Looking for an affordable hobby to start off New Year? Look no further than the sky, literally, because birdwatching on Cape Cod is a fun and accessible pastime that can be done anywhere, anytime!
How to begin Birdwatching on Cape Cod
Feeding birds is a great start to getting wild birds to come nearby! The activity has been widely celebrated for centuries in America and finally on Feb. 23, 1994, Congressman John Porter proclaimed February as National Bird-Feeding Month as it is “one of the most difficult months in the United States for wild birds.” During the month, the public is encouraged to provide water and shelter to help wild birds through the wintertime as well as provide the wild birds with their natural diet of weed seeds and insects.
Birdwatching on Cape Cod can be as simple as setting up a small feeder in your backyard or outside your window and filling it with birdseed mix. But there are so many different types of feeders that range in size, shape, and color—you might say—how to know which one is the best?! No worries because the Bird Watcher’s General Store in Orleans got you covered! The store, or its bird seed and feeder room, is a great resource for setting up your own feeder and choosing the right food for the right kind of birds. With educational “Ask the Bird Folks” articles written personally by owner Mike O’Connor for The Cape Codder newspaper for more than 22 years, the store and its staff serve as a gateway to learning various species, distinct habits, and all things birds!
Once you’re more comfortable with birding and able to recognize different types of birds and species, watching seasonal migrations is the next step on the list. While hummingbirds, piping plovers, and hawks are migratory birds of Cape Cod, others like European starlings and Northern cardinals are year-round residents of the Cape. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the mix of species and their migration patterns because our staff has compiled everything you need to know about the region’s birds in our Migratory Birds on Cape Cod list.
For migratory birds like ruby-throated hummingbirds or piping plovers, experts recommend putting out a feeder in the spring, sometimes between March and May, as it’s when they come back to the Cape. As exciting as their return is, sadly, the piper plovers are currently an endangered species due to a number of threats like coastal development, storm surges, small mammals, dogs, and human disturbance. Hence, beachgoers will often see signage informing visitors of efforts to support this species, including bans for off-road vehicles and pets during nesting times for the plovers. It’s important for birders to follow these restrictions and ensure preservation efforts of the piper plovers are effective and that birdwatching on Cape Cod is fun and informative.
Birdwatching on Cape Cod is a great activity for many senior citizens on the Cape. It’s a great way to engage your mind and eyes as birdwatching offers sensory stimulation and works as a memory exercise while having fun with nature. It’s also an excellent chance to step outside, explore different habitats for bird nests, and stay active without having to engage in heavy physical activities. According to the New York Times, birdwatching has been proven to decrease stress, sharpen concentration, and improve long-term mental health outcomes. Thus, you can also connect with local birders who share the same enthusiasm!
Cape Cod is a great place to study birds. Get involved!
With plenty of preservation and conservation areas, it’s no secret that the Cape is home to a wide range of bird species and different birding hubs—a perfect place for you to start birdwatching.
Cuttyhunk Island, Gosnold is sometimes home to rare birds, like the painted redstart, as it sits in Buzzards Bay, an important habitat for waterbirds. Birdwatchers can expect to come upon tree swallows, blue jays, the common grackle, and the double-crested cormorant more often on the island. Fort Hill, Eastham has been reported to host more than 280 different species including marsh wrens and seaside sparrows or shorebirds like royal terns, spotted sandpipers, or yellowlegs. With a geological location that encompasses forests, open fields, and salt marshes, Eastham certainly attracts a wide variety of species. High Head and Pilgrim Heights, Truro is also a great place to spot hawks, Virginia rails, or red-winged blackbirds. Situated in the sand dunes of the Outer Cape, the site is on the Mississippi kite’s migration route. Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham, Pochet Island in Orleans, and Race Point Beach in Provincetown are also great spots to observe hundreds of different species during nesting season or as they pass through the Cape on their migration route.
What’s more, birdwatching in Cape Cod is made easy because of various active bird groups that are ready to serve the community. For instance, the Cape Cod Bird Club’s winter walks are open now through March with meeting points across the Cape. The club is committed to promoting birding and conservation and is a great resource for anyone who wishes to be involved in the birding community. Mass Audubon, with a mission to protect the nature of Massachusetts, also hosts weekly bird sightings in the Cape with interesting finds each sighting. Sponsored by the Bird Watcher’s General Store of Orleans and Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, birders came upon a Western Tanager, a Tufted Duck, and a Western Grebe among many others in their most recent sightings.
With bird counts usually taking place in the winter, birders have plenty of chances to get competitive with this peaceful pastime. The annual bird count, which is hosted by the Cape Cod Bird Club, usually happens in the first week of December and counts all things feathered and floats! Duck, goose, swan, gull—you name it. However, if you want a bit more of a challenge, then the Nantucket Christmas Bird Count might be right for you. Within a 24-hour period, the entire island of Nantucket is divided into eight sections with team leaders and field observers. In the end, a compiled list with all species observed in each section will total the number of birds that visited within the 24-hour period. What’s even better is that you can also help in the comfort of your own home by being a feeder watcher. All you need to do is keep track of the birds that visit their feeders!
To stay with a lifetime hobby like birdwatching doesn’t require much effort but it needs some dedication. Organizations like Linda Loring Nature Foundation, Harwich Conservation Trust, and Cape Cod National Seashore with the U.S. National Park Service have set out to promote environmental literacy and inform the public of the importance of nature preservation. Attend talks, conferences, meetings, and activities with like-minded organizations to educate yourself and better enjoy birdwatching on Cape Cod.