Southern bird ventures to Milford

This roseate spoonbill, a waterbird rarely seen this far north, has made an appearance in the marsh at the mouth of the Housatonic River.

This roseate spoonbill, a waterbird rarely seen this far north, has made an appearance in the marsh at the mouth of the Housatonic River.

A southern waterbird that’s almost unknown this far north was seen near the mouth of the Housatonic River in Stratford and Milford, according to the Connecticut Audubon Society.

It’s the roseate spoonbill, which is typically found in the swamps of Mexico, Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the Caribbean, as well northern South America. A relative of the pelican, the pink-feathered bird was reportedly spotted at least three times this summer by local birdwatchers, and it’s believed that global warming has played a role in its foray north.

Patrick Comins, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society, said it’s the same bird that’s being viewed in all of the recent reports.

“In fact it was the same individual that was seen up in Maine this summer,” he said. “We know that because it has a distinctive bill with an older injury.”

Comins, who saw the spoonbill Wednesday morning, Sept. 19, speculated that that there are several reasons a roseate spoonbill might want to come to Milford — and most have to do with climate change.

“For example, there was a red tide seen in Florida this summer, which would have wiped out its source of food,” Comins said. “And the nutrient loading we’re seeing in the Everglades from fertilizers might have wiped out the food supply there, too.”

He added that new food sources up here, combined with a climate is more amenable to the bird, has also likely encouraged its movement into New England. But it’s doubtful that the spoonbill was blown north by Hurricane Florence, he said.

The roseate spoonbill is typically a gregarious animal that likes to hang out with its own species as well as other spoonbill-related birds. But juveniles, Comins said, typically stake out new territory — although few will venture this far afield. The species is non-migratory, although Comins speculates that this individual will eventually fly south as fall turns to winter.

“With the warm Decembers that we’ve seen lately, it might stay with us for some time,” he said.

It’s not just birds that are moving north. Scientists say fish, insects and other creatures that were unknown in Connecticut a few decades ago have well-established populations here now.

“We’re especially seeing this phenomenon with butterflies,” he said. “The giant swallowtail butterfly was almost unknown here a few years back, but now, if you have a butterfly garden, you’ll almost certainly see one.”

As for birds, Comins said common bird feeder species such as tufted titmice and mockingbirds “are examples of bird that are relatively new to this region,” he said. “And at the same time, we’re seeing Connecticut species moving to points north and they’re now more unusual here.”