What’s in Flight
Beauty Pageant, June 2023
A new record was set for Carl Schurz Park, over two days this spring, when 57 species of birds were spotted and recorded in the park. That is over a third of the total 150 bird species that have been spotted in the park over the last few years.
Scarlet Tanager by Brad Balliett
In mid-May flashes of brilliant red lit up the oak trees, especially the ones beside the 87th Street entrance, as multiple Scarlet Tanagers in their blazing red mating plumage were sighted feasting on caterpillars before flying north to their breeding grounds.
The increasing popularity of our park with migrating, nesting and local birds is in large part due to the rich native plant environment, which supports an abundance of caterpillars, berries and insects, which the birds feed on.
Blackburnian Warbler by Brad Balliett
Catching a glimpse of the beautiful Blackburnian Warbler in our park with its flaming-orange throat was another highlight of this migration season. These birds typically hang out at the top of the tree canopy, which makes them hard to spot.
Mourning Warbler by Julio Melro
The first ever Mourning Warbler was recorded in the park this spring. It was discovered by birder and naturalist Gabriel Willow. The bird was flitting around the rhododendrons and shrubs at the north end of the park near the 90th Street Ferry Terminal.
During peak migration, our winged friends come in all shapes, colors and sizes; some are huge, some tiny. Some stay on for the summer. Some fly on to nest elsewhere. And quite a few are locals, who are here all year. Pictured here are just 18 of the many beautiful bird species spotted in our park this spring.
Black and White Warbler by Brad Balliett
One of the most acrobatic warblers, the Black and White Warbler often appears to walk up the side of the trees in the park. Birds have two balance sensors. One in their head (like humans) and an additional sensor in their pelvis, which makes it possible to balance on a tiny twig on one leg, and other gravity defying tricks.
Yellow Warbler by Brad Balliett
Sneaky Cowbirds sometimes deposit their eggs in a Yellow Warbler’s nest in hopes of getting free nursery care. But the Yellow Warbler can outsmart them by weaving another layer of grasses over the alien eggs. Yellow Warbler nests sometimes have multiple ‘floors’ foiling repeat Cowbirds attempts.
Chestnut-sided Warbler by Joseph Zemann
Five Chestnut-sided Warblers were spotted near Gracie Mansion during peak migration. These birds will nest close to the ground in the fork of a small tree or shrub. Like all birds, they preen regularly, reaching back to a special oil gland near the tail. Using their bill, this oil is carefully spread to preen each feather.
Barn Swallow by Mark Chen
Tree Swallow by Mark Chen
Carl Schurz Park is the summer home for a large flock of beautiful blue and cinnamon-colored Barn Swallows. They nest near the 90th St Ferry Terminal and can be seen flying low over the East River catching their favorite insects. These endangered birds return here year after year to the same nesting spot.
Tree Swallows with their metallic blue backs, white under parts and shallow forked tails also love our park and the East River. Unlike Barn Swallows, which use mud for their nests, Tree Swallows build a cup-like nest out of grass and line it with soft feathers.
Great Egret by Joseph Zemann
With our proximity to the East River, the park attracts many water-loving birds. One of the largest is the Great Egret with its elegant s-shaped neck and five-foot wingspan. It is a champion fisher; stabbing with startling speed at its prey (fish, frogs, snakes and even small mammals) with its dagger-like bill. The Great Egret was hunted to near extinction in the early Twentieth Century for it’s beautiful white plumage, which was used for millinery.
Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar (above, left)
Monarch Butterfly caterpillar (above, right)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher by Joseph Zemann
The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, at just 3-to-4 inches tall, is one of the smallest birds spotted in the park. It is half the size of a House Sparrow. It has a needle-like bill for snatching mosquitos and other tiny insects out of thin air. Birds process images more than twice as fast as humans, and aerial insectivores, like the Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, are among the fastest.
Ovenbird by Brad Balliett
One of the most easily overlooked spring migrants is the Ovenbird. From a distance it may look like a fat sparrow, but close up the Ovenbird, a type of Warbler, has a distinctive head-bobbing jive walk (like Mick Jagger). It also has a rusty orange crown, which is edged with blackish stripes, white eye-ring and pinkish legs. The Ovenbird gets its name from its domed nest that it makes on the ground. It resembles an old-fashioned oven.
Black-throated Blue Warbler by Joseph Zemann
Blue migrant birds like the Black-throated Blue Warbler and the Indigo Bunting are an exciting find in spring due to the rarity of their blue color. The Black-throated Blue Warbler feeds low down in the leafy understory, especially on Rhododendrons and Mountain Laurel. It winters in the Tropics.
Canada Warbler by Joseph Zemann
The Canada Warbler is one of the prettiest and most distinctive yellow warblers. The males have a necklace of black streaks. They winter in South America and fly through New York City en route to their nesting grounds as far north as Canada.
American Redstart by Brad Balliett
Six American Redstarts were spotted diving between the trees around the Peter Pan statue. Some were gathering nesting materials. The male is black with orange patches. The female is black with yellow patches. American Redstarts fan their tails and spread their wings to flash color and scare off predators.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron by Joseph Zemann
Some birds attract a mate by molting into their brightest feathers in spring, but the comical-looking, stripy-headed Yellow-crowned Night-Heron has a different attractant. Its legs change color from yellow to coral pink, or even red, during courtship.
Northern Flicker by Joseph Zemann
Often seen hopping around the park’s lawns, the Northern Flicker is a colorful woodpecker who likes to hammer in the soil for ants. The underside of their wings flash yellow when they take off.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Joseph Zemann
The song of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak sounds like an American Robin. ‘But listen for an extra sweetness, as if the bird had operatic training,’ says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
It has a large bill for cracking hard seeds and chomping on tough bugs like grasshoppers, beetles and crickets.
Baltimore Oriole by Joseph Zemann
Baltimore Orioles are gleaners. They pick insects and arthropods from leaves and crevices. Wasps are a favorite food. They have been known to nest in the city. ‘Orioles have one of the most complex woven nests. It resembles a hanging sock,’ says Robyn Bailey, project leader of NestWatch at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Words: Lucie Young
Images: Joseph Zemann, Brad Balliett (videos), Mark Chen, Julio Mulero
Mark Chen - Twitter @brightcoatmark
Carl Schurz Park is on the ebird.org list of global birding hotspots.
Record and identify bird songs in our park with The Cornell Lab Merlin Bird ID App
Learn about birds and how to identify them on Allaboutbirds.org
Check out our previous edition of What's in Flight about moths