Posts Tagged ‘birds’


American Kestrel

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

September 21, 2017

American Kestrel
Falco sparverius

By Genevieve Nuttall
You may spot an American Kestrel in Connecticut this fall either on its southward migration route or in its year-round home. The American Kestrel is a small, colorful falcon that hunts rodents, insects, and songbirds.

What it looks like: Unlike many raptors, the American Kestrel has vivid plumage coloration. The breast is pale, lined with dark spots. The back is brown with more spots, with males having grayish-blue wings and females having reddish wings. The tail for both sexes is a rusty color, and all individuals have thick black lines coming downward from their eyes.

The body shape and size of an American Kestrel is similar to a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) which can make identification challenging. When in flight, look for smooth movement through the air or hovering in the air over a field. These characteristics are distinct from a Mourning Dove, which has a rapid and even flight pattern.

Where to find it: During migration – in other words, now – you may be able to spot more American Kestrels than during other times of the year. Try searching along stopover coastal areas for kestrels on their way south. Stop in at one of the regular hawk watching spots, such as Lighthouse Point Park, in New Haven. Tune your ears to the sounds of klee-klee-klee or chattering noises in an open field to spot your American Kestrel.

Year-round, you can find the American Kestrel in open fields lined by fences or telephone wires. These birds like to hunt in meadows and grasslands, and they can be spotted by their hovering behavior before striking a prey. During the breeding season, you will see them nesting in old tree cavities or nest boxes.

American Kestrels nest at the Bafflin Sanctuary at Connecticut Audubon’s Center at Pomfret and were seen there this week.

Interesting Facts: Kestrels, like all birds, see ultraviolet light. They can visualize the ultraviolet urine trails from moles, which the prey on. This ability to clearly see urine trails helps them track down and capture their prey. Though these raptors are small, their hunting techniques are as fierce as any other falcon!

Conservation Status: The American Kestrel is considered a species of Special Concern in Connecticut but of Least Concern throughout its range. Nevertheless, populations have declined almost 50% between the 1960s and 2015. The decline is largely due to the unavailability of nesting habitats. When trees are cleared to create farmland, kestrels lose their nesting cavities and the prey that lived in that habitat.

Despite this large decrease in the population, American Kestrels are persistent and remain as the most common falcon in North America. You can help this species by constructing wooden nest boxes near open fields that will provide good hunting and nesting habitat.

Photo by Patrick M. Comins

Philadelphia Vireo

Friday, September 15th, 2017

September 15, 2017

Philadelphia Vireo
Vireo philadelphicus
by Paul Cianfaglione
Early to mid September is the best time to find Philadelphia Vireo in Connecticut. It is a widespread northern breeder, occurring in most of Canada, northern New England, and the Adirondacks, but its migration period is brief. The entire population retires to Central America for our northern winter.
Where to find it: The Philadelphia Vireo breeds in young second-growth deciduous woodlands and in fall migration it will also favor younger second-growth trees, especially those bordered by water. Another excellent place to look is along powerline rights of way. Search for Philadelphia Vireo among mixed flocks of other birds, including chickadees and Red-eyed Vireos, foraging within the middle strata of the forest edge.

Andy Rzeznikiewicz of Connecticut Audubon saw three at the organization’s Trail Wood Sanctuary in Hampton on Wednesday and one near the Center at Pomfret on Tuesday. Stragglers may be passing through as late as Columbus Day.
What it looks like: Because of its similarity with the more common Warbling Vireo, the Philadelphia Vireo is sometimes overlooked during its brief fall appearance. Overall, Philadelphia Vireo is slightly smaller, more rotund looking, stubbier-billed, and shorter-tailed than Warbling Vireo.

Its plumage is grayish above with a contrasting darker crown. Philadelphia also shows a dark eye-line which extends to the base of its bill. Warbling lacks this eye-line, creating a blank-faced expression.

It is also important to note the distribution of yellow on the underparts. With Philadelphia Vireos, the yellowish colors are most intense on the center of the lower throat and upper breast area. The Warbling Vireo’s distribution of yellow on the underparts is greatest along the flanks and undertail coverts.

Another species that may cause identification problems with the Philadelphia Vireo is the Tennessee Warbler. Many Tennessee Warblers, especially in fall, share similar plumage patterns. However, Tennessee features a very thin, sharp-tipped bill, slimmer body and bright white undertail coverts.
Conservation status: The IUCN considers the status of Philadelphia Vireo to be of Least Concern. Many kinds of human activities that set back succession may benefit this species on breeding grounds, including clear-cutting, selective logging, and burning (Laughlin and Kibbe 1985). (Source; Birds of North America Online Edition).

Photo by Dominic Sherony/

Broad-winged Hawk

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

September 3, 2017

Broad-winged Hawk
Buteo platypterus

by Michael Aurelia, Connecticut Audubon Society Board of Directors
The Broad-Winged Hawk is small, compact raptor with chunky body and large head that is distributed throughout Connecticut wherever relatively large tracts of forested land are present. These forests can be either deciduous, or mixed with conifers.

Broad-wings are the smallest of the buteo hawks breeding in Connecticut. Individual hawks weigh a little more than a Fish Crow and are about the same size.

During breeding season, the hawks can be difficult to find because they spend most of their time underneath the forest canopy chasing their prey from perches. Their call is a short, high pitched whistle that lasts 2 to 4 seconds with a short first note and longer second note: kee-eeeee.

During fall migration, if you’re in the right place, it’s almost impossible not to see them.

What it looks like: According to Cornell’s online ”All About Birds,” the adult Broad-winged Wawk has a reddish-brown head with barred breast and a distinctive square tail with broad black and white bands. Juveniles are lighter brown with coarser streaking on the breast and the tail is narrowly banded. The birds are quite a bit smaller than our other common buteos: Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks.

Where and How to Find It: Starting in late August, hundreds of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks leave northern forests to head for their wintering grounds in Central and South America. During fall migration this little buteo can be found on almost all ridge lines where the birds can find thermal winds to give them the necessary lift to form large kettles and soar. Go to any local hawk watching site and be prepared to see as many as a thousand or more broad-wings soaring by each day.

One such popular location is the Audubon Greenwich Center, which has its annual Hawk Watching festival this year on September 16 and 17. Hawk watches are also held at Lighthouse Point Park, in New Haven.

Of course you can still find the most recent reports of a broad-wings by going to Click Explore Data, then Species Maps and insert Broad-Winged Hawk. For the date chose year around current year; for location, Connecticut.

During the breeding season look for Broad-winged Hawks to be nesting in the forested areas in both the northwest and northeast corners of the state, but they nest in other parts of Connecticut as well.
Other interesting facts: Broad-wings have a diverse diet and eat small mammals, amphibians and a wide variety of insects and crustaceans which they catch on the forest floor usually near a waterbody or opening. Some breeding pairs can stay together for multiple years while others select new mates every year. Serious predators include other buteo hawks, raccoons, porcupines, American crows, Great Horned Owls and black bears.

Conservation Status: The Broad-winged Hawk’s status in Connecticut can best described as stable. As forest habitat returned to Connecticut over the last century, the hawk’s numbers have increased. The key to protecting this small buteo is to conserve large forested tracks near wetlands and watercourses. On the national level the IUCN indicates the Broad-winged Hawk’s status is of Least Concern, with the population trend stable or increasing slightly.


Forster’s Tern

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

August 23, 2017
Forster’s Tern
Sterna forsteri

by Greg Hanisek
Where To Find It: Forster’s Terns, one of four medium-sized terns that occur in Connecticut, can be found at any coastal location, as well as the lower Connecticut River, at the appropriate season. They turn up rarely inland, not unexpected since a large portion of their population breeds in the prairie potholes region of the U.S. and Canada.

In the east, Forster’s Tern is a regular breeder as close by as southern New Jersey, favoring saltmarsh habitat. It has nested rarely on Long Island and at least once in Massachusetts, but never in Connecticut. 

When To Find It: Of the four mid-sized species, we’re preparing for our two breeders – Common and Roseate Tern – to clear out. But at this stage of the year we’re just entering prime time for Forster’s Terns. The other three species, our breeders plus Arctic Tern, are long-distance migrants that make an early exit from North America.

Arctics migrate far offshore, and as a result are extremely rare at any time in our state. Forster’s are different. They winter as far north as the southeast coast of the United States, and in most years some remain in Connecticut waters into November.

Mid-summer through autumn produce the most records, but occasional spring appearances are noted. Late dates most years are early to mid-November. An example of occasional triple-digit counts is 150 off Cornfield Point, Old Saybrook, on Oct. 4, 2015, by Nick Bonomo, one of our other Bird Finder authors.

What It Looks Like: The medium-sized terns all look very much alike. They present one of Connecticut’s real identification challenges. Forster’s Tern  is a welcomed exception, because at the time that it’s most numerous in Connecticut, it has molted its look-alike black cap and acquired a distinctively shaped black mask. 

Identifying spring birds requires close attention to overall plumage tones, and the characteristics of the wings and tail. Variability in bill color makes this a less reliable character than older field guides suggested.

Conservation Status: Only populations around the Great Lakes have federal designations – Special Concern in Michigan and Minnesota, and Endangered in Wisconsin and Illinois. Management plans in Wisconsin have included placement of 60 × 64-cm wooden platforms to serve as artificial nesting sites (Birds of North America Online).

Photo by Dick Daniels,

Baird’s Sandpiper

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

August 17, 2017
Baird’s Sandpiper
Calidris bairdii

by Andy Griswold
Where to find it: Baird’s Sandpiper is a long-distance Central Flyway migrant from its high Arctic breeding grounds to South America, straying east to Connecticut in late summer and autumn. When here, they’re found on mudflats, the edges of grassy ponds and marshes, and beaches above the wrack line — the line of debris left on the beach by high tide.

If you encounter a bird picking through this drier area in the coming weeks, Baird’s should be an immediate suspect.

In the past, the Shell Beach Avenue marshes in Branford, off Route 146 and the pools off the Moraine Trail at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison have been good places to look for this species. Our Coastal Center at Milford Point is always a good place to look for all kinds of shorebirds. Last week, I found a sub-adult Baird’s Sandpiper on a private beach in Old Saybrook.

How to find it: To view the Shell Beach marshes, there is a pull-off on the north side of Route 146, 100 yards east of Shell Beach Avenue. Park at the pull-off and walk across the street. Scopes can be set up beyond the guardrail. Care should be taken crossing this busy road. A spotting scope is helpful when looking for shorebirds, as they often feed well out in the marsh, but the Baird’s have also been seen regularly in the pools and along the marsh edge near the road.

At Hammonasset, park at the Meig’s Point parking lot and walk out the moraine tail. The pools are on the left. Any Connecticut beach with dunes and a drier upper beach area is a good place to look in the next three or four weeks.

At the Coastal Center, scan the sandbars with your scope.

What it looks like: Baird’s Sandpiper is a long-winged, medium-sized sandpiper, slightly larger than the Semipalmated Sandpiper that are common on our shores now. It is the same size and shape as White-rumped Sandpiper.

Both Baird’s and White-rumped have wingtips that extend beyond the end of the tail and often cross above it. Baird’s is warm brown in color, dark-rumped, and often looks hooded due to fine brown streaks on the head and its buffy colored breast. White-rumps are gray-toned, show a white rump, have arrowhead-shaped streaks down the flanks, and a more patterned face.

Both have medium-sized slightly drooping bills. Baird’s has a completely dark bill and White-rumped shows a bit of red at the base of the lower mandible that is visible at close range.

One significant note on field marks is that nearly all Baird’s Sandpiper that occur in Connecticut in August and September are young birds-of-the-year with fresh, pale-edged, and very scalloped-looking back and wing feathers. This scalloping may be the first field mark you pick-up on when scanning.

What if the bird isn’t there? The next three to four weeks are a fine time to see shorebirds in Connecticut. Check the marshes at different times of day since changing tides cause the birds to move from place to place, either within the marsh, or to and from other sites.

At Shell Beach, if the birds are not visible from Route 146, check the marsh from Shell Beach Avenue. Park on the road near the red barn, being careful not to block either the road or the barn driveway. At Hammonasset, check the Meig’s Point Nature Center Pools and the pools, pond edges, and the fields near the Swan Pond at the west end of the park. And of course, check any of the state’s less traveled beaches that feature newly deposited debris at the high tide line.

Conservation status: Baird’s Sandpiper is considered to be of least concern by the IUCN.

Find our previous Bird Finders here.

Photos: Dominic Sherony, top, and Bill Bouton,

Black Vulture

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Black Vulture
Coragyps atratus

by Christopher S. Wood
Not all that long ago, Connecticut birders would form a posse to go chasing reports of Black Vultures in the state. These days the species is pretty common and can be seen almost anywhere in Connecticut at any given time, even in winter, although they appear to be slightly more common in the western part of the State and along the coast, according to eBird data.

Both Black and Turkey Vultures have benefitted from the reforestation of New England and the concomitant growth in the deer herd. With increasing natural and vehicle-induced deer mortality, plenty of vulture food is available.

What it looks like: Black Vultures are readily distinguished from Turkey Vultures at a distance by their flight pattern: wings are held horizontally rather than in a V shape and wing beats are stiff and rapid, rather than loose and leisurely.

Close up, the white-tipped wings provide a clear distinction. Closer still, a good look at the head reveals black, rather than red, skin on the face. Neither species is particularly handsome, in an “I love birds” kind of way, but they are extremely well designed for what they do, and we all benefit from their waste management lifestyle.

Danbury Connecticut, Jun 2017. © C.S. Wood

Status: Birds of Connecticut (Sage, Bishop, and Bliss, 1913) noted only two Black Vulture records, one from 1901 and one from 1879. The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Connecticut (1994) includes no reports of potential breeding Black Vultures. Connecticut Birds (Zeranski and Baptist,1990) reported that BVs were “very rare visitors from the south, but increasing.”

And increase they have, in Connecticut and the Northeast.

In December 1995 I photographed no fewer than 15 BVs on a cow carcass at Sunny Valley Farm in New Milford, probably the highest single count for that bird in Connecticut up to that time.

Black Vultures have suffered from persecution as a perceived risk to livestock, disturbance of nesting habitat, and pesticide poisoning. However, the population today across their entire range appears healthy and growing.

Where to find them: As noted, BVs can be found almost anywhere but, like all vultures, they search for food over open areas, usually soaring above TVs (see below). Any active landfill site will attract vultures, but you are most likely to see them along highways seeking, or eating, roadkill.

Vultures also frequent freshly cut hay fields, feasting on the collateral damage of the cutters.

Today, one of the most reliable spots to see BVs is at the intersection of Route 7 and Route 84 in Danbury, where the Connecticut Department of Transportation maintains a road kill dump site. You can see them perched on trees and billboards from the highways but the parking lot of the nearby Lowes provides a good, safe place for more relaxed observation.

Interesting Facts: Unlike Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures do not have a strong sense of smell (although they themselves smell pretty bad). In fact, they monitor Turkey Vulture activity by flying higher than that species and following them to carrion supplies, often displacing the TVs once they arrive in numbers.

Vultures practice urohidrosis, which is defecating on the legs as cooling mechanism. Because of that, U.S. Fish and Wildlife prohibits leg banding, which could result in ulceration due to fecal matter build-up under bands (from The Birds of North America: Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

All in all, despite its less than appealing appearance and habits, the Black Vulture is a remarkable and ecologically important bird.

All Photos © C.S. Wood 2017

Tree Swallow

Friday, August 4th, 2017

August 4, 2017
Tree Swallow
Tachycineta bicolor

by Ben Skaught
In a few short weeks Tree Swallows will begin their southward migration, gathering near the mouth of the Connecticut River for an astonishing display of avian life. It is a spectacle that no one who is interested in birds should miss. And the Connecticut Audubon Society offers a terrific opportunity to do so. But more about that later …

Until migration starts though you can still observe Tree Swallows in other parts of the state, in open fields, over ponds or lakes, or near a nesting box. Tree Swallows breed from the tree line in Northern Canada to at least central United States and occasionally all the way to the Mexico border. In the eastern half of North America, they are the only swallow that commonly uses nesting boxes.

Tree Swallows eat flying insects almost exclusively. You can often see them over a lake or pond swooping down to capture an insect and leaving a small ripple on the water.

What it looks like: If you see a swallow that is dark above and white below, with at times a violet green coloring, here in Connecticut, then you’ve seen a Tree Swallow. Young Tree Swallows may have a brownish band on the chest.

Tree Swallows

Here are some tips from Bill Thompson III, editor and publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, on how to differentiate the types of swallows. Barn, Cliff and Cave Swallow (a rare visitor to Connecticut) have red or orange on the throat with Cliff and Cave having pale rumps; Barn Swallows have a deeply-forked tail. Northern Rough-winged and Bank Swallows have brown above with some brown below. Purple Martins are big and dark.

The song of the Tree Swallow is three longish descending notes that end in twittering.

Fall migration: One of nature’s truly astonishing events is the annual gathering of hundreds of thousand of Tree Swallows near the mouth of the Connecticut River in fall, just prior to their migration south.

The swallows converge as dusk descends and form large clouds from which they descend into the communal roost along the shoreline. Roger Tory Peterson, who lived along that part of the Connecticut River, did not observe this event until late in his life, upon which he declared it one of nature’s greatest spectacles.

Our EcoTravel program offers cruises on the Connecticut River to see the gathering of Tree Swallows. Reservations are still available for the September 10 and September 24 cruises. There’s more information on our EcoTravel page.

Fox Sparrow

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

March 16, 2017

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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Semipalmated Plover

Monday, July 24th, 2017
Semipalmated Plover
Charadrius semipalmatus

by Helena Ives
Where and when to find them: Semipalmated Plovers have recently reappeared on Connecticut beaches, right on time at the beginning of their fall migration.

Named for their semi-webbed toes, which allow them to walk on different substrates, Semipalmated Plovers can be found for the next several months foraging for insects and other invertebrates on mudflats and beaches while they migrate from their nesting territory on Arctic beaches. They winter on the southern perimeter of North America and travel an average of 3,000 miles during both fall and spring migration.

The best places to look in Connecticut include the Coastal Center at Milford Point, Hammonasset Beach State Park, Sandy Point in West Haven, and Greenwich Point Park, although they are common enough so that it’s worth keeping your eyes open for them any time you go to the beach.

These relatives of the Killdeer and Piping Plover (Charadriidae family) are typically seen from late March through late May, and then during the longer fall migration, from mid July through early October, with an occasional non-breeding adult spending the summer in New England.

Both migrations typically begin with breeding and molting adults and conclude with juveniles and first/second year birds.

How to find them: Semipalmated Plovers can usually be found mingling in large groups with other migratory shorebirds, including Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Piping Plovers.

Similar in size and markings to Piping Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers can be distinguished by their dark brown body plumage, the black band around their eye and forehead, and their complete black breast band (usually broken in Piping Plovers).

Although Semipalmated Plovers are generally quiet while foraging on shore, they can be identified by their flight call — a short and husky chu-WEE or too-ee, with other variations possible.

Conservation status: After their populations were crucially depleted in the late 1800’s due to unrestricted hunting and shooting, Semipalmated Plover populations recovered quickly and are now listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red list and are widespread across their territories in North America.

This week’s Bird Finder is written by Helena Ives, who is working for us this summer monitoring birds for the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds. Helena is a senior at the University of Connecticut, majoring in natural resources with a concentration in wildlife conservation.

Photos by Patrick Comins

Roseate Tern

Thursday, July 20th, 2017
Roseate Tern
Sterna dougallii

by Nick Bonomo
What it looks like: The Roseate Tern is much like our familiar Common Tern in appearance, with a few key differences. Essentially the same size as Common Tern, its upperparts are a paler shade of gray, appearing almost whitish in certain light. Its bill averages less red and more black than Common Tern, and the bill is longer and thinner.

Its white tail streamers are also longer as compared to Common Tern. There is no gray on the breast or belly, though not all Common Terns show gray on the underparts at this time of year, so beware of that pitfall. In flight, the Roseate Tern has a narrower dark wedge on the outer upper wing than on Common Tern.

It gets its name from a faint rosy wash on its undersides that can be very difficult to see.

Though Roseates can look quite similar to Commons, they do not sound much alike. You will often hear a Roseate Tern before you see one, as they belt out their emphatic “kick-it” two-noted call. They tend to call most often while they are flying, so if you do hear one, look in the air instead of on the ground. (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has recordings of Roseate and Common terns, and others, here.)

Photographed on Petit Manan Island

When to look: Roseate Terns are locally rare breeders that arrive in our waters in May and are here til September. The best time to see them from land in Connecticut is during July and August, when adults and young have dispersed from their breeding colonies — including on Faulkner’s Island off Guilford and, most significantly, Great Gull Island, off the tip of Long Island’s North Fork — and associate with flocks of Common Terns in Long Island Sound.

Where to find it: Some of the more reliable locations to view Roseate Terns include Harkness State Park in Waterford, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Sandy Point in West Haven, Connecticut Audubon’s Coastal Center at Milford Point in Milford, and Cockenoe Island in Westport (accessible only via boat).

Begin by searching through Common Tern flocks for paler birds, and then check for additional field marks. Beware of bright sunlight making Common Terns appear paler than they really are. And of course learn the distinctive call of the Roseate.

Conservation status: The Roseate Tern is a federally endangered species.

Historically, the population suffered losses when feathers were collected for the millinery trade. Roseate Tern productivity has also been affected by increased human recreation and disturbance in coastal areas, as well as by predation by Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, owls and nocturnal-feeding mammals.

Increasing numbers of gulls and human activity on or near coastal barrier islands have greatly reduced available nesting habitat for the Roseate Tern population in northeastern North America. Many traditional nesting sites in southern New England were abandoned during the 1940s and 1950s when Great Black-Backed and Herring Gulls rapidly expanded their nesting ranges. These large, aggressive gulls stake out nesting territories in early spring before the terns return from their wintering areas. Gulls have taken over most of the outer islands preferred by nesting terns. (Source: CT DEEP;

Photos by Hilary Chambers, top, and Kirk Rogers/USFWS;
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