Connecticut State of the Birds 2023
“5 Key Issues: New knowledge and better technologies are changing conservation”
Click HERE to receive a PDF of the 2023 report!
December 7, 2023 — The natural world is in a perpetual state of transition, and conservation strategies and tactics have to change with it. That’s especially important in an era when North American bird populations have fallen by 30 percent over 50 years.
The 2023 Connecticut State of the Birds report, released today, looks at five key areas of conservation concern from previous reports—examples of how new knowledge, new realities, increased human effort, and better technologies are either resulting in changes or resulting in the awareness of the need for improvement.
The Connecticut Audubon Society publishes Connecticut State of the Birds yearly. Its purpose is to bring awareness to the state’s conservation needs and help set the conservation agenda.
Over the years since the first report, in 2006, its authors have included some of the top bird and conservation experts in the country. Each issue is illustrated with dozens of photos, charts and graphs.
The report is mailed to Connecticut Audubon members, and made available to the general public via PDF about a month after the mailing. Become a member here.
The 2023 report, titled “5 Key Issues: New knowledge and better technologies are changing conservation,” looks at New Haven’s role in reducing the number of birds killed when they fly into buildings—estimated now at 1 billion birds a year in North America. It examines the importance of overlooked urban forests as habitat and for climate change mitigation. The report raises concerns about the effect trails in nature sanctuaries might be having on birds.
It updates the landmark Connecticut Bird Atlas, started in 2018 and nearing completion now. And it takes a broad overview of forest conservation—how it has succeeded and how it has fallen short—on a state and regional scale.
- In 2007, Connecticut State of the Birds reported that the technology toprevent birds from crashing into windows was largely ineffective. That’s no longer true. Viveca Morris, the executive director of the Yale Law School’s Law, Ethics & Animals Program, writes about the eye-opening and disturbing results of the research on bird strikes in New Haven. She also discusses improvements at Yale, and the new technologies that are making city buildings and ordinary houses safer for birds.
- For many species during migration, urban forests are the first and only place to land, rest, and feed after a long night of flying. Urban forests were part of the focus of the 2018 Connecticut State of the Birds report. This year, Danica Doroski, Ph.D., the urban forester for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, writes about her study of 24 urban forests in New Haven. Even lots as small as a quarter-acre are or could be highly important for wildlife, climate change, and neighborhood residents with limited opportunities to enjoy the natural world.
- The 2014 Connecticut State of the Birds report looked at the importance of management planning for conservation lands. In 2023, Robert A. Askins, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at Connecticut College, examines studies that suggest that if we want nature preserves that are rich in bird life, we might need to think about limiting a common feature that until now has been considered at worst benign and at best an essential asset: hiking trails.
- The Connecticut Bird Atlas project is wrapping up, six years after it was the topic of the 2017 Connecticut State of the Birds report. Min Huang, Ph.D., of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, summarizes the work and re-introduces the idea that the atlas must become a catalyst for the kind of bird-conservation funding that has long been lacking. Tom Andersen, editor of Connecticut State of the Birds and also Connecticut Audubon’s communications director, was co-author of the article.
- David Foster, Ph.D., of the Harvard Forest, has written several times for Connecticut State of the Birds about the regional effort to protect millions of acres in New England as wildlands. Regional Conservation Partnerships, for example, have now spread throughout the region. But the pace of land protection needs to increase, for many reasons, including bird habitat and to help meet climate change goals. Foster and his Harvard colleague, Brian Hill, Ph.D., review a decade-plus of success and frustrations, and outline what needs to be done now.
The report makes several recommendations for action and further study.
- The pace of land protection must increase. Connecticut has not come close to its official goal of protecting 21 percent of the land in Connecticut by 2023, to put it mildly. A recent study calculated that at the present rate of land conservation, the state would not meet its 2023 goal until 2087.
Land acquisition remains the best way to protect habitat. It’s also an important yet neglected method of carbon reduction.
We call on state officials to continue to protect the Community Investment Act, and increase bond funding for the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program and the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection needs more staff for its Land Acquisition Management Office to support these programs and better leverage federal funding.
- Too many birds are dying unnecessarily. Bird-friendly building design can significantly reduce the number of birds killed in window strikes and other crashes. More than 20 U.S. municipalities have enacted bird-friendly building policies. We strongly recommend that the state of Connecticut begin work on bird-friendly building policies, codes, and incentives. New York City’s bird-friendly building law, Local Law 15 of 2020, provides an excellent model of a rigorous, science-based building policy.
- Pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
Conservationists have been pushing for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act for years. It’s been one of our key recommendations annually since 2018. RAWA, as it’s known, passed the House of Representatives in June 2022 but died in the Senate. It must be revived.
RAWA would direct some $1.4 billion to states each year to fully carry out their Wildlife Action Plans—plans that are a Congressional mandate. Connecticut would receive about $12.6 million annually from the fund. That’s an almost 10-fold increase in what it spends on its plan now. A goal of the Connecticut Bird Atlas is to galvanize support for consistent funding for bird conservation. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would be an enormous benefit.
For Further Study
- Trails: It would be a sad irony if inviting hikers onto bird sanctuaries caused those sanctuaries to have fewer birds. But in some sanctuaries, that might be the case. Additional comparative studies of pristine areas and sanctuary lands adjacent to hiking trails could show that closing trails, perhaps seasonally, or rerouting them might result in a greater abundance and diversity of bird life.
- Urban Forests: New Haven is dotted with small urban forests, some protected as parks or land trust preserves, some not much more than wooded vacant lots. It’s the same in the state’s other large cities—Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, Waterbury, Hartford, etc.
In New Haven, small urban forests seem to have been overlooked by the state’s birding community. Many of these wooded tracts will prove to be important for climate change mitigation. Many are the only green spaces in poorer neighborhoods. Data about bird life there could help build a case for preservation and management of many of these locations. A good start would be regular visits in all seasons, with checklists submitted to eBird.
The 2023 Connecticut State of the Birds report is sponsored by WSHU public radio, 91.1 FM and wshu.org.