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What's in Flight

May 2018

The bird migration through New York is in full wing in May. “We estimate hundreds of millions of birds are flying over the city at night on their way to Northern North America, Canada and Alaska,” says Kaitlyn Parkins, the conservation biologist at New York City Audubon. “They stop here in the parks for a couple of days to feed. The best time to see them is early morning between sunrise and 10am.” Among Kaitlyn’s favorites are the dozen or more species of warblers. “They are small birds just a couple of inches in size.  But they are often brightly colored, especially the males in their breeding plumage. They look like little jewels dripping from trees.”  By contrast, the female warblers ‘wear’ the bird equivalent of camouflage, so they won’t be spotted on their nest or feeding their chicks. Many warblers weigh only 12-15 grams, and according to Kaitlyn, “some fly non stop for up to 70 hours.”

Prairie Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Two even tinier birds arriving in the city at this time of year are the golden crowned kinglet and ruby crowned kinglet. Most are just 3 inches in length and weigh only 6-8 grams, but have a surprisingly strong and complex song. Due to their Lilliputian size, they are constantly foraging for insects and seeds. A good pair of binoculars or 20/20 vision is helpful to capture these small birds up in the trees.

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

If you are walking along the Carl Schurz riverside Esplanade in the early morning, do also look out for the Black-Crowned Night Heron with its whitish gray breast, gray wings and black crown. Unlike other herons, these are stocky looking birds with short necks. According to Kaitlyn, some are breeding in New York Harbor. They can be spotted in the city’s water front parks fishing in the early morning and at night.


Words: Lucie Young

Images: Terry Collins/Fiat Looks

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