New York City: the birds of Central Park

One does not necessarily associate New York City with wildlife. There is so much to see and do in this amazing city that birding is probably quite far down most people’s NYC bucket list. However, for an “Englishman in New York” (to borrow Sting’s lyrics), spending a few hours with the wildlife of Central Park was deeply rewarding in my recent week in the Big Apple.

Central Park is like a great slab of green in the heart of Manhattan (or brown when we were there last week, as New York was just emerging from Winter, slightly behind the UK) – seen below from the top of the Empire State building partially obscured by skyscrapers…

Central Park from Empire State

Central Park from Empire State

Despite its uber-urban location, an astonishing 230 species of bird (about a quarter of all birds known to exist in the US) have been spotted in Central Park. Whilst I obviously didn’t get close to that number in just a couple of hours in early April, I was pleased with my visit.

I started at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (the largest body of water in the park):

Reservoir views

Reservoir walkway

There were some familiar waterbirds, such as:

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

… and…

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

… But also less familiar for a European, such as:

Ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

… and what I later discovered was a relatively rare sight for New York City…

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

Although not as numerous as in the nearby Turtle Pond, the Reservoir is also home to introduced (probably released pets) Terrapins (I am uncertain of the species below, but it is probably the common, Red-eared Slider):

Terrapin

Near the Reservoir, I was alerted by the call of a raptor circling over the trees in what seemed like a victory dance as it carried the carcass of its prey (an unidentified bird) in its talons:

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Elsewhere around the park, I saw a couple of further familiar species, such as:

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

… and…

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

… and the almost globally ubiquitous…

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia)

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia)

But I was there to see North American species. Central Park did not disappoint:

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

I was thrilled to see a North American favourite, the aptly named Cardinal…

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Three obscured shots below of, what I believe (thanks to some help from the online birding community – how cool am I?) is an Eastern Phoebe – one of the first migratory birds to return heralding the start of Spring:

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

Visiting other countries is great for a birder, because you get to be all excited by common birds that a local birder wouldn’t look twice at, such as:

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

…and the highly common but confusingly named (it is called a robin because of its red breast, but is actually a Thrush)…

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

American robin (Turdus migratorius)

Another Thrush that I snapped was the Hermit Thrush:

Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus)

Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus)

There are a number of other lakes in the park beyond the Reservoir:

Central Park lake

It was on these lakes that I saw the New World relative of our Great Cormorant:

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) next to Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) next to Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) and numerous terrapins

As well as getting a very distant shot of the wonderfully named, Bufflehead:

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

And seeing lots more terrapins/turtles basking…

At least two species, but mainly the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

At least two species, but mainly the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

The highlight of my birding afternoon in Central Park was probably the fact that I spotted three species of woodpecker:

Including these two merged perspectives…

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

…and the smallest woodpecker in the US…

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

… and finally a blurry and obscured shot of…

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Outside of Central Park, I got a bit excited seeing a brown squirrel, until I realised it was a melanistic sub-group of the familiar Grey Squirrel and not a new species:

Eastern Grey/Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Eastern Grey/Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

I also photographed a couple of gulls outside of Central Park: one which appeared to be familiar and one not…

The familiar bird is a Herring Gull, but is recognised now by most authorities as a separate species from the European Herring Gull, photographed from the Staten Island ferry…

American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)

American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)

The less familiar gull was photographed (twice – two shots merged below) near Brooklyn Bridge:

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

This gull took my total number of species photographed during a week in New York City (an only about 2 hours of birding) to 24, 17 of which were new birds for my photographic list.

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4 thoughts on “New York City: the birds of Central Park

  1. myrsbytes

    Lovely pictures. I didn’t know black squirrels were a melanistic subgroup of grey squirrels (now I do :-)). Calgary had the most acrobatic squirrels I’ve ever seen. The black squirrels always looked a bit smaller than the grey ones. My backyard had two resident black squirrels and two grey ones. It was quite entertaining watching them jump a little over a meter from a fence to a tree!

    Reply

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