Audubon debuts bird-of-the-year list

The Connecticut Audubon released a list of 2018 birds of the year, and topping the list is a unique pink bird that attracted a lot of attention in Milford and Stratford this year: The roseate spoonbill.

This is the first time the Audubon has done this kind of list. Tom Andersen, the Audubon’s director of communications, said it was because 2018 was such an extraordinary year in terms of birds.

“The roseate spoonbill, a native of the sub-tropics, first appeared in Stratford on September 15,” Andersen said in an email, explaining the bird’s top spot on this first list of birds of the year. “Word spread and soon people from around the region were gathering to see and photograph it. For three weeks, the spoonbill shuttled between several locations in Stratford and Connecticut Audubon’s Coastal Center at Milford Point, where it fed on the lip of the beach with other wading birds.


The Audubon Guide to Northeastern Birds describes the bird as “gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close.”

The roseate spoonbill is a large wading bird distinguished by its pink plumage and spoon-shaped bill, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “Its upper neck and back are colored white, while the wings and feathers underneath display the more recognizable light shade of pink.”

The birds can reach a height of 2.5 feet, and their wingspan can spread up to four feet. They breed in most of South America and through Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. In the United States, the roseate spoonbill is reportedly common in coastal Florida, Texas and southwest Louisiana, where it feeds in shallow waters.

“Its appearance was a happening in and of itself but also something of a fluke,” according to Andersen. “The spoonbill was what ornithologists call a vagrant, a bird that turns up far from its range.”

Number two on the list of 2018’s top birds are the sedge wrens that nested in a field at Connecticut Audubon’s Bafflin Sanctuary in Pomfret. The birds had been considered eradicated from the state but in July were confirmed nesting and were raising young in a field near a marsh along Day Road.

At number three is the Wilson’s plover that Chandler Wiegand, Connecticut Audubon’s Important Bird Areas coastal ranger at Milford Point, spotted foraging with a group of other shorebirds in April. The Wilson’s plover is typically found from Cape May, N.J., south, according to Andersen.

Number four are the purple martins that enjoyed another good breeding year in the colony at the Milford Point Coastal Center, Andersen said.

“At least 128 baby martins hatched there in 2018, compared to 107 last year, 93 in 2016, and 79 in 2015,” he said, adding that purple martins were removed from the state’s list of threatened species several years ago.

Purple martins are described as large swallows, which only eat insects they catch while on the wing. They are completely dependent on man-made nesting areas in Connecticut, Audubon officials said during a project last year. One of the most successful colonies is the one at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Coastal Center at Milford Point, a colony that arrived in Milford in 2015 when media personality Phil Donahue moved his colony of birds here.

Local Audubon officials said that thanks in part to the publicity Donahue’s birds generated, individuals, nonprofit organizations and government agencies erected more nest boxes and gourds to house the birds.

Number five on the bird list are the sparrows of “Sparrow-dise” – hundreds of migratory songbirds that took up residence at the H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary in Westport following a habitat restoration. Audubon Executive Director Patrick Comins dubbed the property “Sparrow-dise.”

Number six is the rusty blackbird that flew over Deer Pond Farm in Sherman at 2:15 a.m. on Nov. 8. Andersen said it was the first bird detected by the Connecticut Audubon Society’s new Motus Wildlife Tracking System receiver. These bird tracking efforts “might well revolutionize bird research,” Andersen said.

At number seven are the tree swallows that gather in Old Lyme.

“Each evening on Goose Island, tens of thousands of birds convene,” said Andersen. “Or is it hundreds of thousands? A million? Nobody knows for sure.

“But now a team of scientists, with the help of Connecticut Audubon’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, is trying to find out. If they succeed, they will have pioneered a method that will revolutionize the study and knowledge of tree swallows.”

Number eight, the last bird on the list, is the western kingbird that Pomfret resident Nancy Barrett photographed in September.

“The bird is a native of the Great Plains and further west,” Andersen said. “Barrett sent her photograph to us but no one could [locate] the bird. She might have been the only person to see it.”