Norwich leads state in bird-reporting for second year

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Mar. 7, 2011
A black-capped chickadee enjoys the fare at a local feeder. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
A black-capped chickadee enjoys the fare at a local feeder. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Amateur ornithology (the study of birds) is apparently alive and well in Norwich.

For the second straight year, Norwich residents led the state in submitted checklists for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. The four-day event, which encourages bird-watchers to track the variety and numbers of bird species in their area, is sponsored by the Cornell University Ornithology Lab and the National Audubon Society.

Beryl Fishbone, program chairperson of the Leffingwell House Museum in Norwich, coordinated participation of a number of local groups in the count. “The thing is so easy to do,” she said. “You can do this at home. Age doesn’t matter, physical limitation doesn’t matter. You can do it when you’re parked in your car waiting for the kids.”

This year, the event took place from Feb 18 to 21, but bird-watchers could choose any period of 15 minutes or more to record the individual birds spotted in their chosen location. Bird-lovers of all ages, from everywhere in North America, were encouraged to participate, whether from a living-room window, a city park or a nature preserve.

And participants didn’t need to be able to spell “ornithologist” to take part, either. Cornell provided a bird identification guide with its reporting sheets, encouraging amateur bird-watchers to learn more about how to identify birds.

“There are a lot of us who don’t know what kind of bird we’re looking at,” said Fishbone. “We say, ‘There’s a sparrow.’ But on the list was a wide variety of sparrows. People are a little nervous, but this is a very forgiving kind of thing.”

Denise Williams, of Norwich, was one of the bird-watchers checking in this year from her back porch on Laurel Hill. Among the species she spotted: a goshawk, titmice, sparrows and crows.

“I think the goshawk was a female with a nest,” said Williams. The bird makes occasional appearances and “screams” loudly – typical behavior for a female defending a nest, she said. “They’re beautiful birds. They’re big, with a white belly and a brown spot on the belly,” she added.

Williams said that she often sees wild turkeys in her yard, but did not see any during the count. “This time of year, they’re wherever it is turkeys go,” she said.

There’s a wide range of wildlife in Williams’ neighborhood, including deer and foxes, she said. “It’s almost like the country up here. It’s rural, even though you can see downtown Norwich from here,” she said.

Counting the birds on a broad, nationwide scale helps scientists track migration habits, responses to environmental changes and bird diseases, and the overall populations of both rare and common species.

The most abundant bird reported in Norwich this year was the house sparrow, or English sparrow - a non-native species - with 278 reported. Coming in second was the mourning dove, at 154, followed by the dark-eyed junco (commonly called the snowbird) at 111. A total of 1,554 birds representing 51 different species were reported.

The mourning dove was the most widely-distributed bird reported, with 30 respondents adding it to their lists. Second in line was the blue jay, listed in 23 reports, and the chickadee and house sparrow tied at 22.

America’s most iconic birds made their presence known this year, too. A total of 24 bluebirds were reported in the Norwich bird count, as were 13 bald eagles. “The other day, after the bird count, our neighbor saw a couple of bald eagles,” said Williams.

A number of species were spotted by only one bird-watcher each. These ranged from birds of prey like the Cooper’s hawk and the northern goshawk, to the great blue heron and the eastern phoebe. Several of the single-report species, such as the purple finch, the gray catbird and the northern mockingbird, are far more common in the region during the summer.

Fishbone said that reports were filed from Norwich by such diverse organizations as Boy Scout Pack 4 Den 4, the Connecticut Tigers baseball staff, General Physics, the City of Norwich, COREPLUS Federal Credit Union, Dime Bank and students at Mahan and Uncas schools.

To view full results of the Great Backyard Bird Count for 2011, visit the website

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