Audubon releases State of the Birds report

Connecticut’s cities and suburbs are essential to the survival of the more than 400 species of birds that have been recorded within Connecticut's boundaries, according to a report released by the Connecticut Audubon Society.

“For the scores of migratory and nesting bird species in Connecticut to survive and thrive, the state’s cities and suburbs must create, maintain and improve their local habitats in everything from small neighborhood parks to larger nature preserves,” said Audubon spokesman Tom Andersen in summarizing parts of the report, called “In Cities and Suburbs: A Fresh Look at How Birds Are Surviving in Connecticut.”

The need to improve habitats is the key finding of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s 2018 State of the Birds report, released Nov. 29 at a news conference at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven.

The report shows how the state’s most heavily-developed areas are crucial to the survival of the state’s and the region’s birds.

“Some of the most vulnerable species nest in Connecticut’s cities, and research shows that city parks are more important to migrating birds than previously known,” Andersen said.

Because of Connecticut’s location, it is an important “jumping off point” for large numbers of migrating birds on their spring and fall journeys, according to an introduction to the study written by Patrick Comins and Milan G. Bull.

“Not only are our yards, parks and communities close to important habitats, they are important habitats themselves, critical rest stops on the river of birds that traverses the Atlantic flyway,” Bull and Comins write.

Comins, Connecticut Audubon’s executive director, said Connecticut has the highest percentage of areas where high quality wildlife habitat is intermixed with developed areas.

“How we manage the landscape has an impact on these habitats more than they otherwise would in more remote or highly urbanized areas,” he writes.  
The report’s recommendations include passing the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to redirect federal funds to states for conservation work; expanding a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Program in which local partners maintain habitat in cities; and increasing the use of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System to help researchers follow when and where migratory birds travel.

The report also recommends improving private lands, noting that the Audubon will help homeowners and landowners by providing information to improve their properties to benefit migrating birds.

The report also suggests developing suburban greenways that connect larger open space areas and notes that the Audubon will work with partners to establish habitat corridors.

The report includes articles by Pulitzer-nominated author Scott Weidensaul; Commissioner Robert Klee of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection; Chad Seewagen, executive director of the Great Hollow Nature Preserve, New Fairfield; Chelsi Burns and Shaun Roche of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Laura Saucier of the CT DEEP.

There are some real conservation success stories to be seen in Connecticut, writes Klee in an article called “Birds Are Important to People, People Are Important to Birds.” He notes that the “once-almost gone” osprey is now abundant in many areas, and peregrine falcons emerged from near-extinction and now nest in bridges and other urban landscapes around the state.

“Yellow-crowned night herons nest in neighborhood trees and haunt the marshes of Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport and New Haven,” said Andersen. “Great horned owls can be seen or heard in Hartford, Groton, Waterbury, New Haven and Stamford. And bald eagles continue to astonish residents of New Haven, Norwich, Norwalk and Hartford.”

The report describes these as urban success stories.

“Urban areas and their diverse array of wildlife are one of Connecticut’s best-kept secrets,” writes Klee in the report. “They are also fragile ecosystems that need to be recognized, supported and maintained.”
Shoreline birds
While Connecticut has 300 miles of coastline, there are only about 80 miles of sandy beach, according to Laura Saucier, wildlife biologist with the DEEP, who explains that this requires extra attention for shorebirds like the piping plovers and least terns.

“Piping plovers and least terns nest on minimally vegetated sandy beaches above the mean high tide line,” Saucier writes. “Preferred nesting habitat for both of these birds, however, is also the preferred habitat for human beach recreation; it is where we like to stroll, place our umbrellas and blankets, play volleyball, walk our dogs, set up our kite-surfing equipment, and start our beach fires.”

She said it’s important that beachgoers share the space with the birds, despite the challenges. “Those competing interests require compromise,” she writes.

The numbers of piping plovers have increased from North Carolina to the Maritime Provinces of Canada, though the numbers are not as high as wildlife experts would like, the report states. The number of piping plovers has increased in Connecticut as well, and the report notes that is the result of a lot of volunteer efforts.

“Because beaches in Connecticut have generally remained open to the public, we have to monitor more, educate more, and manage more for the birds to be successful,” the report states.