The ecological value of land set aside for birds and other wildlife almost always fades over time if it’s not maintained and improved.
Which means you need to work to keep the land you’ve preserved in good shape.
Connecticut Audubon’s members, donors, and volunteers are supporting projects on 20 sanctuaries.
On this page you’ll find summaries of the work, along with representative plant lists for half a dozen of the bigger projects.
Habitat improvement helps birds, beneficial insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
It also helps undeveloped land store carbon, making these projects increasingly important in the effort to control the effects of climate change.
|Native Plants at Smith Richardson |
|American holly||Butterfly weed||Echinacea|
|White spruce||Millet||Swamp milkweed|
|Red cedar||Staghorn sumac||Foxtail grass|
|Blue vervain||White pine||White oak|
Smith Richardson occupies three distinct parcels on Sasco Creek Road in Westport. The 36-acre southernmost section gives visitors a chance to see a significant habitat restoration project in progress.
Until roughly 2016, the section was a thicket of weeds and invasive shrubs and vines, including barberry, porcelain berry, bittersweet, and multiflora rose.
Connecticut Audubon envisioned an ecological overhaul that would transform it into a rich, coastal forest and shrubland.
Staff, consultants and volunteers went to work, supported by grants and generous donors, including neighbors who share borders with the sanctuary.
They removed many acres of invasive plants and vines that have little value to birds and insects. They replaced them with more than 3,000 native trees and shrubs, providing seeds, fruit, and nectar year-round for birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife.
Two new two-acre pollinator meadows buzz with insects. Small plots of seed-producing grasses — millet, sorghum and other grains — ripen in fall, in time for songbird migration.
For anyone familiar with the sanctuary in its “before” stage, the results are a stark improvement. The impenetrable tangle of weedy plants is gone, replaced by a mixture of meadows, shrubs, thickets, conifers, and open woods.
Connecticut Audubon is advising the town’s Conservation Commission on ways to restore this 17-acre sanctuary.
The project re-establishes a relationship from 1924, when Mabel Osgood Wright, Connecticut Audubon’s founder, helped bird lovers in New Canaan create the Bristow Sanctuary.
Bristow was the third privately-owned bird sanctuary in the country, after Connecticut Audubon’s Birdcraft Sanctuary in Fairfield, and another sanctuary in New Hampshire.
For the current project, invasive species were removed, and Connecticut Audubon advised the conservation commission on what to plant — wildflowers, shrubs, and trees that provide year-round cover and food for birds.
Two dozen nest boxes for Barred Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, Wood Duck, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, and Great-crested Flycatcher were erected in appropriate locations.
Connecticut Audubon manages about 15 percent of this 700-acre preserve as young forest or shrub-scrub habitat, for mammals such as New England cottontail and birds, such as Brown Thrasher, Blue-winged Warbler, and Indigo Bunting, whose populations are declining in New England.
Croft is one of three Connecticut Audubon preserves with known populations of the rare New England cottontail rabbit (the Larsen Sanctuary in Fairfield and Deer Pond Farm are the others). New England cottontail is a habitat specialist, unlike the more common (and visually identical) eastern cottontail, and requires areas of thick shrubs and tangles.
Roughly 100 acres were cleared in the early 2010’s and are being allowed to regrow. Some timber was removed but many branches and limbs were left to provide habitat for insects and amphibians; brush piles were created as cover for birds and mammals.
The area is also good habitat for moose (not to mention black bear) and trail cameras set up by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection are studying the local population.
|Native Plants at The Beech Hill Block|
|Big bluestem grass||Indian grass||New England aster|
|Partridge pea||Wild bergamot||Early goldenrod|
|Common milkweed||Great lobelia||New York ironweed|
Connecticut Audubon is working with the CT DEEP as it converts a former cornfield into an area of grassland and shrubs for pollinators and grassland birds.
The project goes back to May 2020, when the state bought 627 acres in Goshen. Approximately 100 acres were old farm fields, most of which had been planted in corn.
In June 2022, the CT DEEP planted 24 acres of wildflowers, Indian grass, little bluestem grass, and switchgrass. Connecticut Audubon contributed the funds to pay for the seeds.
Eventually the entire 100 acres will be converted into grasslands, with a border of shrubland between the grassland and the surrounding forest.
The 627 acres is near the state’s Goshen Wildlife Management Area and Connecticut Audubon’s Croft Preserve, both of which are being managed for a mix of forest, old field, and grassland.
Grasslands and grasslands birds are a focus of the CT DEEP throughout the state but especially in Litchfield County. The Beech Hill Block adds to the overall mix of habitat types in that region.
The long-term restoration of this sanctuary, on the Lieutenant River in Old Lyme, began when volunteers and staff removed one ton of invasive plants—knotweed, ailanthus, and wisteria, and other species. Native grasses, wildflowers and shrubs will replace them.
Master gardeners from the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension are replanting a sunken garden with native plants chosen to attract birds and pollinators.
The work here also includes plans to improve habitat on the Lieutenant River, a tidal, brackish tributary of the Connecticut River. A dilapidated dock on the property is being repaired.
Eelgrass, an essential part of the estuarine ecosystem in that part of Connecticut, will be planted near the dock. An array of shellfish—oysters and mussels—will be suspended in the river near the dock in an innovative attempt to restore the bivalve population.
|Native Plants at Birdcraft Sanctuary Wildlife Sanctuary|
|Red osier dogwood||Sassafras||Gray Birch|
Connecticut Audubon is carrying out a forest management plan at this 5-acre sanctuary. To spur the growth of shrubs and allow oaks and hickories to regenerate, carefully-chosen trees have been removed.
A trail is being improved to connect a public school on the south side of the sanctuary to Birdcraft’s parking lot. Ailanthus, knotweed, and porcelain berry are being removed.
Birdcraft, the first private bird sanctuary in the state and one of the first in the country, is a National Historic Landmark. Because of its habitat and location—a small island of green amid the development of downtown Fairfield—it attracts thousands of songbirds of dozens of species in fall and spring.
It is also the site of one Connecticut Audubon’s long-standing bird banding operation.
Connecticut Audubon is participating in and advising on a forestry management plan at the New Pond Farm environmental education center. The work includes habitat restoration of over 102 acres of forest and meadow.
|Native Plants at Larsen Sanctuary|
|Flowering dogwood||Blue flag iris||High-bush blueberry|
|Gray birch||Staghorn sumac||Bayberry|
|Sassafras||White pine||White oak|
The Friends of Larsen volunteer group is leading the work at this 155-acre sanctuary, directed and overseen by Connecticut Audubon staff.
Thanks to a Long Island Sound Futures Fund Grant, several projects are underway to improve the habitat surrounding the headwaters of Sasco Creek, a tributary of the Sound.
One project aims to restore Deer Meadow, which over the years has become overgrown with woody plants such as the invasive multiflora rose and with wild grape, a native vine, both of which are being removed.
The meadow is being replanted, either with a mix of grassland-pollinator seeds, or with young plants, including joe-pie weed, asters, and goldenrods.
Flowering dogwoods will flank the main path leading into the meadow. Flowering dogwood is a host plant for summer azure butterfly in its larval stage, and provides food during fall migration for thrushes and Scarlet Tanagers.
Along the meadow’s edge, gray birch, sassafras, red osier dogwood, and gray dogwood will be planted in a transition zone leading to the woods.
Closer to the Center at Fairfield building, the work is focused on clearing invasive plants — stilt grass, wisteria, invasive viburnums, barberry — along the Fragrance Loop Trail. Among the native plants replacing them: northern blue flag iris, Pennsylvania sedge, spotted crane’s bill (a native geranium), and great blue lobelia.
|Native Plants at Deer Pond Farm|
|Joe-pye weed||Staghorn sumac||Brown-eyed susan|
This 850-acre sanctuary features several projects to improve habitat. The work centers on birds whose populations have fallen because they require scrub-shrub habitat, which has become rare in Connecticut.
In one five-acre section of the preserve, northern white ash trees that were killed by the invasive emerald ash border were removed, and replaced with native shrubs.
The tree removal also opened the canopy for sunlight to reach the understory of highbush blueberry and mountain laurel.
Three small plots were tilled to exhaust the soil’s supply of weed seeds, and then planted with an array of species that provide nutrition for migrating birds — millet and sorghum, for example, and annual flowers including zinnia, cosmos and partridge pea.
A half-acre wet meadow has been planted with great blue lobelia, joe-pye weed, boneset, swamp milkweed, and cardinal flower. Native shrubs, also chosen for their value to wildlife, include viburnum, blueberry, winterberry, dogwood, and sumac.
Volunteers maintain a pollinator garden near the Deer Pond Farm office and parking lot. You can find boneset, sneezeweed, wild bergamot, beardtongue, and brown-eyed susan growing there.
The removal of invasive plants is ongoing and extensive. In 2022, for example, we estimate that we removed more than 100 pounds of garlic mustard and 80 pounds of knotweed, plus quantities of mugwort, black swallow-wort, burning bush, multiflora rose, Canada thistle and Japanese knotweed.
Connecticut Audubon is providing financial support and conservation advice to residents of Westport who are restoring the Long Lots Preserve, a 2-½-acre forest that surrounds the town’s community gardens.
The property, owned by the town of Westport, has become choked with invasive plants over the years. As part of a two-year restoration, Connecticut Audubon has provided funding for native trees, shrubs and wildflowers chosen for their value to birds and insects.
|Native Plants at Smith Hubbell Sanctuary |
|Bayberry||Red cedar||Gray birch|
|Common juniper||Beach plum||Echinacea|
Connecticut Audubon staff and volunteers have planted an array of native shrubs and trees on the sanctuary.
Much of the work planting flanks the “magic fountain” — the recirculating waterfall that provides birds with the only fresh water on Milford Point.
Viburnum, bayberry, flowering dogwood, winterberry and cedar, planted in 2019 and 2020, provide a place for small songbirds to wait until they sense it is safe from predators before flying to the water.
Around the remainder of the property, winterberry, northern bayberry, beach plum, seaside goldenrod, common juniper, red cedar, and gray birch are going in.
The removal of invasive species is close to eternal. Connecticut Audubon staff is pulling plants such as mugwort, autumn olive, clammy locust, black locust, Japanese honeysuckle, shrub honeysuckle, and Japanese knotweed.
The work will improve the area’s wildlife habitat and protect its soils. Public education programs are also part of the project.
Connecticut Audubon manages the 700-acre Bafflin Sanctuary for birds that require open land or young forest, most of which are rare or declining in the region — Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Towhee, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, and others.
Ongoing habitat improvement and management projects include a cornfield, and seasonal grass and flower plots to attract migratory songbirds.
Because of the Bafflin Sanctuary’s large size, habitat projects are numerous. To give one example, for years sanctuary manager Andy Rzeznikiewicz mowed a field across from the Center at Pomfret building once a year.
Goldenrods, milkweeds and Joe-pye weed grew there. But there was also a large percentage of woody vegetation such as bittersweet, multiflora rose, blackberry, poison ivy etc.
However, grassland birds never used the field. So Andy brought in a local farmer to plow and harrow, and re-plant with timothy, fescue, and red clover.
It and the field across the road, behind the center’s equipment barn, are now rich with grassland birds, including hundreds of Bobolinks that gather there before migrating south.
The project is an opportunity to create a vibrant habitat in an area that’s likely to be a stopping place for birds as the migrate across the water.
This 266-acre preserve includes 10 acres of shrubland created in 2017 to attract the bird species that require that habitat.
Aerial photos showed an area of young forest that could be transformed without affecting the birds on the rest of the preserve that need mature forest. Trees were felled and brush stacked into piles. Invasive plants were removed. That created places for birds and small mammals to find cover.
By the 2022 breeding season, many of the species we were targeting had moved in, including White-eyed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting, Prairie Warbler, and Blue-winged Warbler.
|Native Plants at Trail Wood|
Trail Wood is the former home of Edwin Way Teale and Nellie Teale, who lived there from 1959 until Nellie died in 1993. Their former house is still a focal point of the preserve. Connecticut Audubon is restoring the part of the preserve near the house to its condition when the Teales lived there.
Multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, Asian bittersweet and other plants that push out species that are more beneficial for wildlife have all been removed. In theri place we planted crabapple, gray dogwood, shadbush and other shrubs and small trees.
Elsewhere, a large section of forest heavily damaged in 2017 by spongy moths (formerly known as gypsy moths) is being restored to a shrub-scrub habitat. Dead trees were felled and trucked away. Branches and limbs were left on the forest floor to help replenish the soil and provide habitat for insects and small mammals.
The forest has been regrowing and invasive species are continually removed.
Connecticut Audubon contributed funding to a project to remove invasive plants and replace with native grasses and wildflowers at this town nature area.
Improvements here include removing the invasive bushes and vines such as autumn olive, multiflora rose, bittersweet, privet, and burning bush that had taken over the sanctuary’s meadow. Numerous ash trees that were killed or damaged by emerald ash borers were felled and removed.
Connecticut Audubon has helped plan and carry out a project to remove invasive plants, restore dunes, and put up boxes for bats and birds. Also working with the city of Bridgeport is the Ash Creek Conservation Association.
Work continues to remove invasive plants that have little value for wildlife—include porcelain berry and mile-a-minute weed. among them—and replace them with native species.
Norwalk Land Trust contacted Connecticut Audubon in 2013 for help with a conservation plan to improve Hoyt Island for birds.
Staff visited the island and conducted field surveys, and then recommended managing the invasive plants that had overrun the island and removing a dilapidated caretaker’s building.
Recent grant funding has allowed the land trust to resume work.
Invasive plant control is continuing, including the girdling of several trees, which will create standing dead trees, an important habitat component.
Hoyt Island is tucked into the mouth of Norwalk Harbor, in the midst of one of Long Island Sound’s richest oyster areas. It’s also close to the cluster of Norwalk Islands, including Chimon Island, which used to be the site of the largest heron rookery between New York City and Boston.
Work is continuing.
This 300-acre multiuse park includes several areas of natural habitat that are being improved for birds.
Bluebird boxes have been erected in a marge meadow behind the park’s building. An American Kestrel box is planned, probably for early next year.
Connecticut Audubon is also organizing citizen science groups to get a better understanding of the park’s bird life. We’ll be providing training on data collection and keeping track of nesting activity and success.
Plans are in the works to make Waveny a regular location for the Audubon Shcristmas Bird County and Summer Bird Count.