Friday, July 01, 2005

Common Eiders Are Nesting on the Sound, a First for New York

A couple of pairs of common eiders are nesting near Fishers Island this year, and it apparently marks the first time the birds have been recorded nesting either on the Sound** or in New York State.

Earlier today Patrick Comins, of Audubon Connecticut, sent an e-mail to a number of bird experts (with a copy to me), that said this:

Penni Sharp, one of our Science and Bird Conservation Committee members was at Fisher's Island doing some field work in June and she and another observer noted two pairs of Common Eiders, along with some downy young. I thought this was a significant nesting record for Long Island Sound and that it should be brought to someone's attention. Not sure if they have ever been recorded as nesting in New York (my NY book is at home), but I thought it could represent a record of a new breeding species for the state.

It seems like he's right. Common eiders are not in the 1988 edition of The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State (by Andrle and Carroll), but this map, from the current update of the atlas, shows that atlas workers found them on Fishers Island in March of this year. I haven't been able to find anything online about common eiders in Rhode Island, which might give an idea if they've been moving south, in the way that chuck-wills-widows have been moving north, but I'm pretty sure I saw common eiders in 1997 on Block Island, swimming among the rocks off Clay Head (though I have no idea if they were nesting).

The Birder's Handbook (by Ehrlich, Dobkin & Wheye) says common eiders nest on the "Shore of ponds and lagoons with outlet to rocky seacoast." Birds of the New York Area (by Bull in 1964) says they are a "Holarctic species ... breeding along the coast south to southwestern Maine" (holarctic, as far as I can tell, means the northern hemisphere north of the tropics).

With Wilson's storm-petrels and chuck-wills-widows here too, it makes for an interesting bird season on the Sound. Now if only my fish sources were as good as my bird sources...

** Maybe not. Min T. Huang, the migratory game bird leader for the Connecticut DEP, said this in an e-mail on July 2:

...we have had reports of these birds for the past couple of years. Last year, I believe, there were 4 young and about 20 adults in July.


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