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Falkner Island

An aerial image of Falkner Island following Hurricane Sandy. Credit: USFWS.


Guilford, CT

Anchor Site(s)

Falkner Island Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

About the Site

Falkner Island, a five-acre island off the coast of Guilford, has the largest nesting tern colony in Connecticut. Each summer, more than 95 percent of the state’s nesting common terns (over 2,500 pairs) reside on Falkner, which is also the only regular nesting location for federally endangered roseate terns in Connecticut. As the home of a roseate tern colony, Falkner is designated by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area and is a protected unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. There is no public access to the island so as to protect its invaluable bird habitat, but one weekend every September, the Faulkner’s Light Brigade friends group hosts an open house of the historical lighthouse.

Watch a US Fish and Wildlife Service intern discuss the habitat at Falkner Island and the day-to-day schedule of her internship research.

Ecological Importance
  • Falkner Island contains the only roseate tern colony in Connecticut. It is the breeding site of over 2,500 pairs of common terns and about 35 pairs of roseate terns.
  • It provides the only regular nesting location for federally endangered roseate terns in Connecticut.
  • Falkner Island is designated as an Important Bird Area by Audubon.
  • It is an important stopover location for migratory land birds and possibly the largest wintering area for purple sandpipers in Connecticut.
Recreational Opportunities
  • Though the island is closed to the public, the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge has created an ArcGIS story map so that everyone can get a sense of what the island looks like during nesting season.
  • During the annual open house, tours are provided by the refuge, the Coast Guard, and the Faulkner Light Brigade.
  • Close by on the shore, visit Grass Island to do some fishing and birdwatching, as well as viewing Falkner Island from a distance.
Dive Deeper
  • Audubon CT: Falkner Island
    Audubon Connecticut’s website describes the significance of Falkner Island that led to its recognition in 2001 as an Important Bird Area. The site also provides a site description and summary of current conservation measures on the Island.
  • Falkner Island Tern Project
    This web page describes the Falkner Island Tern Project, an initiative that started in 1978, and which focuses on tern banding and monitoring, and is a valuable source of long-term research on these rare birds. This page gives detail on the historical development of tern monitoring at Falkner Island and a behind-the-scenes look at the process.
  • The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge
    The official web page for the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge details the unique features of each of its 11 units in Connecticut and gives background on the Refuge’s origins.
  • New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide
    This website offers historical information on Falkner Lighthouse (the second oldest in Connecticut), complete with photos and even videos of its 2010 restoration project.
  • Watch this video on YouTube of the 2011 tern census being taken on Falkner Island to get a sense of the intensity of the colony at the height of tern season.
  • View live webcams to see footage of seals (winter) and seabirds (summer; year round) on Falkner Island.
Places to Visit
  • The Westwoods trail system is the largest hiking area in Guilford, with more than 39 miles of extensive trails weaving through various landforms such as waterfalls, marshes, and cave structures. The Guilford Land Conservation Trust provides a marked Google Map with access points, description and printable map of each trail, and an interactive trail map that allows you to modify and combine various trails to create your ideal route.
  • Visit Jacob’s Beach to find perfect picnic spots and views of the water that are wheelchair accessible.
  • Chaffinch Island Park is a perfect little place for going crabbing, kayaking, or a picnic.
Get Involved/Events
  • The Faulkner’s Light Brigade, the official Friends group for the island and lighthouse, is dedicated to the site’s conservation and public outreach. The Brigade hosts an annual fall open house, ferrying people over to Falkner and providing a lighthouse tour, which is the public’s only opportunity to visit the island itself. Its website features a newsletter, lighthouse and island history, events, photos, publications, ways to get involved, and even a quiz to see how well you really know the island!
  • Check out the Guilford Parks and Recreation Department for information on recreational opportunities, continued learning programs, and more!
  • The Henry Whitfield State Museum is considered to be the oldest stone house in New England and is open to the public for tours June through October.
Field Notes
  • There is no public access to Falkner Island; access is by permit only.
  • Every fall Faulkner’s Light Brigade hosts an open house of the island, which is the only opportunity for the public to visit. Register on their website early because the ferries fill up quickly!
  • Falkner Island.” Audubon Connecticut. Web. June 15, 2021.
  • “History of Faulkner’s Island Light, Guilford, Connecticut.” net/faulkners-island-light-history.html. New England Lighthouses. Web. June 15, 2021.
  • “Steward B. McKinney.” gov/refuge/stewart_b_mckinney. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Web. June 15, 2021.
  • “The Falkner Island Tern Project.” Web. June 15, 2021.

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