Every year, 70 species of neotropical migrant birds find their way along the Atlantic flyway to nest in Connecticut’s woodlands. Yet–every year–fragmentation of woods, changes in forest cover, and increasing predator populations present challenges for birds like the chestnut-sided warbler, eastern wood-peewee and ovenbird. It is estimated that less than 3% of Connecticut woods are in the 0-19 year age class that provides habitat for ground nesting birds. With this in mind, Audubon Sharon is partnering with foresters and conservation organizations to help woodland owners create more diverse bird habitat in Connecticut.
For this project, Audubon Sharon is targeting landowners who are interested in conservation and providing habitat for wildlife on their land, but are not necessarily familiar with forest management techniques. In 2014, Audubon Sharon participated in a TELE workshop to pool resources and expertise with other workshop participants. Together, the group developed targeted messages to reach these landowners, including a tagline designed to catch landowners’ attention: “You know your woods are important, and the birds know it too.”
The resulting outreach drew more than enough landowner interest: “Within a week of sending out our first email, we had all of the participants we needed for our first round of assessments,” says Sean Grace, Center Director at Audubon Sharon and Team Leader for Eastern Forest Connecticut. “The TELE workshop helped us distill a succinct message around the project and definitely helped spike our enrollment.”
Audubon Sharon’s program aims to improve bird habitat by providing landowners with property assessment by a consulting forester, a comprehensive bird survey, and recommendations for habitat improvement. With each assessment, landowners enjoy a “private field trip of their property,” explains Sean. This tour of their woods and familiarization with the birds inhabiting their woodlands excites landowners about the wildlife on their property and introduces them to the idea of managing for improving habitat. Foresters also make specific recommendations to improve nesting and feeding options for birds.
Since the program’s launch in 2014, Audubon Sharon has completed eighty habitat assessments and plans to complete thirty four more this year. Their work has impacted the management of over 18,000 acres of privately owned Connecticut forestland. At the end of last year, a survey of the first 40 landowners who had received habitat assessments showed that 68% had taken some form of action towards managing their woodland for habitat after their assessment.
Audubon Sharon has also hosted a series of workshops engaging landowners and consulting foresters around silviculture for bird habitat. These assessments and workshops have been implemented in partnership with Audubon Connecticut, Audubon Vermont, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut Parks and Forest Association, Ferrucci & Walicki LLC, and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.