City Meadow Is a Haven for Winter Birds

Of the 60 bird species listed in Norfolk’s Natural Resource Inventory as having been observed here during the winter months, 10 were seen in City Meadow during the 2023 Great Backyard Bird Count.

The count is part of a global effort to watch and count birds using local volunteers. The findings are then sent to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird citizen science database. 

“Of course, there are more birds to be seen in spring and summer,” said Shelley Harms, co-president for the Norfolk Land Trust Board of Directors. “But I would think there are more birds using [City Meadow] now than in prior years, now that some of the invasive plants have been cleared out and nest boxes have been put in.”

With only one year’s observations in hand of winter bird populations, she said she does not have sufficient data to prove that. Still, last year’s bird count listed mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, a common raven, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, European starlings, bluebirds, robins, dark-eyed juncos and song sparrows.

“People from all over the country do the backyard count over three days in February,” said Ayerslea Denny, a passionate bird watcher who leads many bird walks in the area. “Last year, we met at City Meadow, which is the town’s big back yard, but we haven’t done the Backyard Count at the meadow for more than three years [in a row] so we don’t know whether there really is a change. A couple of years ago there was an old Baltimore oriole nest made mostly of plastic. Orioles often return to the same area, but we haven’t found another nest.”

City Meadow “is a great spot” for people as well as birds, Denny said. “I’ve really been pleased with how it turned out. It gives people a place to walk. Yesterday I went down to look, and I thought, ‘Where are all the birds?’ Then I looked up and there was a red-tailed hawk, so that is why none of them were there.”

Denny and Laurie Foulke-Green, another long-time birder, will lead a group of volunteers through City Meadow Saturday, February 17, at 8:30 a.m. as part of this year’s count. Participants should bring their own binoculars and dress warmly, with good shoes for winter walking. After the count, they can enjoy hot beverages at the library.

The local effort is being sponsored by the Norfolk Library and the Green Team from the Church of Christ Congregational. The count will be held weather permitting. 

There is good reason for humans to keep tabs on the bird population. The Connecticut Audubon “State of the Birds” report for 2023, released in December, reports that there are 3 billion fewer birds in the United States than there were in 1970. Much of the avian devastation is caused by birds crashing into windows and by pet cats. 

Last year, Audubon and other environmental groups successfully lobbied for a law requiring non-essential lights in state buildings to be shut off after 11:00 p.m. during periods when birds are migrating. Billions of birds that migrate at night are confused by the lights and crash into windows and are killed. Connecticut, which is the fourth most densely populated state in the U.S., has 37 percent of its land in urban development and conservation groups are encouraging other building owners to join in the Lights Out campaign.

Happily, outside its cities and suburbs, the state is also among the most forested in the nation, ranking 14th for forest cover. About 83 percent of Norfolk’s land remains undeveloped, but only a relatively small portion of it is permanently protected, so habitat like City Meadow is important for protecting bird species. 

Indeed, Norfolk’s Natural Resource Inventory recommends the development and implementation of conservation plans for town-owned open spaces to provide protection of wildlife species. It also recommends sound conservation practices such as mowing hayfields later in the season to allow fledging birds to leave their nests, scheduling tree removal for when it will least affect wildlife and planting natural food sources for wildlife. 

The NRI also recommends protecting lands that provide, or potentially provide, wildlife habitat—including large blocks of mature forest, grasslands, wet meadows, vernal pools and other wetlands.

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