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Seattle Audubon advocates and organizes for cities where people and birds thrive.

Master Birder Program

Class Update re: Covid-19 

The 2020-2021 class has been postponed due to COVID-19. Read on for details.

  • Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the next master birder class was scheduled to begin in September 2020.
  • An important component of the class, however, is the relationships that form between classmates, instructors and volunteers.
  • In spring 2020, we decided to tentatively reschedule the start of the next Master Birder class to September 2021. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 uncertainty surrounding our ability to safely gather, we have postponed planning to begin a Master Birder class in September 2021. We will revisit this decision in late May 2021 and send an update again in early June 2021. If a class can responsibly and safely begin in September 2021, we will begin accepting applications in June 2021.

If you have questions, please email MBadmin@seattleaudubon.org


The Seattle Audubon master birder program is an incredible opportunity to learn about the birds of Washington state. Master birder is a two-semester course and education-for-service program focusing on the identification and natural history of Washington's birds. Since its origin in 1988, the course has usually been offered every other year. Participants intensively study Northwest birds and serve as valuable resources for Seattle Audubon and the community.


All master birder participants are required to contribute at least 100 volunteer hours to Seattle Audubon within two years of completing the program. Seattle Audubon’s volunteer opportunities are varied and include bird surveys, environmental education, The Nature Shop, outreach, field trips and more. Contact the Community Engagement Manager for more information about volunteering.

Class Schedule

The Master Birder class is usually offered every other year, with a fall term followed (after a three-month break) by a spring term, and meets two evenings per week in the Greenwood/Phinney Ridge neighborhood. See sidebar for dates regarding the next class. There are weekly homework assignments, weekly quizzes, and a test at the end of each term. During each term, there are several class field trips, as well as optional smaller-group field trips. The class is pass/fail, based on full participation in the class and field trips, completing homework assignments, performance on quizzes and tests, and fulfilling the volunteer commitment.

The class studies approximately 346 bird species that regularly occur in our state, and the birding- by-ear portion focuses on the song and/or primary call of these 108 species. Students aren’t expected to know all of these at the outset – some species are studied each week, and may appear on quizzes and tests after they have been covered in class or in the weekly homework assignment.


The primary instructor is legendary naturalist and educator Dennis Paulson. His background includes a Ph.D. in Zoology, more than 35 years of teaching about natural history in college and adult-education courses, 15 years as Director of the Slater Museum of Natural History at the University of Puget Sound, and writing or co-authoring more than 90 scientific papers and 9 books, including A Guide to Bird-Finding in Washington, Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest and Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide.

Class Fee
The master birder class has the depth and rigor of a college-level ornithology class. Seattle Audubon subsidizes a significant portion of the expense of offering this class, with the grateful understanding that the volunteer hours that master birder grads contribute to Seattle Audubon are invaluable.

To make the master birder program accessible to as many people as possible, Seattle Audubon is offering a sliding scale for this class fee. Within the limits of their budgets, we ask incoming master birder students to pay a minimum of $275 - up to a maximum of $825 to help defray the cost of this program. (The previous fee was $550, about half of the actual cost per participant.)
Seattle Audubon will not ask for personal financial details from any applicant or accepted master birder participant. Applicants who are accepted into the program will be asked to confirm participation and specify the amount they will pay for their class fee. Half of that fee is due by July 15, and any remaining balance is due by Sept. 1. If you have a question about the sliding-scale fee, please contact Christine Scheele, Seattle Audubon Program Director, at christines@seattleaudubon.org.

Participants have a few other expenses in addition to the class fee: sharing carpool costs on optional field trips, lodging and food on two overnight class field trips during spring term, and optional resources such as field guides and apps.


Application Process

To apply for the master birder program, you must complete an application and take a short birding quiz (see quiz procedures below). The application process happens in winter into early spring, and class begins the following September.

Each master birder class is limited to 24 qualified students. Applicants should be at least intermediate-level birders who are familiar with the birds of Washington. Master birder applicants should be able to recognize about 80-100 Washington birds by sight (and identify most of the rest to family) and at least 20 by song.

Bird identification skills aren’t the only measure for acceptance into the program. The application form covers other elements, including why you are interested in the program, previous volunteer experience, and how you plan to use the knowledge you gain. Factors such as involvement with Seattle Audubon (membership and volunteer service), and likelihood and suitability for ongoing volunteer participation are all considered. The master birder program attracts more applicants than can be accommodated, and Seattle Audubon considers each application carefully to find the best fit for this program. 


About the ID quiz

The application process includes a short identification quiz about some of the birds that occur regularly in our state. The quiz includes 30 species to identify visually and 15 species to identify by sound. There is no requirement or expectation that you can identify all of the species – the quiz simply gives a very general indication of your birding knowledge. The quiz score is only one of many elements considered for each application. The quiz takes about 20 minutes and is given at Seattle Audubon at multiple times during a nine-day period before the application deadline. Interested people sign up online for the time slot they choose (directions posted after the information session).

Here is an example of the visual-ID portion of an application quiz. As a second example, the list of species (for both visual ID and birding by ear) from another quiz is below. These are simply examples. The application quiz may include any species that regularly occurs in Washington, whether migrant or resident, and whether it occurs in only eastern Washington or western Washington or both. The species may be male or female, adult or immature, and in breeding plumage or nonbreeding.  We want to emphasize: There is no requirement or expectation that you can identify every species on a quiz. The quiz simply gives a very general indication of your birding knowledge, and is only one of many elements considered for each application. The quizzes at Seattle Audubon are timed, with 15 seconds to view each photo image, followed by a second and quicker look (7 seconds) at the same photos. The birding-by-ear portion follows the same format, although timing varies a bit because the length of sounds varies. The species on the birding-by-ear portion of the application quiz are not limited to the list of “108 species for birding by ear” that are studied during the class (noted above under “class schedule”).  

Sample quiz:

Visual identification: Mountain Chickadee, Eastern Kingbird, Long-eared Owl, Green Heron, Golden-crowned Kinglet, European Starling, Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Glaucous-winged Gull, Hermit Thrush, Black Oystercatcher, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Western Meadowlark, Bohemian Waxwing, Red-necked Grebe, Pelagic Cormorant, Gadwall, Rough-legged Hawk, Rhinoceros Auklet, Fox Sparrow, Turkey Vulture, Tree Swallow, Bufflehead, Caspian Tern, Yellow Warbler, Pacific Loon, Anna’s Hummingbird, Harlequin, Hairy Woodpecker, Cooper’s Hawk

Birding by ear identification: Belted Kingfisher, California Quail, Great Blue Heron, Swainson’s Thrush, American Bittern, Pacific Wren, Steller’s Jay, Common Nighthawk, Willow Flycatcher, House Wren, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, Song Sparrow, American Wigeon, House Finch


Want to increase your knowledge? Need to prepare for the Master Birder program?

Consider taking these steps:

If you have questions:  Please contact MBadmin@seattleaudubon.org.

Read about the 25 year reunion of the first Master Birder class.

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