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Winter Bird Wonderland!

Posted on Jan 25, 2015

Winter Birding Forecast #4 is brought to you by Audubon Connecticut in partnership with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.

Winter Bird Wonderland            

A rich variety of birds call Connecticut home in the wintertime.  So far 166 different kinds of birds have been recorded in the state in 2015.  Overall 435 species have been recorded in the state over the years.   These numbers are a testament to the rich array of high quality habitats Connecticut has to offer, offering wonderful opportunities for birds and birding alike!


One of the birds creating a buzz in the birding community of late is a possible Gyrfalcon that has been seen flying over western Long Island Sound in the Greenwich/Stamford area on at least two occasions.  So far the looks have been distant, but any large falcon that is seen in the area should be closely examined.  These rare arctic visitors are occasionally seen in the northeast U.S. and this appears to be a good year for them, with sightings from New Hampshire, Western New York and Maine so far this winter.   The above Gyrfalcon was photographed recently in southern Maine by Shiloh Schulte from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

Winter Finch Advisory

Winter wonders of the bird kind can be fleeting.  We often think of spring and fall as being the times of year when birds migrate, but bird migration is a complex and ongoing thing.  There is likely to be at least one kind of bird that is on the move in any month of the year.

Right now finch movements seem to be heating up in Southern New England.  Perhaps in response to the recent outbreak of arctic air, there have been increasing reports of winter finches such as Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins in our area.  Will their numbers increase, how long will they stay?  It is anybody’s guess, but keep checking feeders, weedy fields or areas with good numbers of birch trees.  Any snowstorms, ice storms or arctic fronts could bring more of these welcome visitors our way.


Winter ends early for many kinds of birds that travel long distances between winter and summer homes and within the next 2-3 weeks some birds will already be starting their spring migratory journeys.  But there is still time to get out there and see some great winter birds.  Connecticut’s Important Bird Areas offer some great places to see them.

Among these sites the following offer particularly good birding opportunities in the winter: Audubon Center at Bent of the River in Southbury, Cove Island Park in Stamford, Greenwich Point Park in Greenwich, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Long Beach and the Stratford Great Meadows Area, Milford Point and the Mouth of the Housatonic River in Milford and Stratford, Sandy Point in West Haven and White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield.

Bring on the Snowys


Much attention has been paid to the regional irruption of Snowy Owls that is underway, but so far Connecticut has not been getting much of the action.  Snowy Owls are being seen all around us, but so far only a handful of sightings have been had in the state, concentrated around the mouth of the Housatonic River.   Snow storms or cold snaps can really shake things up as far as these birds are concerned, so continue to keep your eyes open!  For the latest on Snowy Owls in the Northeast, please see: http://rtpi.org/january-snowy-owl-update/


Short-eared Owls, another spectacular winter visitor have been putting on a show on some evenings as the sun sets over Silver Sands State Park in Milford.  This Short-eared Owl was photographed by RTPI President Twan Leenders.

Winter Wanderers


Small numbers of Bohemian Waxwings have been showing up in Massachusetts, Northern New England and even on Long Island.  So far none have been recorded in Connecticut, but these birds are notorious vagabonds and will often show up late in winter.  Keep an eye on any waxwing flocks you come across or on any fruit trees that have a remaining crop of berries and you might be rewarded with a rare find!   Bohemian Waxwings are slightly larger than the more familiar Cedar Waxwing, have more boldly marked wings. The most useful mark to look for though is the tract of dark red feathers under the tail, as opposed to the Cedar Waxwing’s yellow tinged under-tail plumage.

Surprise Visit


A Black-backed Woodpecker has been frequenting Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston since its discovery on January 6th.  This is one of only about a dozen records ever for this species in Massachusetts.  Only one Black-backed Woodpecker has been seen in Connecticut, in 2008.  Whether this sighting or the Gray Jay in Western Massachusetts earlier this winter are indicative of a broader invasion of boreal birds is not known at this time, but it reminds us to keep our eyes and ears open and to expect the unexpected with regard to birds.

Winter Raptors


Not a fan of the Seahawks or the Patriots? Get out and discover some hawks of a different kind or enjoy the great variety birds that be seen in our state in the winter.   There have been some spectacular and unexpected finds among the 166 species of birds already recorded in Connecticut this year, including: Greater White-fronted Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, Razorbill, Black-legged Kittiwake, Mew Gull, seven species of owls including the majestic Snowy Owl, Rufous Hummingbird, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Lapland Longspur, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Grasshopper Sparrow, Painted Bunting, Dickcissel, White-winged Crossbill and Common Redpoll.  We should be able to add several species between now and the Great Backyard Bird Count, which occurs from February 13-16th.

Rough-legged Hawks are putting in a good showing this winter both in Connecticut and surrounding states.  One particularly cooperative individual was seen this past weekend at the East River State Boat Launch off Neck Road in Madison.  These arctic visitors are generally uncommon in the state, but are often found in wide open spaces when they do come to our area.  Places like farm fields, open grasslands and extensive coastal marshes are the best spots to look for these beautiful raptors.

Not Just the Rare Birds Putting on a Show


Observers have reported that many feeders have been particularly active over the last couple of weeks.  The arctic chill has meant that birds need to ingest more calories to maintain their metabolism.  Though we are getting a break from the chill this week it looks like the rest of the winter may be colder than normal with a good chance of storminess due to the placement of the jet stream in long-range models.

Keeping your feeders full can be especially rewarding on a cold winter morning or as a storm is approaching.  Birds can sense changes in the weather before they arrive.  Perhaps able to sense falling barometric pressure they often go on a feeding frenzy as a storm approaches in the winter. Even a storm that ends up being rain in our area can cause additional reinforcements of feeder birds in our area if it puts down a layer of snow to our north and west.

The Winter Birds Forecast is brought to you by Audubon Connecticut and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.

Patrick Comins, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Connecticut
Scott Kruitbosch, Conservation & Outreach Coordinator, Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History