“…(B)irds break the fourth wall between us and the wild.” – The New York Times
Grace Farms was designed to break down boundaries between people and nature. When we dissolve these boundaries, we can accomplish the seemingly impossible. We can also pause and reflect, and in the process, discover new outcomes, including gaining a new appreciation of nature and birds.
In this recent story from The New York Times, two boys discover the magic of bird watching with their father, an “obsessed birder.” As one of his boys said about taking the journey into nature, “It’s cool because you learn that birds have personalities.”
Throughout the year, we offer opportunities to discover birds and their unique personalities in a variety of habitats on our 80 acres. Visitors can join Master Birder Frank Mantlik to explore birds in their natural habitats and learn about the more than 100 species of birds that make Grace Farms home throughout the year, contributing to the natural biodiversity of our site. Visitors can also discover the wonders of birds on nature walks or while sitting in one of the River building’s five transparent glass-enclosed volumes. A red-tail hawk often swoops down and across the meadows.
Meet some of our birds and their unique personalities at Grace Farms and learn more about our nature events. (Feature photo credit: Julien Jarry)
In 2019, during a winter bird tour with Frank Mantlik, a Barred Owl was spotted. Interviewed in a New York Times’article about how to spot owls in general, including the Barred Owl, he replied:
“You either have to find them in their roost during the daytime when they’re sleeping or flying around at night. They usually nest in evergreen stands. If you visit any evergreen stand during the day, look on the ground for signs of owls, like whitewash or owl pellets, which are the undigested remains of animals that the owls cough up. You’ll see oblong tufts of fur or bone on the ground, and if you’re lucky, you can look up and see a nest.
The other way is to go out at night when they’re active and either imitate their call or use a tape-recorded call. But use discretion because you don’t want to harass them. What happens is that when the tape is played, the owl will fly in because it thinks there’s another owl in its territory.”
Listen to the Barred Owl’s call. (All About Birds)
As described in All About Birds, although this owl is not “technically a songbird, its distinctive ‘Who cooks for you?’ call functions as a song.”
Some birds, like the Barred Owl, are adopted by the community. A Barred Owl in New York City, named Barry by his admirers, was first spotted on Oct. 9, 2020 and has since become a celebrity and much loved by New Yorkers. “The quiet, meditative search for special birds — as many as 300 species of which live and migrate through New York City — can be soothing,” says The New York Times. Owls are usually shy and often remain out of sight because they are nocturnal. But so far, “he seems to like the attention.”
Other birds aren’t so shy and easier to spot, especially the Pileated Woodpecker, “one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent,” according to All About Birds. As shown in this video taken at Grace Farms, this woodpecker is whacking at a tree, perhaps looking for ants to eat. “The nest holes these birds make offer crucial shelter to many species including swifts, owls, ducks, bats, and pine martens.” Check out the video in our Instagram and follow us at @gracefarmsct.
In September 2021, a Nashville Warbler (below) was spotted and marked the 102nd bird species identified at Grace Farms.
This is an adult male, and it is only the males who sing, according to All About Birds. What do birds eat, including the Nashville Warblers? They tend to consume insects such as beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, aphids, and other insects, according to the Audubon Field Guide, which provides a comprehensive overview of birds.
And where do the Warblers like to live or make their homes? “Throughout the year, Nashville Warblers use shrubby, second-growth habitats. On breeding grounds, the Eastern subspecies requires mixed-species forests, tamarack, spruce, or scrub oak,” according to All About Birds. Whether a Warbler or a Barred Owl, Grace Farms has 10 biodiverse habitats, including woodlands, ponds, and meadows, that make perfect sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife.
Listen to the Nashville Warbler.
This is a Song Sparrow spotted in the meadows of Grace Farms. The sounds of birds, as well as habitats, coloring, and size are used to identify them. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds online resource provides identifying features and characteristics. Listen to their calls.
Restoring native habitats
Grace Farms intentionally restored the landscape to create native habitats for all forms of wildlife. This includes keeping our more than 2,000 trees healthy. Grace Farms has over 50 different species of trees, which reflect Grace Farms’ commitment to biodiversity and protecting the environment. In addition, we converted 70% of formerly mowed lawns to natural meadows and installed thousands of native pollinating plants for our essential pollinators such as bees, birds, and butterflies. Grace Farms is a founding member of the New Canaan chapter of the Pollinator Pathway, a coordinated movement to create pesticide-free corridors of native plants.
These ongoing efforts also help mitigate climate change through the restoration and stewardship of our land. Interestingly, the Song Sparrow, one of the most familiar and widespread birds in North America, is being displaced by climate change, according to the online Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds. In this map, you can see the extent of displacement, and the Song Sparrow isn’t alone in its struggle to keep its habitat due to over development and climate change.
How they inspire us
While birds give us joy, thousands of artists have been inspired by the beauty and music of birds. One Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, John Luther Adams, is inspired by his “winged muses,” according to The New York Times. In this article, learn and hear how the Northern Mockingbird influenced one of his compositions. Adams isn’t the only composer that has been influenced by birds throughout the ages. “Birds have inspired (human) composers throughout history, from ancient Greece, to Mozart’s Papageno in ‘The Magic Flute,’ to Wagner’s Forest Bird in ‘Siegfried,’ to Stravinsky’s Nightingale in ‘Le Rossignol,’ and on to Messiaen’s bird songs,” according to The New York Times.
Listen to the Northern Mockingbird.
“They sing almost endlessly, even sometimes at night, and they flagrantly harass birds that intrude on their territories, flying slowly around them or prancing toward them, legs extended, flaunting their bright white wing patches,” according to All About Birds.
Unlike other birds that feed on a host of insects, they will switch their summer menu of insects to mostly fruit in fall and winter.
Poets, from Walt Whitman to e.e. cummings, have written endlessly about birds, and you’ll find their poetry and that of others in our Library, as well as children’s books that have been inspired by these winged species.
“… may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old …”
Indeed, whatever they sing, it’s better to know and experience their joyful presence. Their existence over the years, however, as reported in many publications, has been jeopardized. There has been a decline in the number of birds due to the loss of habitat caused by various factors including climate change, which has altered once biodiverse habitats that birds and other wildlife depend on to live and thrive.
In a 2019 article in The Guardian, the writer laments the disappearance of birds: There are 40 million fewer birds today than in 1966. In the UK, for instance, artists and musicians have made a concerted effort to save one of the UK’s most celebrated but endangered birds – the Nightingale. According to the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), this bird is known for its high-quality singing and will often sing throughout the night. “Romantic poets from John Keats to Samuel Taylor Coleridge feted this unobtrusive brown bird’s astonishing musicality,” according to The Guardian.
For some light sleepers, the song of the nightingale throughout the night may not be appreciated. But imagine a world without a diversity of birds and their singing, even during the night. Some studies cite that birds are linked to our happiness. For instance, the World Economic Forum, highlighted a study published in Ecological Economics, which noted that “greater bird biodiversity can make people more joyful.”
Perhaps there was a reason we witnessed an increase in birdwatching during the pandemic, simply because it makes us happy. We could watch birds alone or with our families. Birds, as e.e. cummings suggests, are perhaps one of the secrets to our happiness. They are also integral to our human existence and the biodiversity of our planet.
“… may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living …”
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