Posts Tagged ‘Kathy Van Der Aue’


Bird Finder for April 28: Brown Thrasher

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

thrasher, brown 04-24 SeaTrailBrown Thrasher
Toxostoma rufum

By Kathy Van Der Aue, President of the Connecticut Ornithological Society
The cinnamon-colored Brown Thrasher may more often be heard than seen as it spends much of its time hidden in its preferred shrub habitat. A little bigger than a robin, the Brown Thrasher is on the list of Connecticut’s “Birds of Special Concern,” mainly because of loss of the messy shrubby areas it favors.

Where to find it: Recent sightings have been reported at Mondo Ponds in Milford, East Rock Park in New Haven, Bantam Lake and White Memorial Foundation, both in Litchfield County, and Barn Island Wildlife Management Area, New London. You should look – and listen – for it in any shrubby thicket.

How to find it: The thrasher is in the Mimid family, meaning it is a mimic much like its local cousins the Gray Catbird and the Northern Mockingbird. Its song consists of an assortment of sounds usually given in pairs (compare with the catbird’s single repetition and the mockingbird’s several repetitions of each phrase). It can be loud and lengthy. Listen carefully and you might hear bits of other birdsong.

The male and female pair up at the beginning of the nesting season and courtship begins with the presentation of a gift to the female; a twig or a leaf, something useful for the nest building ahead of them. The pair cooperate in building the nest, which is an open cup made of grasses, twigs and dead leaves placed low to the ground in a shrub. The speckled glossy pale blue eggs are incubated by both parents for about 12 days. The young are born helpless (atricial) but are ready to leave the nest within another 12 days. The parents will often dive bomb predators that approach the nest too closely. They are the largest species whose nests are parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds but fortunately they usually recognize the foreign eggs and toss them out.

Brown Thrashers eat insects, seeds and berries and are short-distance migrants, usually spending winters in the southern states.

Before the 1970’s Brown Thrashers were among the most common of shrubland birds, found in thickets throughout the state. Their decline is linked to the regrowth of those thickets into forests, or the transformation of the thickets into lawns, with the most dramatic decline from the 1970s and ‘80. 

Brown Thrashers are still here however, maintaining low numbers in the few shrubby areas still existing and those being created and maintained. It is doubtful that they will ever recover their former abundance unless the Connecticut landscape returns to old pasture and new forest.

Brown Thrashers will nest in suburban locations if we allow dense shrubby patches to remain in our yards. Because their nests are so low, their nestlings fall prey to predators like outdoor cats and raccoons and the dense vegetation helps to protect them.

Photo by Dick Daniels,

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Bird Finder for February 23: Monk Parakeet

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

monk parakeet eating larger fileWhen we first heard earlier this year that Bald Eagles seemed to be trying to nest near the West River in New Haven, the initial report was that they had commandeered a Monk Parakeet nest.

Which prompted the question among many: Parakeets? In Connecticut?

Kathy Van Der Aue, a member of our Fairfield Regional Board and president of the Connecticut Ornithological Association, explains.

Monk Parakeet
Myiopsitta monachus
Why do we have wild parrots in Connecticut? How did they get here? How can they live through our winters? These were the questions I had when, in 1975, I saw my first green parrot happily eating grass seed with a flock of House Sparrows in Black Rock, a district of Bridgeport.

Urban legends abound on the question of how they got here. These parrots, known as Quaker Parrots in the pet trade, are imported from temperate regions of South America. One persistent theory is “the dropped crate at Kennedy Airport,” another “the truck accident on I-95 in New Haven.” (Editor’s note: the urban legend we remember is that they arrived on one of the many banana boats unloading in Bridgeport Harbor.)

None of these can be independently verified. Because Monk Parakeets are concentrated along our coastline, from the New York border to Old Lyme, there may be some credence to these stories that they escaped from accidents at transportation hubs like Kennedy. They are noisy pets and perhaps irresponsible pet owners grew tired of the constant squawks and released them outside.

As to the question of how they survive our winters, we look to the type of nest they build and where they live in South America. They are birds of the more temperate regions (not the tropics) living at altitudes of up to 6,000 feet in elevation, and therefore can survive quite well in cooler regions.

Another factor in their success in sub-freezing temperatures may be their nests. While other parrots nest in cavities, the Monk Parakeets build huge stick nests in which each pair has an “apartment” where they roost together. This insulation may help them survive even sub-zero temperatures. These stick nests have proven to be a problem when they are built on electric poles as they can cause short circuits.

What they look like: A medium sized green parrot with a gray face and chest, about 18 inches long, having a wingspan of 20 inches. They live for up to 20 years and form monogamous pairs, laying up to eight eggs in a clutch. They eat fruit and seeds and will frequent bird feeders in the winter.

How to Find Them: Their populations are heavily concentrated along the shoreline with scattered reports inland as far as Hartford. Look for the large nests and listen for their squawks. While locations can’t be guaranteed, they have been seen recently on the grounds of Fairfield University, in downtown Milford, West Haven and the Long Beach area of Stratford. They occasionally stop by at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Birdcraft Sanctuary in Fairfield and Milford Point Coastal Center in Milford.

Conservation Status: IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Photo courtesy of A.J. Hand

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