What's in Flight
Belted Kingfisher by Gig Palileo
In one record setting day at the end of September 2022, forty species of bird were seen in Carl Schurz Park. It is the largest number recorded here in one day and a tribute to the park’s increasing biodiversity.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Jay Zemann
The only hummingbird on the East Coast, the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird appears in Carl Schurz Park in mid spring and early fall. Their favorite foods include nectar from long tubular shaped red and orange flowers such as cardinal flowers and trumpet vine.
This time of year the birds are surviving off insects, berries, nectar from the remaining flowers and sap wells drilled by the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Even the pesky Spotted Lanternflies, that are driving everyone in the city nuts, play a role. The Spotted Lanternflies eat the sap from ailanthus trees, and then poop out something called honeydew, which Cape May Warblers love, says birding expert and ecologist Gabriel Willow.
Cape May Warbler by Jay Zemann
The Cape May Warbler with its tiger-striped breast, mossy green back and chestnut cheek patch is one of the most dazzling of the fall migrants. This time of year, a lot of warblers look faded, as they’ve lost their colorful breeding plumage.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker by Ed Gaillard
Well camouflaged against the trees, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a small black and white woodpecker with a red cap (the males also have a red throat), and are often seen drilling neat rows of sap wells in the park’s Siberian Elm trees. Ruby-Throated hummingbirds rely so much on sap wells, they often time their migration to coincide with the Sapsuckers.
Between mid-August and the end of October, it is peak migration season for birds, as they leave their summer nesting grounds and head south along what’s known as the Atlantic flyway (a migration corridor that passes right over New York City).
Cedar Waxwing by Gig Palileo
The American Redstart looks like it is dressed for Halloween with its coal black color and bright orange patches on sides, wings and tail. They flash their wings and tail to startle insects out of the trees.
Cedar Waxwings tend to travel in small flocks and love fruit, especially hawthorn, dogwood, juniper and winterberry.
American Redstart by Hal Trachtenberg
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is one of the tiniest migrating songbirds. They flash a brilliant red quiff (called a crown) atop their head when agitated.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet by Gig Palileo
In the week before Hurricane Ian, a cold snap brought an abundance of warblers and other tropical migrants into the park. Many were easily visible in the oak and elm trees, and pecking around for insects on the grass.
One of the funniest and most easily spotted fall migrants is the Ovenbird. It seems to jive walk across the ground, head and tail bobbing, as it searches among the mud, grass and leaf litter for insects.
Ovenbird by Jay Zemann
The Black-throated Blue Warbler is a prized sighting by birders because of its unique midnight blue color and black throat. During migration they are sometimes seen in the woodland area that leads from the East 87th Street entrance to the Peter Pan statue.
Black-throated Blue Warbler by Gig Palileo
Also migrating in early fall are the Monarch butterflies. The ones in flight this time of year are called ‘the super generation’ as they are larger and live eight times longer than Monarchs born earlier in the year. They weigh just 0.026 oz and can fly as high as one mile up in the air. They coast on air currents and make a journey of several thousand miles back to their wintering grounds in Mexico.
Monarch Butterfly by Lucie Young
Carl Schurz Park has over 20 species of native bee, according to Sarah Kornbluth, Field Associate at the American Museum of Natural History, who is studying Carl Schurz Park’s bee community composition. Most native bees are solitary creatures, she says. They don’t live in a hive like honey bees, (who are non-native bees). Some of our most abundant bees are Mason Bees, Masked Bees, and Leafcutter Bees. In October and November, the mother bees die off, but their offspring are already hibernating in hollow plant stems and occasionally cavities (made by animals or humans; such as a nail or screw hole), ready for emergence next spring.
Mason Bee by Bob Knight
The Mason Bee lays its eggs in hollow stems. The mother bee leaves the egg with a small ball of ‘bee bread’, a mix of nectar and pollen, that the larva will feed on when it hatches. It will then hibernate inside the nest during the pupa stage and emerge, metamorphosed into an adult bee, in the spring.
Fall brings an influx of birds that spend the winter in our park. White-throated Sparrows are already arriving. Some years hoards of Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches winter here when their food source further north is insufficient. But the most hotly anticipated visitor in late November is ‘Aurora’. She is a yellow-feathered, orange-beaked, Western Tanager who has spent the last two winters in the park.
The Western Tanager is a big fan of the park’s bird feeders, which will go up in mid-November near the Cat Bird Playground.
Words: Lucie Young
Images: Gig Palileo, Jay Zemann, Ed Gaillard, Hal Trachtenberg, Bob Knight, Lucie Young