Important Bird Areas

Falkner Island

Falkner Island Unit of Stewart B. McKinney NWR (Faulkner's Island)

Guilford (New Haven County)

Status: Recognized IBA

Ownership: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Conservation Partners: Connecticut Audubon Society, State of Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, Faulkner’s Island Light Brigade, Little Harbor Laboratories, Menunkatuck Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, and USGS

Nominator: Jeffrey Spendelow, Ph.D. USGS

Size: 4.5 Acres

Location: 41° 13’ N, 72° 39’ W

Secondary—Marine, rocky shoreline, sumac grove

Land Use:
Primary—Nature and wildlife conservation, research

Serious—Predators, disturbance to birds or habitat, erosion
Minor—Introduced animals, invasive or non-native plants

Site Description: Falkner Island is a crescent-shaped island approximately 3 miles south of Guilford. It is the only vegetated 'marine' island in Connecticut. It has been a part of the Stewart B. McKinney NWR since 1985; prior to that, it was owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. The island consists of a rocky shoreline surrounding an eroding sand/gravel upland. The upland habitats include mowed paths, poison ivy, other low brushy vegetation, and a small sumac stand.

IBA Criteria: Connecticut (and Federally) Endangered and Threatened Species; High Conservation Priority Species; Rare, Unique, and Representative Habitat; 100+ Terns/500+ Gulls; Exceptional Concentrations of Migratory Landbirds; Single Species Concentrations >1%; Long Term Research and Monitoring.

Birds: Falkner Island is one of the ‘crown jewels’ of Connecticut bird habitats. Since the 1960’s, Falkner Island has been the site of the largest Common and Roseate Tern colony in the state. It currently supports over 95% of the nesting Common Terns in Connecticut. It is the site of one of the ten largest Roseate Tern (~45 pairs) colonies in Northeastern North America and is the only regular nesting location for this federally endangered species in the state.

In addition to the island’s importance to these two species in Connecticut, it is important to several other groups of birds. Several pairs of American Black Ducks nest on the island along with as many as two pairs of American Oystercatchers. Being over 3 miles from the nearest land, the island serves as an important stopover area for many species of migratory landbirds. To be on the island on a good migration morning is a magical experience. FITP staff has been banding migrant landbirds since 1978. One hundred-thirteen species of landbirds have been banded on the island since that time. Expanding coverage of the island to include early and late migration periods could add significant information to the migration patterns of landbirds in Connecticut. Likewise, the island serves as roosting and foraging habitat for several species of shorebirds, and may be the largest wintering area for Purple Sandpipers in Connecticut. Formal shorebird surveys such as the Manomet International Shorebird Surveys are recommended for this site. The island may meet the 500-shorebird threshold as well. Waterfowl usage of the waters surrounding the island is another subject that warrants more study. The waters surrounding the island may be important areas for scoter spp. Long-tailed Ducks, and Atlantic Brant. The island would make a good site for a ‘sea-watch’ in Connecticut.

Existing Conservation Measures: Natural predators can present problems for tern colony, and these effects are being studied and predators are being controlled in the colony. In 2000, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers enacted an erosion control project. Effects of erosion control projects on the tern colonies are being evaluated. Invasive plants are a potential conservation issue and volunteers and Refuge staff are controlling invasives as time allows. The island was the site of the Falkner Island Tern Project (FITP) from 1978 to 2003, and was part of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center's Cooperative Long-term Roseate Tern Metapopulation Project. The project received critical support from partners including the USFWS, Connecticut Audubon Society, CT DEEP, Little Harbor Laboratory, and The Nature Conservancy. The project was discontinued due to population declines in the nesting Roseate Terns. The island is well managed by USFWS and FITP staff. USGS staff also performed banding of migrant landbirds in order to monitor usage of the island by this group of birds. The island is closed to the public in order to protect the tern colonies and other fragile coastal resources of the island.

State-listed Species:






Common Tern, SC

3000+ pairs



Roseate Tern E, Federal E.

100-300 pairs. Currently ~45 pairs



American Oystercatcher, SC

1-2 pairs



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