updated Sept 2003

Atlantic Bird Observatory Volunteer's
General Information

I’ll be up front.  Being a volunteer at the ABO requires a person who does not mind isolation, communal living, long hours, cold, wind, rain and especially fog!  It requires patience and can be physically demanding.  The work is rewarding but challenging.  Before applying, please consider the follow information.


The volunteer position involves, banding birds, extracting birds from mist nets, conducting the census, and casual birding.  As a volunteer, you will be involved in all aspects of our research and training is provided.  However, the level of involvement will depend on your experience and how quickly you master the skills needed.  Only experienced birders are allowed to conduct the census.  

The volunteer position also involves
cooking, gathering firewood, trail and net lane maintenance, data entry, grocery runs, washing dishes, etc.  Because of our unique situation, living and working on isolated coastal islands, everyone must participate in the day to day chores.  The position is definitely teamwork oriented.    We do not always have the comforts of home (electricity, showers, fresh produce, etc.) and extra effort is required by team members to ensure that all runs smoothly (we cannot simply run to the corner store if we run out of milk). 
Researcher's Pages

Research Involvement

The banding program requires handling birds.  Extracting birds from nets can be quite difficult for a novice.  The mist-net string is very fine and a patient / delicate disposition and good EYESIGHT is required.  Experienced personnel are responsible for training all new volunteers.  However, not everyone learns at the same rate.  For some, the skills can take two weeks or more to learn.  Please keep this in mind when scheduling your volunteer placement.  During extremely busy times, less training will be provided, because processing the birds quickly and safely takes top priority!  During these times, inexperienced volunteers will help out by “scribing” data, handing birds to the bander, and bringing birds back to the banding lab.  These busy times are often associated with “fallouts” and they can be very exciting, so birding between net runs is useful. 

The ABO needs volunteers who are interested in banding and/or birding.  If you feel that the banding component of our research is not up your alley, but you love birding, then we can still use your help.  There are two areas where you could be directly involved in our research.  We conduct a daily standard census and encourage volunteers to casually bird throughout the remainder of the day.  The more eyes we have looking for birds, the better we are able to detect and monitor migrants.


We use a boat to get to and from the island.  You will be required to climb up and down vertical wharf ladders at low and high tides and because the weather is not always cooperative during these trips, quick movements such as jumping in and out of the boat can be necessary. 
Seal Island is located approximately 25 km offshore, a 2-3 hour boat ride.  Expect a variety of weather conditions during these trips.  The weather is unpredictable and storms often prevent boat travel for many days.  Therefore, volunteer travel plans need to remain flexible.  We cannot guarantee that you will arrive or leave on specified days. We often have many days with rain, wind, cold and fog.  Be prepared for two solid weeks of fog!!  Yes, it has happened, but it’s one of our charms.
Seal boats 
Another item to keep in mind is the fact that we do not have direct access to hospitals. People with medical conditions that may require immediate treatment should consider this before applying.  Bon Portage Island can be challenging because of its terrain of cobblestone, with very few paths, so simple walking can be tiresome and strain weak ankles.


Camp Life
Life on Bon Portage is somewhat rustic.  A small cabin with six bunks will be home for the duration of your stay.  There is no electricity in the cabin.  We use a wood stove for heat, 

kerosene lanterns for light,  and outhouse facilities for, well, you know what. The main house on Bon Portage has electricity (most of the time), running water, propane stove, and a refrigerator.  The facility on Seal Island does not have electricity, or running water.  
On both islands, there are automated light houses run by the Coast Guard.  Fresh water is brought from the mainland and is used only for drinking and cooking. We collect rainwater for other uses.

A Typical Day
We start our day approximately ½ hour before sunrise.  A fire is lit, coffee and tea are made and then the mist nets are opened.  We run the banding operation for 6 hours (depending on the weather).  The nets are checked every 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the weather and how many birds we are catching.  The census starts 1 hour after sunrise and is 1.5 hours long.  Breakfast, washing up, etc. are done between net runs.  “Fallouts” can often occur throughout the day, so it is very important to bird during the morning and after lunch. In the afternoons we do chores and search for birds.  After supper/dinner “estimated totals” for each species are tabulated and data are entered into the computer.  The evening ends with reading, relaxing, board games, etc.

As you can see there is a lot that happens at the ABO.  If this sort of lifestyle appeals to you and you enjoy meeting people from around the world, living communally, do not mind wind, rain and fog, love birds, nature, lighthouses, foghorns, the ocean, gulls, and boats, then please apply to help us out on our research.  You will gain valuable experience, make life-long friends and have a fantastic experience!