Of the approximately 10,000 species of birds in the world, 957 have been recorded in North America north of Mexico, and 421 are found in Connecticut.
There are 175 species that nest in Connecticut and 55 of these remain through the winter. Of those bird species that do not nest here, a full 119 species recorded in the state are vagrants, accidentals, or extinct.
Three bird species once found in Connecticut have become extinct in the last 100 years.
- Labrador Duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius)
- Heath Hen (Tympanuchus cupido cupido)
- Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius)
Less than 150 years ago, the days in North America frequently went dark when incredible flocks of thousands—even millions—of Passenger Pigeons filled the skies. The Passenger Pigeon was then the most abundant bird in North America, perhaps in the world. But overhunted, and with their habitat diminished, their numbers plummeted—the last remaining passenger pigeon—Martha—died in captivity on September 1, 1914.
Other species have adapted well to urbanization and live alongside humans, including several species of gulls, such as the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). Gulls are one of the few groups of birds that require more than a single year to reach adult plumage. The largest species do not reach adult breeding plumage until they are 3 to 4 years old.
Gallinaceous birds like pheasants and grouse occur in most parts of the world. Members of the order Galliformes, they include familiar species such as the domestic chicken (derived from the jungle fowl of southeast Asia) and the turkey (of New World origin).
The Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) is the most abundant native galliform bird today in Connecticut, but the introduced Ring-Necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is also common.
There have been many changes in the numbers of birds and in their geographic ranges in the past 25 years. The Connecticut-nesting populations of many hawks have decreased. During the same period several nesting species have been added to the list, including the Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret, and Glossy Ibis.
Owls are mainly nocturnal predators with keen hearing and vision. Their soft plumage is noiseless in flight, permitting them to hear without being heard as they hunt rodents, birds, and other animals. Prey are caught with the feet, and are generally swallowed whole. Owls are found in all parts of the world except the Antarctic, and occur in a wide variety of habitats, from dense forest to desert and Arctic tundra.
Museums are repositories of information about species that have become extinct. These species can live on in museum collections as valuable resources for research. Older collections, even for living species, are essential for the scientific study of change in organisms and their habitats over time.