By Mel WhiteApril 28, 2016
Birds in This Story
|National Wildlife Refuges||National Parks||Acreage of Important Bird Areas|
Connecticut’s best-known birding sites are located, not surprisingly, on the shore of Long Island Sound, where observers can spot waterfowl, shorebirds, and seabirds, along with migrants of all sorts following the coast. Connecticut’s location, combined with a healthy population of avid birders, yields a list of more than 430 species for the country’s third-smallest state.
Good birding sites dot the coast, but among the best are Hammonasset Beach State Park and Milford Point. Visitors should take seasons into account: many beach areas are crowded in summer, but wide open from fall through spring, when the birding is best. (On some winter days it takes a brave soul to face frigid winter wind while searching the sea for a scoter or rare gull.)
One of the top inland birding locations is White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, with more than six square miles of varied habitats. The state also is home to several Audubon-related centers and sanctuaries, offering educational activities as well as good birding.
Connecticut Birding Hotspots
This 4,000-acre preserve near Litchfield comprises a diversity of habitats including hardwood and conifer forest, lakes, marsh, fields, and six miles of river frontage. The species list of more than 240 reflects the rewards the site holds for birders.
Around 40 miles of trails allow exploration of the site; the Lake, Butternut, and Little Pond Boardwalk trails are among those favored by birders. Some visitors go birding by canoe on the Bantam River or ponds.
The preserve is known for nesting warblers, with 15 or more species breeding. Other nesting birds include Wild Turkey, Broad-winged Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, Alder Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Brown Creeper, Eastern Bluebird, Veery, Wood Thrush, Swamp Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Bantam Lake and other wetlands can have large numbers of waterfowl in migration, including all three species of mergansers. Least Bittern, American Bittern, and Common Gallinule are found at times in marshy wetlands. Osprey and Bald Eagle are seen regularly.
With its variety of all-around birding appeal. White Memorial Conservation Center is an excellent destination through the year.
A gem of nature in southwestern Connecticut, the Audubon Center in Greenwich was the first environmemtal education center established by the National Audubon Society, dating from the 1940s. Today, the public is invited to visit and walk seven miles of trails winding through the 285-acre sanctuary.
The center’s property comprises mostly deciduous forest, with fields, swampy areas, a river, and a dammed lake.
The site’s bird list of 220 includes nesting species such as Ruffed Grouse, Pileated Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and Baltimore Oriole. The sanctuary is known as a wintering site for Saw-whet Owl.
For more than 20 years the center has been operating a fall hawk watch here. More than 20,000 raptors are counted some years, with the peak period in September and October. A dozen common raptor species are seen regularly, with occasional rarities such as Mississippi Kite and Rough-legged Hawk.
This 234-acre coastal park ranks high on the list of top Connecticut birding sites. It includes woodland, tidal marsh, and beach, as well as a point of land from which observers look for waterfowl, gulls, and other seabirds from fall through spring. (In summer the park is extremely popular with beach-goers and other recreationists.)
Sherwood Island has a bird list featuring nearly 300 species. In marshy areas, look for migrant and wintering dabbling ducks as well as wading birds (Glossy Ibis in spring and summer and an occasional Least Bittern in May) and Virginia Rail. Groves of trees on the east and, especially, the west sides of the park can be excellent for migrant warblers and other songbirds. Great Horned Owl is seen regularly.
More than 30 species of shorebirds have been seen in park marshes and along the sandy beach. In winter, the beach may have mixed flocks of Horned Lark, American Pipit, and Snow Bunting.
Waterbirds also contribute much to the park’s bird list. Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, mergansers, loons, Northern Gannet, and gulls can be spotted in migration and winter from Sherwood Point, swimming in or flying over Long Island Sound.
The park has walking trails, a nature center open seasonally, and an observation platform overlooking a marsh on the west side.
Located on the coast about four miles southwest of the town of Milford, this nature center and sanctuary is operated by the Connecticut Audubon Society.
Primarily known for tidal marsh and beach habitats, Milford Point has a species list of about 315 birds, and it’s been named an Important Bird Area in large part because of its significance for migrant and nesting shorebirds, as well as the marsh’s importance for waterfowl, wading birds, sparrows, and other species. The area includes a boardwalk, and observation platform, and a 70-foot-high observation tower. Ospreys breed here, and the center operates an “Osprey Cam” of the nesting platform that can be viewed on its website.
Among the species that have nested here are American Black Duck, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, Clapper Rail, American Oystercatcher, Piping Plover, Willet, Least Tern, Horned Lark, and Saltmarsh Sparrow. The site’s bird list includes about 40 species of shorebirds and ten species of terns. Roseate Tern and Black Skimmer are seen often in summer.
Late summer and early fall are peak periods to see many of the waterbirds found at Milford Point, but with its rich habitats it’s well worth visiting any time of year.
At this coastal park near New Haven, the best birding happens from September through November. During that period, 15,000 raptors may pass overhead at the most famous hawk-watch site in New England. Migrating birds fly down the peninsula and find themselves hemmed in by water, building up concentrations at the point.
Among the often-seen highfliers are Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon. Different species migrate on different schedules, but October is generally the peak.
You might be lucky to glimpse a Black Vulture, Golden Eagle, or Northern Goshawk. Possibly even an occasional rarity such as Swainson’s Hawk.
Lighthouse Point is also very good for fall songbird migration, with large numbers of birds such as Tree Swallow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwing, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
In fall, the park often holds visitor education programs on bird migration.
Connecticut’s largest beach park has two miles of sand and more than 500 campsites to attract sun-lovers in summer. Birders know it for expansive marshland and a few patches of woodland where migrant songbirds congregate. With its appealingly diverse Hammonasset, 20 miles east of New Haven, is one of the birdiest destinations in the state.
The Meigs Point Nature Center is located in the southeastern part of the park, 1.7 miles from the entrance station. It’s a good idea to stop here for information on park activities. Trails lead into woods and to two platforms with wetland overlooks. Keep an eye out for waterfowl, and wading birds, including American Bittern, Clapper Rail, Marsh Wren, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Seaside Sparrow.
Meigs Point, at the end of the road, offers a view of Long Island Sound where 250 species have been sighted. From fall into spring this is an ideal place to see sea ducks, loons, grebes, Northern Gannet, gulls, and the occasional Dovekie, murre, or Razorbill. Quite a few rarities have been spotted from the point, including Swallow-tailed Kite, Ruff, and Western Kingbird.
When the beach isn’t full of swimmers and sun-tanners, shorebirds and terns can be common. American Oystercatcher, Piping Plover, and Least Tern nest not on the ocean beach but in a protected area on the other side of park. Hammonasset has extensive grassy areas where American Golden-Plover, Upland Sandpiper, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper can stop to rest in fall.
With more than 800 acres this park is one of the last and largest tracts of undeveloped land along the Connecticut coast. Located just east of Groton, with no road into the main reserve area, it is accessible by walking trail only.
Hike a mile and a half to the point itself, where you’re likely to find sea ducks, loons, and gulls. Some birders visit the point in fall to watch for migrating raptors. Rocky areas around the shoreline are good places to look for American Oystercatcher in summer. Views over mudflats and marsh allow spotting of wading birds and shorebirds.
But it’s during songbird migration that Bluff Point really shines. Especially in fall, the wooded peninsula acts as a migrant trap for southbound flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, and sparrows. September and early October is the best time for the greatest species diversity. Twenty or more warbler species can be seen during that period.
For land birds, check brushy areas as well as the more mature woodland. Three main north-south trails offer access to varied habitats.
Audubon State Office and Centers*
- Audubon Connecticut
- Audubon Center at Bent of the River
- Audubon Center in Greenwich
- Emily Winthrop Miles Wildlife Sanctuary
- Fairchild Wildflower Garden
- Mildred Caldwell Sanctuary of Walden Woods
- Gimbel Sanctuary
- Hemlock Gorge
- Guilford Salt Meadows Sanctuary
- Sharon Audubon Center
*Be sure to call ahead before visiting Audubon centers to make sure that they are open to the public.