What to Do

Birding on Nantucket

Nantucket's unique and varied ecosystems and island location have turned it in to a favorite New England birding destination.

Its ocean location assures that it will see more than its share of unusual species. And its varied ecology from beaches, salt and fresh water marshes, wooded upland and moors means it is home to or visited by a wide variety of species.

More than 350 species of birds have been identified on the island and Nantucket is home to 50 species of birds that breed on the island. The yearly Christmas count of birds last identified 175 species of birds living on the island.

Perhaps the island's most unique visitor was a Western reef heron that visited the island in the spring of 1983. It was the first North American appearance of the African native and brought birders from as far away as California to see it.

Nantucket's prominence as a birding haven can be attributed to a number of human causes, both intended and unintended. As forests have returned to the island during the 20th century as wood became less important as a heating fuel, new bird sanctuaries developed.

Bird habitat was also increased by two failed attempts to develop new island resources. An attempt to develop the island as a source of silk resulted in the planting of mulberry trees across the island. The silk industry never materialized, but the trees did provide habitat for a range of birds species.

Similarly, a state attempt to plant trees that could be harvested from home construction, never gelled, but the state forest again provided habitat that allowed birds to make Nantucket their home.

Edith Andrews, who has written a birding column for the Inquirer and Mirror since 1994, suggests a couple of places for visiting birders to start. The Maria Mitchell Association offers weekly bird walks that focus both on shore and inshore birds.

Among the spots she suggests for birders wanting to set out on their own: The UMass Field Station property, Eel Point and Great Point, and the middle moors property owned by the Conservation Foundation.


Egrets spread their wings near Monomoy.

Inquirer and Mirror photo