Friday, December 27, 2013

Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder for December 27: Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck - Andrew GriswoldLong-tailed Duck
Clangula hyemalis
Where to find it: Look in shallow, sandy bottomed, salt water areas of Long Island Sound, at the mouths of rivers and occasionally inland on larger rivers and lakes. Specific likely locations for finding Long-tailed Ducks include Greenwich Point Park, Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, Penfield Reef in Fairfield, and Stratford Point. Further east, the parking lot at Dock & Dine Restaurant in Old Saybrook is a fairly reliable location; also check Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, and Avery Point and Bluff Point State Park in Groton.

To read the full post, click here.

Photo by Andrew Griswold/Connecticut Audubon Society

Friday, December 20, 2013

Connecticut Audubon Society Bird Finder for December 20: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 
Sphyrapicus varius 

Where to find it: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be found throughout the state in winter. In spring and summer these woodpeckers can more commonly be found nesting in the northwest corner of the state although they are becoming increasingly more common in the northeast corner. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are most often associated with a mix of conifer and maple forests. They drill shallow, horizontal holes in a circular pattern around the trunks of trees.

Read the rest of this week's Bird Finder here.

Photo by Dominic Sharony.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Ipswich Savannah Sparrow
Passerculus sandwichensis princeps

Where to find it: An Ipswich Sparrow has appeared at our Stratford Point Coastal Grassland Conservation Area this winter.  It has been seen a handful of times on the outer bluffside trail, and is typically spotted by walking the trail until you note a very pale colored sparrow that may pop up onto one of the bluff boulders. We expect one or more individuals to remain with us at Stratford Point throughout the winter.

To read the entire Bird Finder post, click here.

Photo by Andrew Griswold.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Snowy Winter, Continued

“There has been an unbelievable push of birds heading to the south and concentrated in the Great Lakes to Northeast and the Atlantic Coast and continuing south by the day. Two years ago we had a similar burst of Snowy Owls pour down into the U.S. but it was more uniformly spread across the upper half of the country. Many Central and Northwest areas had sizable numbers of birds while the Northeast and Atlantic Coast had fewer. Why is there such a difference in geography? We don’t know, at least not yet …”

Thus wrote Scott Kruitbosch, our former Connecticut Audubon Society colleague who left last summer to work for another former colleague, Twan Leenders, at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, in Jamestown, N.Y.

If you’re interested in a close look at the Snowy Owl numbers this year, read Scott’s post on the RTPI blog, here.

The photo above was taken by Anthony Zemba/Copyright Connecticut Audubon Society

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder for December 6, 2013: Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting March 2009 by Twan Leenders (1)Snow Bunting
Plectrophenax nivalis

Where to find them:
Snow Buntings are commonly found in large flocks during fall migration at open coastal fields and parking lots, and in agricultural fields inland. The Connecticut Audubon Society’s Coastal Center at Milford Point is a good starting point, as is our Stratford Point coastal restoration site, across the Housatonic River.

Click here for more.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Snowy Winter

It's official: We've declared 2013 to be a terrific year for Snowy Owls in Connecticut. We wanted you all to be among the first to know. Click here.

The Snowy pictured here distracted our director of conservation services, Anthony Zemba, who abandoned his desk to take this terrific shot at Stratford Point.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Snowy Owls in Milford and Stratford

Snowy Owls have moved into Connecticut. One has been at our Milford Point Coastal Center and at least one other, and maybe two, has been across the Housatonic in the Sikorsky Airport area.

Here are excerpts from the Connecticut Ornithological Association’s daily compilation of bird sightings in the state:

“11/27/13 - Milford, Milford Point -- 9:00 AM; Snowy Owl out on the tip of Milford Point, visible by looking west from the tower.

11/27/13 - Milford, Milford Point -- 10:00 AM; visible from the Stratford side of the river.

11/27/13 - Milford, Milford Point -- 11:30 AM; one Snowy Owl visible from Knott's Landing in Stratford.
Stratford, Sikorsky airport -- another Snowy Owl.

11/27/13 - Stratford, Long Beach -- 1:00 PM; Snowy Owl.

11/27/13 - Stratford, Sikorsky Airport -- 2:30 PM; Snowy Owl (1) behind airport fence near the spot where the northern wheatear was a few years ago.

11/27/13 - Stratford, Sikorsky Airport -- 2:50 PM; 1 Snowy Owl visible in the large field on the western side of the airport. It was quite far out and could not be seen from the pullover out on the road. It was seen from the pullover within the airport. The eastern side of the airport was checked with no luck.  I checked Milford Point from Sniffen's Lane in Stratford, as well as from Short Beach in Stratford, but could not spot a Snowy from either location.

11/27/13 - Stratford, Sikorsky Airport, Eastern Side -- 3:45 PM; 1 SNOWY OWL on the edge of the tarmack.  We first viewed it from Oak Bluff ave, then closest view was from Lordship Blvd.  Still being seen at 4:15 PM.”

The photo above was taken at Stratford Point two years ago and is copyright Connecticut Audubon Society.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder for November 27, 2013: Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian&AmericanWigeonsEurasian WigeonAnas penelope
Where to find it: Eurasian Wigeons (up to four males) have been visiting Milford in recent weeks, at the Mondo Ponds Nature Preserve and Education Center and Jonathan Law High School pond. Eurasian Wigeon can occur anywhere in Connecticut but are often found with concentrations of American Wigeon and Gadwall. Like any migratory waterfowl, they can depart without notice but often Eurasian Wigeons settle in for a while, as long as there is open water and they have a steady food source. The parking lot at Mondo Ponds is on Naugatuck Avenue; the high school is on Lansdale Avenue. Some winters, a male Eurasian Wigeon or two spend time in the mouth of the Housatonic River, often commuting between the Stratford Point and Short Beach area of Stratford, and the Wheeler Marsh and sandbars at Milford Point. Read the rest of this week's Bird Finder here...

This week's Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder was contributed by Frank Gallo, director of Connecticut Audubon Society's Milford Point Coastal Center.
Photo courtesy of Frank Mantlik
To sign up for future Connecticut Bird Finder emails, send your name and town to

Friday, November 22, 2013

Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder for November 22: Rusty Blackbird

Blackbird, Rusty male2 SouthportNC_carolinaBirds.orgRusty Blackbird
Euphagus carolinus
Where to Find It: Rusty Blackbirds are now seeking out their wintering range. They are not common but you can find them in Connecticut, mixed in as individuals in flocks of other blackbirds species, or as small flocks of up to 30-plus individuals.

How to Find It:
Look for them in farm fields and wooded swamps, or even occasionally at backyard feeders.To read the rest of this week's Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder, click here...

Photo by Dick Daniels,

Friday, November 15, 2013

Introducing 'Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder,' A Weekly Guide to the State's Birds and its Great Outdoor Places

rsz_mileyNovember 15, 2013 – Connecticut Audubon Society is launching a new weekly guide today, called Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder, to help birders plan weekend trips to great outdoor settings throughout the state.
Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder is a carefully curated guide to an unusual or interesting bird that has been sighted that week in a publicly-accessible location.
The bulletins will be compiled by the expert birders on Connecticut Audubon's staff, including Milan Bull, Frank Gallo, Sean Graesser, Andy Rzeznikiewicz, Andy Griswold, Anthony Zemba and Alex Brash.
Each Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder will tell you where that week's bird is located, how to find it and, for those who might not be experts, what it looks like.
And because birds sometimes leave before you arrive, we'll try to compensate by giving ideas of what else to look for if that week's bird has flown.
Each week by Friday morning we will post a new Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder on our blog. If a truly special bird arrives, we'll publish a special edition.
  • You can subscribe to get blog posts by email (the links are on the right side of the blog page).
  • You can go to our Facebook page, where we will post each week's guide.
  • You can follow us on Twitter, where we will tweet links to each guide.
  • You can send us your email address and we'll notify you each time we post a new weekly guide (send your name and town to
The first Connecticut Audubon Bird finder features Black Scoters, by Milan Bull, our senior director of science and conservation. You can read it here.

We hope you enjoy it! Send us your feedback and let us know what we can do to make it better.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Rare and Unusual Hybrid Duck in Stratford

For several years this adult male Northern Pintail X Mallard (the bird on the left in the photo to the left) has returned to Wooster Pond on Freeman Avenue in Stratford where locals provide food for wintering waterfowl.

Waterfowl crossbreed more often than any other family of birds. Scientists have recorded more than 400 hybrid combinations among waterfowl species. Mallards crossbreed with nearly 50 other species, and Wood Ducks hybridize with a surprising 26 other species. Nearly 20 percent of waterfowl hybrid offspring are capable of reproducing, unusual in nature where hybrids are commonly sterile.

In general, hybridization is rare because each waterfowl species has unique characteristics that serve as barriers to interspecies mating. These characteristics include distinct physical attributes, behaviors, life-history requirements, and the unique ecological niche the species occupies. But on the breeding grounds, territories of many waterfowl species overlap, and barriers occasionally break down, presenting opportunities for interspecies mating.

Although this bird seems strange and unique, in North America one of the most common wild hybrids results from Mallard/Pintail breeding. Mallards also commonly crossbreed with Black Ducks, American Wigeon, Northern Shovelers, and Gadwalls.

Beyond creating interesting-looking ducks, hybridization can potentially lead to the extinction of a species. When individuals of two species mate and produce fertile offspring, which then mate with the parent species, this essentially contaminates the pure genes of that species. Mallards are highly aggressive breeders, and several cases involving Mallard hybridization with closely related species present waterfowl biologists with conservation challenges.

This really hits home in Connecticut where Mallards often breed with Black Ducks, which have been on a long-term decline throughout their range. Habitat loss due to agriculture and forestry practices have altered much of the Black Duck’s original breeding habitat and has allowed Mallards to move east (they were originally a western species) where they now frequently interact with Black Ducks. This alteration has allowed Mallards to expand their range, leading to more interaction with Black Ducks and increasing opportunities for hybridization.

Changes to Black Duck migration and wintering habitat have also fostered encroachment by Mallards. Forests that once separated these species have been cleared, giving Mallards more opportunities to interact with Black Ducks during the nonbreeding season. Interspecies interactions on the wintering grounds are important because this is when waterfowl form pair bonds for the upcoming breeding season. This interaction could lead to mixed-species pairing and contribute to the hybridization problem.

Although Mallard/Black Duck hybridization is an ongoing issue, the two species coexist for the most part in Connecticut and by far the greatest threat to Black Duck survival is the loss of suitable nesting and wintering habitat.

This beautiful, but strange looking hybrid reminds us that the fascinating world of birds is a complex and ever-changing natural system. -- Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation

Top photo by Frank Mantlik
Bottom photo by Rick Wright

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Conservation Education: Bridgeport 8th Graders Help Mark Second Year of Science in Nature

A great group of eighth graders from Bridgeport's Curiale School helped us mark the second full academic year of Science in Nature yesterday at our Larsen Sanctuary in Fairfield.

They spent the morning searching the sanctuary's freshwater wetlands for invertebrates, and determining the pH and dissolved oxygen concentrations. The Connecticut Post was there to cover it (click here) and we have more on our homepage.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fall Banding at MIlford Point

Fall banding is in full swing at our Milford Point Coastal Center right now. The trees around the center are abuzz with a plethora of Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) and many other migrants. Here are a few that have been caught recently at the banding station. 

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) male

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) female
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
Photos by Sean Graesser/Copyright Connecticut Audubon Society

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bird Banding Demonstration Tuesday in Fairfield

Tuesday, October 22, 9 a.m. Pine Creek Open Space in Fairfield.

Join master bander Judy Richardson (a member of Connecticut Audubon Society's Board of Directors) and her team as they take bird banding on the road. They usually band at our Birdcraft Sanctuary but wanted to see if they could catch different migratory birds closer to Long Island Sound. You won't want to miss this opportunity to observe resident and migratory birds up close, as birds are caught in mist nets and banded for research.

The fee is $7. Call for reservations 203-259-6305 ext.109

Meet at Pine Creek Open Space at the gated entrance on Old Dam Road. If it is raining, the event will be postponed to Tuesday, October 29.

Winter Wren photograph by Sean Graesser/Copyright Connecticut Audubon Society

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Saw-whet Owl Banding Demonstrations

Photo by CAS Volunteer
Connecticut Audubon Society’s Milford Point Coastal Center and Center at Pomfret will both be banding Northern Saw-whet owls this fall as the mysterious little birds migrate from the north. At least five sessions will be open to the public, but pre-registration is required.
Milford Point Coastal Center
Saturday, October 19, 7-9 p.m.
Wednesday, October 23, 7-9 p.m.
Leaders: Sean Graesser and Frank Gallo
To register, call Louise Crocco at 203-878-7440 x 502.
Cost: $15 CAS Members; $20 Non-members
Limit: 15 people per night.

Center at Pomfret

Friday, October, 25, 8 p.m.
Friday, November 1, 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 2, 8 p.m.
Leader: Andy Rzeznikiewicz
To register, call 860-928-4948
Cost: $15 CAS members; $25 non-members.

Click here to become a member of Connecticut Audubon Society.

The docile Saw-whet owl is small enough to sit in your hand. Any owls caught will be banded, aged and sexed, photographed then released back into the wild. While we wait, there will also be discussion on the biology of Saw-whets and other owls in our area. Bring your cameras and dress appropriately for the weather.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fish Studies at the Larsen Sanctuary

Since 2010 students from Housatonic Community College, along with their professor, Dr. Tony Pappantoniou, have been engaged in studying the fish species of the Larsen Sanctuary, at Connecticut Audubon Society’s Center at Fairfield. Dr. Pappantoniou recently sent us an account of their work:
To date we have identified six species: bluegill sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, largemouth bass, redfin pickerel, bullhead catfish and the American eel. This grouping of fish is classified as a warm water fauna by fish biologists. Some of these species are native to Connecticut while others are introduced.
During our studies, fish are collected using seine nets, identified, photographed and measured. They are not harmed and are always returned to the location they were collected from. Here’s a rundown of what we caught.
The Centrarchid Fish – Basses and Sunfish
Bluegill Sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus):  This species was originally native to western and central North American, but it has been transplanted throughout most of the US, with Connecticut being no exception. The bluegill is commonly found in the streams and the Farm Pond of the Larsen Sanctuary. It has a fairly broad diet, consuming plant material, insects, small crustaceans and snails.
Spawning usually takes place during late June and early July. The bluegill builds a circular nest by clearing out an area of the bottom. The nests are up to 12 inches in diameter and can be easily seen if you are walking along any of the streams of the Larsen Sanctuary during breeding season. It is not unusual to see a male guarding the nest trying to attract females. Several females will deposit eggs in the same nest during a breeding season. The male guards the eggs and young for several days.  The growth of these sunfish is fairly rapid. Our own observations show that by the end of July we are collecting young that are already 1-plus inches in length (25-30 mm). The largest adult bluegill we observed was a 180 mm individual (seven inches).
Pumpkinseed Sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus): This brightly-colored relative of the bluegill is native to Connecticut. The pumpkinseed is found in the Farm Pond and the surrounding streams. The bluegill and the pumpkinseed share a lot of characteristics but can be easily told apart. The bluegill has a prominent black spot on the posterior edge of its dorsal fin along with a solid dark colored opercular flap. The pumpkinseed has a dark opercular flap with a bright red margin. The pumpkinseed also builds a circular nest similar to the bluegill and has similar breeding behavior. It is difficult to tell a bluegill nest from the pumpkinseed nest without first identifying the individuals guarding the nest.

Just as with bluegill, the young pumpkinseeds grow rapidly. We collect young in the 22–30 mm range (about 1 inch) by the end of July. The largest pumpkinseed sunfish we observed at Larsen was a 140 mm individual (5.5 inches). When we collect in early June, it is not unusual to find pumpkinseed in the 60-65 mm range. These individuals are most likely the young of the previous summer.
Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides): The largemouth bass is not native to Connecticut. Biologists place this species in the same family as the sunfish. We regularly collect young largemouth bass in the streams that empty the Farm Pond. We have collected a few adults from the Farm Pond. No adults have been collected from the streams. Most likely the young largemouth bass wash into the stream during heavy spring and summer rainfalls. The small streams that extend out from the Farm Pond are not ideal habitat for the largemouth bass, as they are too shallow. Most likely the young find their way into larger streams.

We collect numerous juvenile largemouth bass over the course of a summer season and it is interesting to watch their growth progress. The following largemouth bass data is from our 2010 collecting season (1 inch = 25.4 mm):
Collection Date                                    Average Length (mm)
June 22                                                       25
June 29                                                       44
July 13                                                         50
July 27                                                         57
August 3                                                      63
This growth progression seems to be in line with other statistics reported for the largemouth bass. In a six-week span the young have more than doubled their size.
Non-Centrarchid Fish:
Redfin Pickerel (Esox americanus americanus): This species is native to Connecticut. All of the individuals collected in the Larsen Sanctuary are collected from the streams. Typical for their species, these individuals prefer small quiet sections of the streams. The redfin pickerel is an outstanding example of what biologists call a lie-in-wait predator. They remain stationary in one spot waiting for prey to come to them. When a prey is close enough they dart out and grab it with their small sharp teeth. The longest individual to date is a 133 mm specimen (5.2 inches). This species can achieve lengths of 10–13 inches.
Brown Bullhead Catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus):  The brown bullhead is a Connecticut native. Adults are collected in the Farm Pond. The largest individual we collected by seine net was 252 mm (almost 10 inches). During the summer many young catfish are collected at the outlet of the Farm Pond. Presumably they are washed out of the Pond by spring and summer rain.

Young bullheads tend to stick together during the early stages of their lives, so when we do collect them we tend to find large numbers in our seines. It is interesting to watch the progress of their growth over a summer season. The follow data is for summer 2012 (1 inch = 25.4 mm):

Collection Date            Average Length (mm)
June 17                                     17
July 8                                        23.5
July 22                                      33.4
August 5                                   38.3
August 12                                 43.5
American Eel (Anguilla rostrata):  Perhaps the most interesting of the fish living in the streams of the Larsen Sanctuary are the American eels.

All American eels undergo long distance migrations. American eels are catadromous (they swim downstream to spawn). Adult American eels from all over the east coast swim downstream and eventually end up in the South Atlantic (Sargasso Sea) to spawn. Upon spawning the adults die and the young travel back to the east coast and swim upstream to live and mature in streams and rivers.  They live in freshwater for several years until they are old enough to breed. The adults then swim downstream and back out to the Sargasso Sea to complete their life cycle. This is a truly remarkable journey for a local denizen of the Larsen Sanctuary.

American eels can grow quite large. It is not unusual for individuals to achieve lengths of two feet. The largest specimen we have collected in Larsen has been 300 mm or just under 12 inches.

American eel populations are in trouble, mostly due to damming of rivers and streams and habitat degradation in the northeast. Several years ago there was an attempt to list the American eel under the Endangered Species Act, but at the time the federal government did not see the need to do so.

The hands-on and data collecting experience my students get while working at Larsen is invaluable. Several of my students have gone on to university level programs, majoring in biology. After a day in the field one student commented: “Do people really get paid for doing this?” Could this be a future field biologist in the making?
I would like to thank Connecticut Audubon and the staff at the Fairfield Center, especially Mr. Robert Martinez, for allowing us to use this wonderful facility.
Dr. Tony Pappantoniou
Associate Professor of Biology
Housatonic Community College
Bridgeport, Connecticut

Photos of American eel and juvenile largemouth bass are courtesy of Dr. Tony Pappantoniou. The photo of the students in the pond are by Dr. Twan Leenders/Copyright Connecticut Audubon Society

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Support the Milford Point Coastal Center With a Pledge for the 'Big Sit!'

The Milford Point Coastal Center will host (and be the beneficiary of) this weekend's Big Sit fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Anthony Donofrio.
Our Connecticut “Big Sit!” champions, the B.W. Surf Scopers (consisting of our Coastal Center Director Frank Gallo along with Jim Dugan, Patrick Dugan, Tina Green, and Frank Mantlik) will defend, and attempt to break, their own Connecticut “Big Sit!” birding record – 107 species seen from within a 17-foot circle – and raise money to support the Coastal Center in the process.

This international event, created by New Haven Bird Club, and sponsored by Bird Watchers Digest, will be held Sunday, October 13, with teams competing worldwide.

The B.W. Surf Scopers will position themselves on the observation platform at the Smith Point end of Milford Point. The goal is to spot as many species of birds as possible without leaving their seats!

We need your help to make this event the best yet. Please support the team's record-breaking quest with a pledge.

Every dollar you pledge will go directly to support the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center at Milford Point – truly one of the best birding destinations in the Northeast!

For a pledge form, please contact Louise Crocco, our office manager, at 203-878-7440 x 502.

You can pledge a lump sum or a dollar amount per bird. Your donation is 100 percent tax deductible; the money is used to support our conservation and education efforts. We’ll post the results here.

We appreciate your generous support!

(Photo of Milford Point courtesy of Anthony Donofrio.)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Chim-Chim-in-ey Swifts!

Connecticut Audubon Society helped to monitor a Chimney Swift nest and roost site this summer in Hartford. Watching these amazing birds fly around over the rooftop of the Governor’s Foot Guard Armory on 159 High Street, I soon found myself singing my own version of the popular song from Mary Poppins

Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey Chim chim cher-ee!
A swift is as lucky, as lucky can be
Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey Chim chim cher-oo!
Good luck will rub off when it swirls above you 

Or blow it a kiss and that's lucky too

Now, as the ladder of life 'as been strung
You might think a swift's on the bottommost rung 
As I watch it flutter around like the ashes and smoke 
In this 'ole wide world there's no 'appier bloke
Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey Chim chim cher-ee!
A swift is as lucky, as lucky can be
Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey Chim chim cher-oo!
Good luck will rub off when it swirls above you

It has a tail with spiked bristles oh yes it do
Featherless shafts to prop itself ‘gainst the flue
Up where the smoke was once billered and curled'
Tween pavement and stars is the chimney swift world
When it’s the end of the day but not quite night
You’ll see them swirling and twittering in the twilight
About the rooftops of Hartford, oh what a sight!     
                             -Anthony Zemba (with apologies to Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman)

Along with my co-monitors, Jack and Maggie Peretto from the Hartford Audubon Society, we monitored the chimney at the armory starting the last week of April and continuing until just last week. The Perettos and I conducted this monitoring as volunteers for Chimney Swift Watch - a cooperative initiative with the University of Connecticut and the Wildlife Division of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Connecticut's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy or “CWCS” (CTDEP, 2005) identified the Chimney Swift as a species of Greatest Conservation Need in the urban habitat environment. To address the findings of the CWCS, the DEEP embarked on this initiative to more thoroughly assess the Chimney Swift population in Connecticut. 

A Chimney Swift inside the flue of a Chimney in Canada

Chimney swifts are aerial insectivores that are often found coursing the skies over towns, cities, and rivers searching for their invertebrate prey during the spring and summer seasons. Although we do not know the comparative status of these birds during the pre-Colonial period, they were reported by Forbush (1907) in Massachusetts to be “one of the common sights of summer twilight as it flies twittering above trees and houses.” In Connecticut, Sage (1911) reported them to be an abundant summer resident from May until September. Zeranski and Baptist (1990) identified this species as a common migrant, yet an uncommon nester throughout the state in unused chimneys. Clark (1994) speculated that if people continued to screen their chimneys to prevent squirrels, bats, and other animals from entering, Connecticut could experience a marked decline in swift numbers.  

Perhaps this is not the only cause of their decline.  Researchers are investigating historic roosts in hopes of finding other clues concerning the breeding biology and life histories of Chimney Swifts and what may have changed over time. Are there changes in diet, environmental factors, anthropogenic disturbances, pathogens, etc. that have contributed to the decline? The results of one research team in Canada and many more pictures of swifts can be found in the link in the photo caption below. 

Outside of the breeding season, Chimney Swifts often congregate in flocks and often spend the night in communal roosts. Photo Credit: Mike Veltri:

Whatever their past status appears to be, the literature suggests that they were once common breeders in Connecticut but have apparently been declining since the 1960s, and appear to be disappearing from their northern range in Canada. Chimney Swift Watch attempts to address the first step in potential future management decisions by monitoring known sites across the state to assess their relative abundance.  Despite their decline, they are still known for their spectacular twilight aggregations in autumn, when numerous chimney swifts form sizeable flocks before the onset of migration. 

Connecticut Audubon Society’s State of the Birds 2013 addressed the decline of aerial insectivores, so the timing was right for me to volunteer for Chimney Swift Watch.  As a volunteer, I got to choose a roost site to monitor throughout the spring and summer seasons.  I chose the Hartford Armory site for no particular reason except that the name intrigued me.  The First Company Governor’s Foot Guard was organized in October 1771. It is the nation’s oldest continually operating military organization.  You can read more about the history of the First Company Foot Guard here:

The First Governor’s Foot Guard Armory in Hartford hosts a known Chimney Swift roost.  Photo by: Anthony Zemba © Connecticut Audubon Society
The First Company Governor’s Foot Guard Armory is one of over a dozen sites across Connecticut that was selected for the 2013 Monitoring Season. Wildlife biologist Shannon Kearny-McGee of the Connecticut DEEP wanted to know whether the site was used for nesting, roosting, or both. Maggie and I took turns conducting weekly counts to document usage of this site. Beginning in the last week of April, we arrived at the armory twenty minutes before sunset and counted all swifts seen entering, leaving, or flying within 100 meters of the chimney. We recorded temperature, visibility distance in meters, precipitation, cloud coverage, wind speeds, and sunset time. In the beginning of the season (April-May) we had multiple swifts using the chimney, but counts rarely exceeded a dozen birds. By early summer counts remained fairly steady at two individuals throughout most of July and August. Where were the large swirling masses that I had read and heard about entering the chimney at dusk? 

On Monday, July 1, the DEEP organized a swift social event at the Willimantic Brew Pub where we all got to congregate with like swift-minded people involved in the monitoring effort. We dined at the pub’s outdoor tables and drank the pub’s “Flying Cigar Ale” of which portions of each sale went toward swift conservation.  At dusk, we were led on a walk a couple of blocks down Main Street to witness the return of swifts to one of the Willimantic roost locations.  We watched as hundreds of swifts poured into the chimney as darkness approached.  Such had not been the case in Hartford for the Perettos and me since we started monitoring the Hartford site in late April. Shannon thought that perhaps the Armory’s chimney had become a nesting site rather than a roost site. 

The “Flying Cigar” shape of the Chimney Swift in flight.  Notice the spikey feather shafts extending from the tail feathers.  Swifts use these structures to help prop them against the wall of the chimney.
By mid-August, numbers again rose up into the dozen range, but still nothing compared to some of the other sites being monitored in Connecticut.  Early September was not much different until I arrived on site on September 11.  That afternoon, large numbers of swifts began to appear out of seemingly nowhere about 10 minutes before sunset. They organized into a large swirling, twittering mass above the armory.  The swirling mass formed an axis plane that was level with the ground surface but above the rooftop of the armory.  As the flock swirled and gained in number, the axis of the mass shifted and approached the chimney like a giant buzz saw, the teeth of the saw being the outmost individuals in the swirling mass.  As the mass got closer to the chimney, birds began to drop with a flutter into the chimney opening and out of site.  To do this they had to slow their velocity and orient their wings up and back above their bodies and thus only a few could enter at a time – a rate far too slow compared to the revolution speed of the swirling mass, therefore, many birds bypassed the chimney opening and circled back around in time with the majority.  Cycles of swirling swifts continued in this manner until all had their chance to pass by and drop into the opening to settle down for the night. I recorded 132 swifts entering the roost at twilight.  What a spectacle to see.   

The following week, only three swifts entered the roost at dusk, and as I began to write this (the week of September 21) a few reports of stragglers remained in the state.  And so it appears that Chimney Swift migration has come to an end here in Connecticut.  I look forward to seeing what’s in store for 2014, and singing Chim – chim-in-ey again for another summer.

To see how the Hartford roost’s maximum recorded count compared to other sites monitored this year visit the CTDEEP’s project Chimney Swift Watch website via this link: Become a volunteer! 

- Anthony Zemba 
  Certified Ecologist / Soil Scientist
  Director of Conservation Services

A “Flying Cigar” appears over one of Connecticut’s industrial chimneys.  Photo credit: Shannon Kearney, CTDEEP.

Clark, G. Jr. 1994. Chimney Swift In: The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Connecticut. Louis Bevier, ed.  Bulletin No. 113. State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut.  Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection: Hartford, CT.

CTDEP. 2005. Connecticut’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Developed by the Connecticut Department of Natural Resources in consultation with Terwilliger Consulting, Inc. October 1, 2005.

Forbush, E. H. 1907. Useful Birds and their Protection. Massachusetts Board of Agriculture. 

Sage, J.H. & L. B. Bishop. 1913. The Birds of Connecticut. Bulletin No. 20 of the State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut.

Zeranski, J. D. & T. R. Baptist. 1990. Connecticut Birds. University Press of New England: Hanover, N.H.