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CT Audubon Society releases its annual 'State of the Birds' report

Sabrina Garone
/
WSHU News
A pair of osprey near Gulf Beach in Milford, Conn.

More than 400 species of birds can be found in Connecticut, whether they are migrating or nesting year-round. While some of those species are thriving, others could use some help.

WSHU’s Sabrina Garone spoke with Tom Andersen of The Connecticut Audubon Society about the group’s annual report on the health of the state’s birds.

WSHU: Connecticut — we're a small state, but we've got a little bit of everything. You know, forests, beaches, rivers, even some more mountainous areas, which support a wide variety of wildlife, including birds. So, why do so many species of birds like to call Connecticut home as opposed to some other places on the east coast?

TA: Well, they don't choose to live in Connecticut as opposed to other places. They choose to live in Connecticut and other places. And the reason they choose to is because there is a mix of good habitats. First of all, there's the water from Long Island Sound. There are many birds in Connecticut who are basically only on the water, and they migrate places along the ocean. There are birds that only nest or spend the winter on the coastline, either on the beaches, or the mudflats, or marshes, and Connecticut has plenty of that.

There are birds that need large tracts of relatively untouched forest, and Connecticut has that particularly in the northwestern part of the state. And there are birds that need grasslands, open areas. Connecticut doesn't have much of that, and those birds tend to be more rare in the state, but we have some. And then there are the birds you see everyday at your bird feeder or when you're walking around town that can pretty much be at home anywhere — American robins, blue jays, chickadees. Those birds will easily adapt to almost any circumstance.

WSHU: The State of the Birds report is something the Connecticut Audubon Society puts out every year, and this information is something that's obviously interesting to all the "bird nerds" and bird watchers out there. Can you speak to why regular folks should care about the health of the state's birds?

TA: An environment that's healthy for birds is an environment that's healthy for people. Birds do well when the water's clean, the air's clean, when the forests and fields are in good shape. People do well under those circumstances, too. That's the main reason.

A Piping Plover nesting area at Silver Sands State Park in Milford, Conn.
Sabrina Garone
/
WSHU
A piping plover nesting area at Silver Sands State Park in Milford, Conn.

WSHU: So in general, how are the birds doing here?

TA: Well, some birds are doing well and some not so well. The birds that require specialized habitat, they're doing not quite as well. The birds that nest along the beaches are always in a little bit of trouble because beaches...there's not much beach habitat. Much of the beaches that we have are heavily used by people, so there's not a whole lot of room for birds like piping plovers and American oystercatchers.

And yet there are some birds that have gotten a lot of attention that are doing fairly well. Bald eagles nest in about...I think the number is 68, maybe by now 70, of the state's 168 towns. Ospreys, which 50 years ago there were only eight nests in the state. This year we counted almost 700 osprey nests in the state. So those two birds, which had been devastated by the use of the pesticide DDT, have made a nice recovery and are doing well.

An osprey family at the Connecticut Audubon Society's coastal center in Milford.
Sabrina Garone
/
WSHU
An osprey family at the Connecticut Audubon Society's coastal center in Milford.

WSHU: In the report, there are a handful of key updates, including a couple that are related to the state's forested areas and increasing urban forestry, which is something we've covered a lot here at the station. Could you touch on a few of those areas of what you guys call areas of "conservation concern?"

TA: One of the articles in the report is written by a woman named Danica Doroski, who is the urban forester in the state of Connecticut. She works for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. She studied about two dozen forested areas within the confines of New Haven, and assessed them for their quality, to see if they were in good shape ecologically. And what she found was that these places were largely still in good shape.

While the big places like East Rock Park and Lighthouse Point Park are well known, there are lots of smaller ones that are protected as parks that are not very well known, and there are others that are basically no more than vacant lots, but over the years have become really small, productive forests. They have an important role to play for climate mitigation, for example, and as sort of neighborhood oases. Places that are green and cool, and easy to get to for neighborhoods throughout the city. When we looked at it, we found that these have not been very well studied for birds. So we're hoping that more studies can be done for urban habitat. Not just in New Haven, but also Bridgeport, Hartford, Norwalk, Waterbury — all of the large cities. Because Connecticut has so much urban area, there is a lot of important, overlooked habitat there that is important and needs protection.

Sabrina Garone
/
WSHU
The Milford Point Coastal Center is home to a purple martin colony with over 60 nesting gourds.

WSHU: How can Connecticut become even more bird-friendly? What are some the recommendations from the report?

TA: Connecticut has really lagged behind the rest of New England when it comes to the pace of land protection. And the best way to protect bird habitat, but also water quality and forest in general, is to buy land and protect it. We're urging the state and local governments to pick up the pace of land protection in Connecticut. Also, there's been a bill in Washington for a number of years called Recovering America's Wildlife Act. It would provide money to the states to fund their federally-mandated wildlife action plans. Connecticut would receive about $12.6 million a year from the fund, and that money would help wildlife of all kinds, including birds. It passed the House last year, but not the Senate.

The report also talks about studies that indicate recreational trails in nature sanctuaries often result in fewer birds. So we're also calling for further study on that, to see if there are better ways to locate spots for recreational trails, so we have good trails for hiking and biking, in the right places where bird populations are not affected.

WSHU: What do you think has been the biggest success for the birds this year?

TA: Success still hangs in the balance, but there's some tremendous work going on right now in the state to prevent birds from colliding with buildings. Every year in North America, one billion birds die by crashing into a building. We got a law passed in the General Assembly last session, so this year, which requires all state buildings to turn their lights out between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Birds migrate at night, and they're attracted to the lights, so thousands and thousands of birds die every year in Connecticut. We're starting to make great progress turning that around. It's not a complete success yet, but it's on the verge of being a success.

The 2023 State of the Birds Report is sponsored by WSHU Public Radio.

Sabrina is host and producer of WSHU’s daily podcast After All Things. She also produces the climate podcast Higher Ground and other long-form news and music programs at the station. Sabrina spent two years as a WSHU fellow, working as a reporter and assisting with production of The Full Story.