Birding Howard County, Maryland


Howard County, the second smallest county in Maryland, is located in the center of the state, primarily on the Piedmont Plateau.1 The Fall Line2 runs northeast to southwest through the county approximately along I-95. The small portion of the county east of that physiographic boundary is part of the Coastal Plain.

Howard County has a relatively short history of intensive birding. Prior to the late 1940s, it was birded periodically by relatively few people, most of whom were residents of surrounding counties. The county was included in two annual counts that were inaugurated in 1948: a statewide May Count, encompassing the entire county, and the Triadelphia Christmas Count, covering only the southwestern one-third. One of Maryland's twelve Mourning Dove call-count routes lies entirely within Howard County; surveyed annually by the same observer since 1953, this twenty-stop roadside route has had to be altered twice because of traffic conditions. In the mid-1960s, portions of several Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)3 routes were laid out along county roads. Mini-routes (abbreviated forms of BBS routes) were run on many secondary roads in 1973 and 1974 to test their adaptability for use in breeding bird atlas projects.4 Occasionally, Patuxent Research Refuge biologists conducted research on private and public county plots. In other cases, single-species roadside counts were conducted. Howard County was included in a winter bird survey from 1971 to 1974, and another from 1988 to 1993. During the third quarter of the twentieth century, a handful of resident and visiting birders kept migration records with varying degrees of commitment and consistency.

More widespread and frequent field work can be dated to the 1972 founding of the Howard County Bird Club, a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society. It was founded to "promote the knowledge, development, protection, and conservation of bird life and natural resources." In 1973 and 1974 (with an extension to 1975), Howard County's breeding birds were atlased on a 2.5-km grid. This was a pilot study covering Howard and Montgomery counties testing the methodology for breeding bird atlas projects in North America. During 1983–87, dozens of local birders participated in the field work for the first Maryland/District of Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas. Although this statewide census was completed using primarily 5-km blocks, the field work in this county repeated the finer 2.5-km scale used in the 1973–1975 atlas. This provided the first opportunity on this continent to make comparisons between two successive breeding bird atlases. In 2002–2006, a significant number of local birders collected data for the second statewide breeding bird atlas, which for the third time was conducted on a 2.5-km grid in this county.

Dozens of active field birders regularly record seasonal changes in county birdlife. Since 1979, these records have been compiled locally for use in Maryland Birdlife. Since 1986 the compilation has been submitted to the regional editor for North American Birds and, beginning with the autumn 1993 season, the summary has appeared in the chapter newsletter The Goldfinch. In 1985, a "Preliminary Checklist of the Birds of Howard County 1956–1984" was compiled. It was revised and published in 1994 as the "Checklist of the Birds of Howard County 1956–1993." This checklist continues to be updated regularly. Since the founding of the chapter, members have continued to participate in the May Count in order to monitor spring migration. To gain additional seasonal knowledge, a Midwinter Bird Count was initiated in 1986 and a Fall Count was begun in 1994. The Parks Checklist Project, started in 1988, creates checklists for the major county parks and portions of Columbia's open space.

The Howard County Bird Club has published Attracting Birds in the Maryland Piedmont (1979), Howard County Plants (1987, rev. 2000), Boost Bluebirds, The Butterflies of Howard County, Maryland (1993, rev. 2000), and Birding Howard County, Maryland (1995). Online publications Lichens of Howard County, MD (2011), Fungi and Slime Molds of Howard County, MD (2011), Bees of Howard County (2010) are more recent additions.

The first edition of Birding Howard County, Maryland had four major sections: Site Guides, The Birding Year in Howard County, Species Accounts, and the Howard County Checklist. Most of the site guides had appeared in the club's newsletter as Birding Hot Spots, initiated by Chris Ludwig in 1985. The Birding Year by Joanne Solem had also been published in the newsletter from 1989 to 1992. This second edition of the book will not be reproduced in hard copy; it will be a web version only. It is intended to be far more timely than any printed book could possibly be; material will be updated periodically to incorporate current information.

Like the original book, this web version provides birders with information that can be used to see a maximum number of locally occurring bird species. Many of the best areas in the county are described in detail. Areas not readily open to the public such as undeveloped county parks, locations with restricted hours or access, and private property visible only from public roadways may have abbreviated site descriptions covering access methods, special species, and the safest parking locations. Occasionally, the Howard County Bird Club plans trips to some of these restricted locations. Field trip information may be obtained from the club's newsletter or on this website.

Most site descriptions will contain a list of all the bird species recorded there. The largest parks and the most frequently visitied sites will have a seasonal list. Since areas attractive to birds are often excellent locations for other flora and fauna, many site guides will also include butterfly, dragonfly, mammal, or other species lists. Complete county lists for butterflies and dragonflies appear in the Appendix.

Your input is needed to keep this information current. Contact the webmaster to provide additions or corrections to help make the site guides and other parts of this reference as nearly complete as possible. If, after a visit to a site, you find a species that is not listed, let us know the date and location of your observation and your name. If it is a bird species that requires documentation, please provide it (photographs are acceptable). Other wildlife sightings are also welcome—you may be asked for documentation for rarities. Please advise us of any problems you encounter at the site.

Of course you are encouraged to participate in any of the Howard County Bird Club's seasonal counts, field trips, or projects. Share your skills and your sightings!


1 The Piedmont Plateau region of the eastern U.S. lies between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Appalachian Mountains. Its rolling hills rise from 200 to 1,000 feet above sea level.

2 The Fall Line is a low east-facing cliff paralleling the coastline separating the Piedmont to the west from the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the east.

3 The Breeding Bird Survey is a joint U.S. Geological Survey and Canadian Wildlife Service roadside monitoring program initiated in 1966 to track bird population trends in North America.

4 Breeding bird atlases utilize a grid-based system to establish the breeding status of each bird species detected. The results are mapped according to the survey grid.

© 2008