Birding In Central Park
Whether you’re visiting New York for a short city break or swinging by The Big Apple as part of a longer American holiday, Central Park is one of the best bird watching spots in the United States, attracting birders from all around the world.
Covering 843 acres, it is home to approximately 230 species of birds that reside in its meadows, rocky crags, woodlands, streams, ponds and lakes. In 1998 the park was designated an Important Bird Area in New York by the National Audobon Society due to the number of important man-made avian habitats. Some birds are year round residents while others fly through on their spring and autumn migrations on the Atlantic Flyway.
In 1890 Eugene Schieffelin, an eccentric drug manufacturer, released 60 non-native European starlings into Central Park followed by another 40 a year later, in a misguided attempt to introduce all the birds mentioned by William Shakespeare to North America. It has been estimated that there are now approximately 200 million starlings inhabiting North America descended from these birds. They are considered an invasive species and have had a negative impact on a number of native North American birds.
There are a number guided bird walks around that you can take part in led by some colourful denizens of New York whose knowledge will help you find some of the rare avian residents of Central Park; ask your hotel for details. Alternatively you could grab a field guide and a pair of binoculars and see what flies your way.
5 birds to look out for on your visit
The magnolia warbler was discovered by American ornithologist Alexander Wilson in a magnolia tree near Fort Adams, Mississippi, hence its name. It is a small and active bird but not as difficult to spot as some warblers, as it stays low in shrubs and trees. Magnolia warblers migrate to the south in winter, so you’ll only find them during the summer in Central Park.
One of North America’s most iconic birds, the Northern cardinal is hard to miss with its bright red plumage and distinctive crest, although the female is much browner. Both sexes get their colouring from their diet of seeds which contain carotenoid pigments. It is a mascot of seven American states – more than any other bird – as well as many professional and college athletic teams including the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
Eastern Screech Owl
Despite their name, eastern screech owls do not screech but make calls that sound a bit like a horse’s neigh. Eastern screech owls are small measuring up to just 25 cm in length with grey and rust plumage. They can be difficult to spot due to their strictly nocturnal habitats, but during the day you may see one roosting in the cavity of a tree trunk. They are ferocious hunters and in the past earned the nickname “feathered wildcats” .
Blue jays are another well known American bird with distinctive blue crests and upperparts. Sometimes known as jaybirds, they are brilliant mimics and emit loud warning screams when disturbed. Autumn is one of the best times to look out for them when they form large flocks collecting and burying thousands of beechnuts, acorns and hickory nuts. They will return during winter to retrieve and eat the nuts.
Like Bohemian waxwings, cedar waxwings are named after the wax-like feathers on their wing tips. They are slightly smaller than Bohemian waxwings and have quite different plumage that makes them easy to identify. They feed on berries, particular from eastern red cedars, a type of juniper, as well as dogwood, hawthorn and winterberry. Cedar waxwings have been known to get drunk from eating overripe berries that have fermented.