Urban Oases for Birds and People

Audubon CT's urban oases bring benefits to birds, wildlife and the larger ecosystem. They are also outdoor classrooms for students and tranquil green spaces for neighborhoods with an abundance of asphalt and concrete.

Students from Davis Street Arts & Academics School learn about plant life cycles at their newly planted schoolyard habitat. Photo credit: Audubon Connecticut.

When migratory songbirds reach New Haven after flying across Long Island Sound, they immediately hunt for safe perches on which to rest and recover. Audubon Connecticut's Urban Oases initiative ensures that even in the heart of this urban area, a corridor of green habitats is waiting.

Created with the help of community volunteer teams in parks and schoolyards, the habitats are the product of a larger mission by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to "bring the wildlife to the people," says Michelle Frankel, Center Director for Audubon Greenwich and CT Team Leader for Bird-Friendly Communities.

Beyond the benefits to birds, wildlife, and the larger ecosystem, the oases are also outdoor classrooms for students. They provide leadership opportunities for young people. And they are tranquil green spaces for neighborhoods with an abundance of asphalt and concrete.

"Our focus is not just on birds, but also on communities," says Frankel.

The Urban Oases program has created a total of 25 bird habitats in New Haven, 12 at schools and 13 in parks. The sites are part of a larger network of habitats that various bird species will use for stopovers as they make their way north in the spring and south in the fall.

Each planting project is reviewed by Audubon, Urban Resources Initiative (URI), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure that the selected shrubs and trees are appropriate for both birds and people. Planting and maintenance at park sites are done by volunteers who are supported by URI, Yale School of Forestry Interns, and young people from Common Ground's Green Jobs Corps.

At the schools, schoolyard habitat stewardship teams made up of parents, teachers, and students are guided by Audubon and staff from Common Ground High School, Urban Farm & Environmental Education Center. Students employed by Common Ground's Green Job Corps plant, water, weed, and maintain the school sites throughout the year. During the school year, teachers use the habitats for nature lessons and environmental science projects.

Audubon Connecticut's New Haven work has resulted in its program being designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of the first Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships in the country, and last year New Haven joined 26 other cities in being designated an Urban Bird Treaty City.

Many of the neighborhoods targeted by the Urban Oases program suffer from poor air and water quality and a lack of biodiversity. By creating small pockets of native habitat in parks and schoolyards, the program improves access to nature for those who need it most. Some of the sites have recorded as many as 41 different bird species.

Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator Jillian Bell says the program also helps young people see themselves as "agents of change." At one planting site, a boy who was volunteering told her, "We can't control what is happening in the world. But we can control what happens here."

"I am so moved by the effort, hard work, and care that these kids and neighbors put into their habitats," says Bell.

For more information about Audubon Connecticut, visit its profile on giveGreater.org®.

Did you know?

Want to choose the right native plants to support a bird habitat in your yard? Go to Audubon's native plant's database

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.