Posts Tagged ‘birds’


Clapper Rail

Friday, July 14th, 2017
Bird Finder for July 14, 2017
Bird Finder welcomes a new contributor this week: Genevieve Nuttall, Connecticut Audubon’s Osprey Nation coordinator. Genevieve is working on a masters degree in conservation biology and biodiversity at the University of Connecticut.

Clapper Rail
Rallus crepitans

by Genevieve Nuttall
Where to find it: Despite its large size, Clapper Rail is not an easy bird to locate. These marsh birds are known for their elusive nature and are more often heard than seen. The grasses that make up salt marshes hide these wading birds and provide crucial habitat for feeding and nesting.

To find a Clapper Rail in Connecticut, visit well-preserved salt marsh habitat. Clapper Rails can be found at Hammonassett Beach State Park in Madison, Barn Island in Stonington, Sandy Point in New Haven, the East River marsh in Guilford, and at Connecticut Audubon’s Coastal Center at Milford Point.

Try listening for their distinct call first, then use the call to locate the bird. It may be very difficult to find, even if it sounds like it is right in front of you! Also take a look in canals or ditches; they may be wading and feeding in the waterways.

What it looks and sounds like: Because Clapper Rails are secretive and because their mundane colors blend into the marsh, you’re likely to hear one before you see it, so listen for their loud, boisterous grunt calls accompanied by “klacking” noises that sound like kek-kek-kek. You can find a recording of the call here.

Clapper Rails have the body of a chicken with a long, pointed bill good for probing for insects or crabs in the water and mud. Although they have the general appearance of a shorebird, they belong to the Rallidae family which consists of various terrestrial or aquatic rails and coots. Clapper Rails have inconsistent pigmentation among individuals, but both females and males can be identified by a grayish-brown body with dark stripes lining the belly.

When to find it: You can generally spot these migratory birds from April to late summer in Connecticut, and most migrate southward after the breeding season is over. The northern range of Clapper Rails does not extend much past Connecticut, so we are lucky to have the opportunity to see these birds in our state! Many individuals stay along the coast of southern United States into Central America year-round.

Breeding facts/special interest: During the breeding season, a male and female will pair up and work together to raise young. Nests are constructed in the marsh, and the adults use the grasses and sedges of the marsh to weave a basket-like nest into the ground. These nests are well-hidden and blend perfectly into the vegetation.

The female will lay up to 16 eggs per clutch, and the eggs hatch after 3-4 weeks of incubation. Clapper Rail nestlings are precocial, meaning they are able to walk and feed shortly after hatching. After just one day of care from the parents, the puffy, black nestlings are ready to leave the nest and learn the ways of their new marsh habitat. If a nest is flooded or preyed upon, many pairs will nest again until they succeed!

Conservation Status: The IUCN status for Clapper Rail is “Least Concern.” In the past, wetland damage, hunting, and egg collecting posed major threats to this species. Current regulations have helped population numbers remain stable, but Clapper Rails are still susceptible to the effects of wetland pollution and degradation, and they will not thrive in damaged marsh areas. Population numbers are not well-understood since the birds are difficult to find.

As with all salt marsh-nesting birds, threats will increase as sea levels rise with global climate change.

Purple Martin

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Laurie Fortin of the state DEEP shows a banded Purple Martin to a news crew.

Purple Martin
Progne subis

by Michael Aurelia, Connecticut Audubon Society Board of Directors
Purple Martins are the largest of the seven swallow family members that one can observe in Connecticut (last week’s Bird Finder featured another, the Cliff Swallow).

They are slightly smaller and thinner than European Starlings and can be seen soaring and gliding over grassy and shrubby open spaces looking for flying insects. Purple Martins are dependent on man-made houses or gourds on the east coast though they will nest in cavities on the west coast. In Connecticut they always nest in small to medium sized colonies near water.

What it looks like: Adult males are a dark iridescent blue-purple but look black. Females and juveniles are duller with shades of gray on the head and chest, and some white on the lower belly. The wings are long and tapered, the tail mildly forked.

The Purple Martin Colony at the Coastal Center.

Where and how to find It: Most of Connecticut’s Purple Martin colonies are along the coast, including at Sherwood Island and Hammonasset State Parks as well as Connecticut Audubon’s Coastal Center at Milford Point.

To find the most recent reports of this swallow, go to and click Explore Data. Chose “species maps” and insert “Purple Martin.” For date, choose “year around current year.” For location: Connecticut.

Although you are most likely to find this bird along the coast, smaller inland colonies are also found in Kent, Norwich, Sharon and Washington. Inland locations will usually be near lakes or large ponds.

You can watch the Coastal Center Purple Martins in action via Connecticut Audubon’s live-streaming Purple Martin cam.

Other interesting facts: Purple Martins are aerial insectivores. They feed by flapping and gliding in the air at different heights. They are usually found flying higher than other swallows and frequently are feeding so high that they are difficult to see with the naked eye.

Males usually arrive by mid-April to scout out territories and most birds have left Connecticut by late August. Purple Martins spend the winter in northern to central South America.

Conservation Status: The wildlife staff at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has been working with volunteers to create a group of Purple Martin landlords with the hope of expanding the state’s breeding population – an effort that is working. DEEP staff and volunteers have been monitoring more than 30 Purple Martin colonies, some of which DEEP officials discovered relatively recently after reaching out to private landowners. In the 2015 breeding season, 1,252 juvenile martins were banded. Twenty-three colonies have their own band color combinations.

In 2015, the official status of Purple Martins in Connecticut was improved, to special concern, from threatened. The Purple Martin Conservation Association uses Connecticut a model for other states to follow to turn around declines in their Purple Martin populations.

On the national level, the IUCN indicates the status is of Least Concern. This listing is in spite of the fact that from 1966 to 2015, a 37 percent decline was noted in the data of the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

Purple Martin colonies are under threat from introduced species such as European Starlings and House Sparrows, which take over martin houses and gourds, and damage eggs or kill nestlings. Cold snaps longer than three to four days also kill martins because of their effect on the insects the birds rely on for food.

Cliff Swallow

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

June 29, 2017
Cliff Swallow

Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

by Greg Hanisek, editor of The Connecticut Warbler
Where To Find It: The six species of swallows breeding in eastern North America all occur in Connecticut. Three of them – including Cliff Swallow – have specialized niches and as a result are scattered and uncommon as breeders. (The other two are Purple Martin and Bank Swallow).

Cliff Swallows attach their mud nests to vertical surfaces such as the walls of buildings and the sides of bridge girders, usually beneath some kind of overhang or covering. Most of the nesting occurs in the western part of the state, including on several bridges over the Housatonic River in Litchfield County.

But a well-known one is at Stevenson Dam between Oxford (New Haven County) and Monroe (Fairfield County). There are also scattered small colonies on barns and some commercial buildings at various places west of the Connecticut River.

When To Find It: Northbound migrants arrive in April and the last birds of the season usually depart by mid-September. A few straggle through in early October. Prime southbound migration occurs in late July and August. Nesting sites are most active from May through early July. Cliff Swallows winter in South America.

What It Looks Like: Key field marks include the buffy rump, the pale patch (like a headlight) on the forehead and the dark throat contrasting with otherwise white underparts.

The very similar Cave Swallow, a rare fall and extremely rare spring migrant, is most likely to be seen from late October to early December, when Cliff Swallows have departed our region.

To be sure about an identification, look for the smaller Cave Swallow’s buffy (rather than dark) throat. They also have a darker forehead than eastern Cliff Swallows.

Conservation Status: Cliff Swallow nests are sometimes usurped or destroyed by House Sparrows. Some people ignorantly – and illegally – remove the nests of Cliff Swallows because of concern about droppings or unsightliness, depriving themselves of the insect-eaters’ ability to help control local mosquito populations.Cliff Swallows occupy large colonies on cliffs in parts of the West. They were probably not widespread in the East prior to European colonization, but quickly adapted to nesting on barns and bridges by the mid-1800s.

Their decline to uncommon status in the East began with introduction of House Sparrows in late 1800s. When I lived in rural New Jersey, long-time birders believed that the increased practice of painting wooden barns, along with the use of metal structures, made it harder for the mud nests to adhere to those surfaces. While numbers have declined in the Northeast, a significant range expansion has occurred in the Southeast.

Of Special Interest: Birds of North America Online says: With House Sparrow control, local colony size can increase substantially; annual increases at one North Dakota site averaged 97% when House Sparrows were trapped. Removal of ectoparasites via nest fumigation can also result in colony size increases at some sites. Local increases in the number of birds nesting on barns in Massachusetts have occurred following installation of clay ledges on potential nesting substrates. However, whether any of the conservation measures actually increase total population size over time, instead of causing mostly redistribution of birds among sites, is unknown. Attempts to entice Cliff Swallows to nest in plaster nests at Mission San Juan Capistrano, southern California, have been unsuccessful to date.

Photo: Top, Don DeBold, and Ingrid Taylar,

Canada Warbler

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

June 23, 2017
Canada Warbler

Cardellina canadensis

by Paul Cianfaglione
Spring is by far the best season for finding wood warblers in Connecticut. Sadly, the same birdwatchers who so eagerly await their spring arrival, suddenly forget about warblers once nesting season has begun.

The Canada Warbler, for instance, approaches its southern limit of breeding distribution in Connecticut and further south in the Appalachian mountain range. It undertakes a long annual migration for a wood-warbler, wintering primarily in northern South America.

Where to find it: During the breeding season, Canada Warblers are found in mixed coniferous-deciduous forests with a well-developed understory, which often includes dense stands of mountain laurel.

Canada Warbers nest at Connecticut Audubon’s Croft preserve, in Goshen. Places such as Peoples State Forest in Barkhamsted and Mohawk State Forest in Goshen provide such habitat. You can find others on eBird. 

How to find it: When searching for nesting Canada Warbler, it is important to become familiar with its unique song. One of my favorite ways of locating a Canada Warbler is by slowly driving along Greenwoods Road in Peoples State Forest, listening for its clear, loud chip note, followed by an abrupt, explosive series of short notes that regularly ends with a three-note phrase.

Canada Warblers are nesting now. But because they are long-distance migrants, they are often one of the first warbler species to be detected away from their breeding grounds. It is not unusual to find southbound migrant Canada Warblers along powerline corridors or coastal habitats as early as mid-August.

What it looks like: Often referred to as the “Necklaced Warbler,” male Canada Warblers sport unmarked gray upperparts, yellow underparts, black facial markings and, of course, a spectacular black necklace, which makes identification pretty straightforward. Females are far less distinctive, but still retain some the key field marks.  

Conservation status: The North American Bird Conservation Initiative designated the Canada Warbler as a Highest Priority Land Bird in Bird Conservation. Partners in Flight North American Land Bird Conservation Plan lists this as a species of high conservation concern in the Northern Forest region. The Northeast Endangered Species and Wildlife Diversity Technical Committee recognize Canada Warbler as one of the region’s highest priorities for conservation and research. (Source: Birds of North America Online Version, 2017).

Photos by William Majoros (top) and Jose Loaiza, 

Red-eyed Vireo

Friday, June 2nd, 2017
June 2, 2017
Red-Eyed Vireo
Vireo olivaceus

by Michael Aurelia, Connecticut Audubon Society Board of Directors
The Red-Eyed Vireo is widely distributed throughout Connecticut wherever forested habitats are present. This bird prefers to forage and nest in deciduous forests and is a very successful breeder throughout the state. A large chunky bird, the Red-Eyed Vireo has an angular head, thick neck with a long thick bill with a hook at the end. It is a “warbler like” bird.

Its song can be heard as “here I am, in the tree, look up, at the top,” and the singing can continue for quite a while. This time of the year the Red-Eyed Vireo is not difficult to find in the right habitat.

What it Looks Like: The Red-Eyed Vireo is a small stocky, olive green songbird with a white belly and eyebrow and a dark stripe through the eye. It also has a gray cap but the red eye is frequently difficult to see. The three typical colors for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Merlin ID application are gray, black and white.

Where and How to Find It: This vireo can be found in almost any type of broad-leafed forested habitat. The bird can be difficult to see because it is usually searching for caterpillars in the tops of trees after leaf-out. But if it’s there, you will hear it.

To find the most recent reports of this vireo, go to – Explore Data: species maps function, and insert “Red-Eyed Vireos”
Date: year around current year
Location: Connecticut.

Again, because it is a tireless songster you will usually hear the bird before you see it.

Other interesting facts: Red-Eyed Vireos migrate from the eastern half of the United States to the Amazon Basin east of the Andes. There is no shortage of breeding pairs in Connecticut. According to the 1994 Breeding Bird Atlas, breeding occurred in 94.6% of all surveyed blocks.

Conservation Status: The Red-Eyed Vireo’s status in Connecticut can be described as stable. As forest habitat returned to Connecticut over the last century, the bird’s numbers increased. There may have been some decline in populations as forests have become more fragmented in recent years, however.

On the national level the IUCN indicates the Red-Eyed Vireos status is of Least Concern and the population trend is increasing.

White-rumped Sandpiper: Bird Finder for May 26, 2017

Friday, May 26th, 2017

White-rumped Sandpiper
Calidris fuscicollis

by Greg Hanisek, editor of The Connecticut Warbler
Where To Find It: This is an uncommon species in Connecticut, but one that can be found with some reliability. It favors coastal shorelines and mudflats at the state’s top shorebird stopovers such as Milford Point, Sandy Point in West Haven and Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison.

When To Find It: White-rumpeds are regular in both spring and fall migrations going to and from their Arctic breeding grounds. In spring they arrive during peak shorebird migration in mid-May and often linger til the end of the month and into early June.

In southbound migration they occur over a broad time frame, from mid-July to well into the fall season, some lingering into November. They follow the typical fall shorebird scenario, with molting adults arriving first, followed later by the fresh-plumaged juveniles.

What It Looks Like: The White-rumped Sandpiper is one of nearly 20 species in the genus Calidris that have been found in North America. These include notoriously tricky identification problems such as the five small North American species known as “peep” and their small Eurasian counterparts known as stints. The White-rumped, one of the “peeps,” fits the basic sandpiper plumage pattern, but in spring it’s the largest “peep,” with long primary flight feathers that give the species an elongated look. In fall, the size and shape are matched by Baird’s Sandpiper, but the White-rumped is unique in the presence of the eponymous white rump (a feature best seen when the birds are in flight).

Conservation Status: Birds of North America Online offers this:

Loss of wetland feeding and resting areas along migratory routes and in wintering areas detrimental to this and other shorebirds. For example, Castro et al. (Castro et al. 1990 ) show how drying of Cheyenne Bottoms, KS, limits ability of shorebirds to fatten before spring migration to Arctic. This and other Great Plains wetlands struggle to maintain water levels as agriculture (deep well irrigation) diminishes supply. Long term solution tied to shift to more traditional forms of agriculture based on natural precipitation, stopping further depletion of aquifers. Short term solution tied to purchase of extra land reserves and more water. Preservation of wetland staging areas in Latin America equally critical.

Of Special Interest: This small Nearctic sandpiper migrates from its principal breeding ground in the Canadian Arctic to the southern extremities of South America, one of the longest animal migrations in the Western Hemisphere.

Much of its migration is made in a few, long, non-stop flights, each of which can last as long as 60 hours and transport these birds up to 4,000 kilometers, powered by extensive body fat. Such fat reserves are laid down at key migration staging areas — wetlands where food is especially abundant — making this bird particularly vulnerable to loss of strategic habitat.

Southbound migrants fly over the Atlantic Ocean from northeastern North America to northern South America, and then gradually move southeast along the coast before turning inland in trans-Amazonian travel of about one month. Northward migration from Patagonia is apparently similar, at least through South America; the birds then move across the Caribbean and through interior North America to arctic breeding grounds (Birds of North America Online).

Photo by Nick Athanas,

Hooded Warbler: Bird Finder for May 19, 2017

Friday, May 19th, 2017
Hooded Warbler
Setophaga citrina

by Christopher S. Wood, Woodbury, Connecticut
Usually first noticed by a ringing “weeta, weeta, weeteeo” song, a Hooded Warbler sighting highlights almost any bird walk in the Connecticut woods.

Hooded Warblers reach the northern edge of their breeding range here in Connecticut (although there is a breeding population in southern Ontario), generally arriving during the first week of May and setting up housekeeping almost immediately.

What it looks like:
Adult male Hooded Warblers are unmistakable, with a bright yellow face surrounded by a black hood and with all-yellow undersides. None of the other yellow-faced, black-throated warblers (such as Black-throated Green) have completely yellow undersides. Fully adult females show at least the outline of the black hood, although first year females are rather non-descript and might be confused with females of several other species. However, their habit of distinctively flashing large white spots on the tail confirms the identification.

Where to find it: The combination of habitat availability and the northern limits of its range focuses Hooded Warbler breeding into an east-west band across the middle of Connecticut.

Reliable and accessible locations in eastern Connecticut include Connecticut Audubon’s Trail Wood sanctuary in Hampton, and Hurd State Park in East Haddam. In western Connecticut, good spots are Naugatuck State Forest in Naugatuck and Bent of the River Sanctuary in Southbury.

Conservation Status: Hooded Warblers were once common along the coast of Connecticut, according to early accounts, but there are virtually no eBird reports from the coastal area during nesting season over the past 10 years. Clearly this is a result of intensive coastal area development.

Although listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern and with increasing population rangewide, the average number of Hooded Warblers recorded on Breeding Bird Surveys in Connecticut has increased significantly since the 1960s. However the species might become rarer as nesting habitat of mature mixed forest with dense understory and canopy openings is lost. Some targeted habitat management, such as selective logging, may be appropriate and relatively simple.

Interesting Facts: Recent DNA research has resulted in Hooded Warblers, along with 33 other wood warblers, being classified in the single genus Setophaga (“moth eaters”). Hooded Warblers were formerly joined with Wilson’s Warbler and Canada Warbler in the genus Wilsonia; however, based on the DNA research, they may actually be more closely related to the American Redstart.

All Photos © C.S. Wood 2017

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Bird Finder for May 13, 2017: Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Saturday, May 13th, 2017
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Pheucticus ludovcianus

by Ben Skaught
One of my favorite birds, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, returns from the Caribbean to Connecticut during the spring migration. And you may not have to work very hard to find it.

As fruit, seed and insect eaters, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks may make their way to your bird feeders. Overall, unfortunately their population seems to be declining in Connecticut, as the average number counted during breeding bird surveys has dropped steadily since the 1960s (typical of birds that nest in young forests or shrublands).

They are not a shy bird. The male, strikingly patterned in black and white with a rosy breast, will help build their flimsy nests (unlike most brightly colored male birds), usually between five and 50 feet above ground, in bushes or trees.

The female, with white patches on the wings, pale eyebrow and streaked breast, will sing while building the nest. The male will continue to sing even as it takes its turn incubating the nest eggs. Roger Tory Peterson described its song as like a Robin’s “but with more feeling (as if a Robin has taken voice lessons).”

The eggs are a pale blue or green with spots and blotches of brown. The young will leave the nest 9-12 days after hatching. These birds do not seem to make any effort to hide their nests from predators like snakes, squirrels, and jays and are easy targets for cowbirds, which parasitize their nests.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are about 7 to 8-1/2 inches long, and with their striking coloration and pale, stout, conical bills, you won’t mistake them for any other species.

Look for them in open, brushy woods and aspen groves.

Photo by Ben Skaught 

Fox Sparrow: Bird Finder for March 16, 2017

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Fox Sparrow
Passerella iliaca

by Ben Skaught
Sightings of the Fox Sparrow are on the increase in Connecticut as it begins its migration from southern parts of the U.S. to northern Canada and Alaska. Typically at this time of year Fox Sparrows can be found scratching for food among the leaf litter. But there’s not much leaf litter to be found this week, so Fox Sparrows have been reported under snowy feeders in Glastonbury, Ellington, West Hartford, Wethersfield, Bethel, and Harwinton. In other words, pretty much everywhere.

So if you see a large sparrow – roughly 6 1/2 to 7 inches – picking up seeds under your feeder, look closely.

What it looks like: The Fox Sparrows we see in Connecticut are generally rust-brown above with a mix of rust and gray on the head, and heavy brownish splotches on the flanks and the center of the chest. They do, however, vary greatly depending upon their habitat. “Red” Fox Sparrows are common in the boreal forests of northern North America, “Slate-colored” Fox Sparrows in the mountains of the Interior West, “thick billed” Fox Sparrows in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and “Sooty” Fox Sparrows along the Pacific Coast.

What to look for: When the ground isn’t snow-covered, Fox Sparrows can be seen spending much of their time hopping on the ground scratching through leaf litter foraging for insects and seeds. This is often referred to as a “double-scratch” involving a hop forward and an immediate hop back during which they scratch both feet backwards through the leaf litter.

Fox Sparrows are larger than either the Song Sparrow or the Savannah Sparrow. Song Sparrows do not habitually scratch in the leaf litter to find food, as Fox Sparrows do. Savannah Sparrows are always paler and smaller than Fox Sparrows, and are usually found in open rather than brushy habitats.

Fox Sparrows rarely make long flights during their day-to-day activities. Within one day of arriving on the breeding grounds they establish territories of up to 2 1/2 acres in size, and they pair off with mates within a week. Outside of the breeding season, they usually spend their time alone or in small groups, and often associate with other sparrow species.

Photo by Alan D. Wilson/

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Bird Finder for May 6, 2017: Summer Tanager

Saturday, May 6th, 2017
Summer Tanager
Piranga rubra

by Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation
Although this is a common summer resident of our southern states, the Summer Tanager is a rare migrant in Connecticut woodlands, usually seen in mid-May. Lately an unusual pair has been regularly seen at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven in the tree line between the road closed to traffic and the harbor, offering some great views.

On their southern breeding grounds they nest in openings or along the edges of deciduous or oak-pine forests and during migration they often stop in habitats similar to their breeding grounds as well as parks and gardens. Look along forest openings and edges in the deciduous forests.  

Although Summer Tanagers are closely related to Scarlet and Western Tanagers, taxonomists now consider Summer Tanagers to be part of the cardinal family.

What it looks like: The Summer Tanager is the only all-red bird in North America. The strawberry colored male is among the most eye-catching bird of the forest. The female is a dull mustard color and can be very difficult to spot. Like many songbirds, the best way to find them is to listen for their very distinctive robin-like song and their peculiar pik-it-tukituk call. Look for this bird foraging in the canopy of deciduous trees but also sometimes in the lower shrubs in the forest openings and around parks and gardens.
Interesting facts: Although Summer Tanagers can eat a variety of insects and caterpillars, they actually specialize on bees and wasps which they catch in flight, then return to the branch where they rub off the stinger before consuming.
Conservation: Summer Tanagers are listed by the IUCN as Least Concern. Overall populations are currently stable with their estimated global breeding population at 12 million.

Photos: NJ Birds & Pamela Wilson,

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