Birds fly­ing high in cities

Audubon is­sues an­nual re­port

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - News - By Ed Stan­nard ed­ward.stan­[email protected] hearst­medi­

Mi­grat­ing birds are bulk­ing up in the city on their way to Mex­ico and South Amer­ica.

At least they are in New York City, ac­cord­ing to re­search con­ducted by Chad Seewa­gen, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Great Hol­low Na­ture Pre­serve and Eco­log­i­cal Re­search Cen­ter in New Fair­field. That means that other ur­ban habi­tats may also be good “re­fu­el­ing” places for birds that may not land once they’ve left East Rock Park in New Haven or Sea­side Park in Bridge­port for their win­ter­ing homes south of the bor­der.

“Right in the mid­dle of Amer­ica’s largest city, birds were re­fu­el­ing at rates sim­i­lar to and in some cases higher than” parks in Westchester County, he said.

Seewa­gen was one of the speak­ers last week at the Con­necti­cut Audubon So­ci­ety’s an­nual State of the Birds re­port, held at the Con­necti­cut Agri­cul­tural Ex­per­i­ment Sta­tion. The mood of the gath­er­ing of sev­eral-dozen bird and en­vi­ron­men­tal en­thu­si­asts was op­ti­mistic about cities’ role in con­tribut­ing to the wel­fare of the many mi­grat­ing birds, such as Swain­son’s thrush, com­mon yel­lowthroat, mag­no­lia war­bler and the ubiq­ui­tous oven­bird, which make an ur­ban stopover on their way south.

“Our fo­cus this year is on birds and the heav­ily de­vel­oped land­scape,” said Kath­leen Van Der Aue of Fair­field, chair­woman of Con­necti­cut Audubon. “Our prox­im­ity to the coast puts Con­necti­cut right in the heart of the At­lantic Fly­way,” she said, giv­ing the state the “high­est per­cent­age in the coun­try of the ur­ban wildlife in­ter­face.”

Patrick Comins, Con­necti­cut Audubon’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, also pre­sented the chap­ter’s ma­jor rec­om­men­da­tions for the year, led by ask­ing Congress to pass the Re­cov­er­ing Amer­ica’s Wildlife Act. The act would des­ig­nate “$1.3 bil­lion of ex­ist­ing dol­lars an­nu­ally” to state con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. The money would come from roy­al­ties paid to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for min­ing and drilling on pub­lic lands.

Con­necti­cut stands to re­ceive $12.6 mil­lion to sup­port its Wildlife Ac­tion Plan. That would be “more than a ten­fold in­crease” of what the state is spend­ing now, Comins said. “It would re­ally be a game changer if we could get Re­cov­er­ing Amer­ica’s Wildlife Act passed.”

“It’s abun­dantly ap­par­ent that birds need peo­ple and peo­ple need birds,” Comins said, and in the fourth most densely pop­u­lated state in the coun­try, “we still have abun­dant and re­ally high­qual­ity habi­tat,” in­clud­ing grass­lands, forests, marsh­lands, tidal marshes, is­lands and Long Is­land Sound. “Laced through all of this are rib­bons of cities and suburbs,” he said.

Comins said birds such as the semi­pal­mated sand­piper are “go­ing to fat­ten up and take off” to win­ter in Cen­tral Amer­ica. Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle by Seewa­gen in the Con­necti­cut State of the Birds re­port, as many as 80 per­cent of mi­grat­ing birds die be­fore they can get to their des­ti­na­tions.

“Con­necti­cut is a large jump­ing-off point for large num­bers of mi­grat­ing birds,” Comins said, adding that habi­tat that aids mi­gra­tion is as im­por­tant as pre­serv­ing ar­bo­real forests or co­ral reefs.

That’s why Seewa­gen’s re­search came as good news. He and his brother mea­sured the “re­fu­el­ing rate” of birds in Prospect Park, Brook­lyn, In­wood Hill Park on the north­ern tip of Man­hat­tan and the park that in­cludes the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botan­i­cal Gar­den, as well as in three parks in Westchester County.

“I won­dered if ur­ban habi­tats, which are typ­i­cally very de­graded … could al­low birds to do this and pro­vide them with the re­sources they need,” Seewa­gen said. He found that birds in the city grew just as fat in their oneto three-day stays as did those in the north­ern suburbs.

Seewa­gen said mi­gra­tory birds have evolved to be­come “more gen­er­al­ists” dur­ing mi­gra­tion. “They can ex­ploit an ar­ray of habi­tats” where they find in­sects later in the sea­son be­cause cities tend to be warmer than sub­ur­ban ar­eas.

“Those very same birds would never nest in an area like that,” but be­cause of the heat is­land ef­fect of cities, as well as global warm­ing, “the plants are green and the in­sects [are ac­tive] much later in the fall in the cities,” Seewa­gen said.

He said there’s a mis­con­cep­tion that birds only eat berries in the fall and that they lose body fat dur­ing their mi­gra­tion, but they need to feed on in­ver­te­brates as well be­fore they take off in or­der to stock up on pro­tein be­cause “they’re los­ing a lot of lean body mass in those flights. … Most of the weight they gain in the be­gin­ning is lean tis­sue,” he said.

Seewa­gen cau­tioned that “what I found in these three parks in this one city can’t be gen­er­al­ized to any city in the world,” but it’s a hope­ful sign. “By serv­ing as valu­able stopover habi­tats,” the New York parks are “fa­cil­i­tat­ing pop­u­la­tion on a global scale,” he said.

Mi­lan Bull, se­nior di­rec­tor of sci­ence and con­ser­va­tion for Con­necti­cut Audubon, said that tra­di­tional band­ing of mi­grat­ing birds to iden­tify their take­off and land­ing places is giv­ing way to the Mo­tus Wildlife Track­ing Sys­tem, which uses “highly minia­tur­ized ra­dio trans­mit­ters” so small they can even be at­tached to but­ter­flies.

“The sea­sonal move­ment of birds takes place well out­side our view,” Bull said, but Mo­tus al­lows sci­en­tists to track birds, bats and in­sects through­out their flight, be­cause “the tags broad­cast on the same fre­quency to which all the tow­ers are tuned. In­creas­ingly now we are able to track these an­i­mals across the en­tire hemi­sphere. This is pretty amaz­ing stuff.”

Mo­tus, named for the Latin word for mo­tion, has recorded “hun­dreds of mil­lions of de­tec­tions on thou­sands of birds, bats and in­sects,” Bull said, “iden­ti­fy­ing those crit­i­cal places where birds need to rest [and] re­fuel.”

Comins said the sys­tem “shows that birds are in fact much closer to us than we ever thought.” Widen­ing the net­work of Mo­tus re­ceivers is an­other of Con­necti­cut Audubon’s rec­om­men­da­tions, as is ex­pand­ing the Na­tional Wildlife Refuge Part­ner­ship pro­gram to Hart­ford.

Shaun Roche, who works in the Ste­wart B. McKin­ney Na­tional Wildlife Refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, de­scribed that part­ner­ship in New Haven, work­ing with Com­mon Ground High School, the Yale School of Forestry and En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies, the Yale Pe­abody Mu­seum, Ur­ban Re­sources Ini­tia­tive, Me­nunkatuck Audubon So­ci­ety, South­ern Con­necti­cut State Univer­sity and the mayor’s of­fice, pub­lic schools and the De­part­ment of Parks, Re­cre­ation and Trees to cre­ate 15 ur­ban oases in New Haven and one in Ham­den.

Roche said the school­yard habi­tat pro­gram “turns it not only into bet­ter habi­tat … but it also turns it into an out­door class­room for the kids to use.” He called an ur­ban oa­sis near Cherry Ann Street in Ne­whal­lville “a re­ally good ex­am­ple of a neigh­bor­hood project” in a “derelict part of Beaver Ponds Park.”

Su­san Whalen, deputy com­mis­sioner for en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion with the state De­part­ment of En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and a Con­necti­cut Audubon board mem­ber, said “ur­ban spa­ces are re­ally fit­ting places for wildlife to live,” not­ing that pere­grine fal­cons and oys­ter­catch­ers nest in Bridge­port and that fal­cons and red-tailed hawks are seen in Bush­nell Park in Hart­ford. (Fal­cons and bald ea­gles also have called New Haven home.)

“Birds aren’t the only crea­tures oc­cu­py­ing ur­ban spa­ces,” Whalen said, with coy­otes, deer and bears seen in Bush­nell Park. She said a Bioblitz, “kind of a species scav­enger hunt,” found 2,760 species of plants, an­i­mals and even mi­cro-or­gan­isms within 5 miles of Hart­ford and East Hart­ford.

She also praised the in­volve­ment of school­child­ren and oth­ers in con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. The state’s Osprey Na­tion pro­gram, with its “cit­i­zen sci­ence vol­un­teers,” has had “tremen­dous up­ward suc­cess,” with 314 stew­ards in 2018 count­ing 450 ac­tive nests and 622 fledglings.

Paul Fusco / Con­necti­cut Audubon So­ci­ety

A pere­grine fal­con in flight.

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