from their normal range and are not likely to nest again in the near future. Group C includes 5 species that once nested in Massachusetts but no longer do so because they are either presumed extinct or have been extirpated as a nesting species for a decade or more. One extirpated species and three species that have never bred in Massachusetts have had males holding territories in Massachusetts.

Forty species (9% of the total list) are classified as resident, although the reader is cautioned that very few Massachusetts species are as sedentary as Ruffed Grouse and House Sparrow. Some "resident" species (i.e. Black Duck, Brown Creeper and Song Sparrow) may be seasonally eclipsed by migrants. Usually resident and migratory populations of the same species cannot be easily differentiated in the field and individuals present at one location at different seasons may represent wholly different populations.

Return to Bird Checklist of The Birds of Massachusetts

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