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Anticipation: Migrants are Trickling in and a Central Park Bird Walk is the Place to See Them

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Glossy Ibis feeding on earthworms on 31 March by Deborah Allen (Pelham Bay Park, Bronx)

18 April 2018

Migration Sensation!

Schedule Notes: Starting this Thursday 19 April we will be doing bird walks seven days per week. Do check our schedule page on our web site ( ) - or see below. And yes you can do two walks on the same morning for $10/person...let us know if you want to rent binoculars. Almost forgot! This Saturday, 21 April at 4:30pm, we meet at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx (Orchard Beach Parking Lot, northeast corner) for a visit to a Great Horned Owl nest with young. More info below. Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show Glossy Ibis, Seaside Sparrow, Barn Owl, American Pipit and Savannah Sparrow - all photographed here in NYC recently. In this week's historical notes we present the history of the Glossy Ibis in the NYC area. From a rare visitor in the 19th century to occasionally seen (about once every 20 years) from 1920-1959, the Glossy Ibis began breeding in NYC (Jamaica Bay) in the early 1960s - and it was our own Peter Post PhD of Central Park who made that discovery while a research fellow at the American Museum. Today, the Glossy Ibis breeds in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island and is no longer a rare visitor - it has even been seen flying over Central Park (by Junko Suzuki and me about seven years ago). Though most everyone who is a birder believes things are always getting worse for birds, sometimes there are positive stories - the Glossy Ibis is one; most of the herons/egrets in our area have also increased in number in the last one hundred years as well. Closer to Central Park, Peregrine Falcons and Great Horned Owls are two other species showing significant increases in the last 30 years. Yes there are declines (nesting warblers of which NYC once had 18-20 species), but there are good stories to tell...Do see this week's historical notes - and Deborah's photos of the Glossy Ibis in the Bronx taken in the last few weeks.

Glossy Ibis portrait on 31 March 2018 by Deborah Allen (Pelham Bay Park, the Bronx)

Deborah Allen sends Photos

Central Park: Seaside Sparrow, the Pond, 17 April 2018:

Barn Owl, 11 April 2018 - near the Boathouse: Savannah Sparrow, Sparrow Rock, 14 April 2018: Male Common Grackle Displaying, Turtle Pond, 14 April 2018:

American Pipit in Flight, 5 April 2018 (Pelham Bay Park, The Bronx):

On 16 April 2007, the Bronx received more than 7 inches of rain! This is what the Bronx River looked like

Good! Here are the bird walks for Mid April - each $10***

All walks in Central Park except the Owl Walk on 21 April!

1. Thursday, 19 April - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) 2. Friday, 20 April - 9am (only) - Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave) 3. Saturday, 21 April - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Cafe at 74th and East Drive 3a. OWL WALK. Saturday, 21 April at 4:30pm. Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. (Email/call for info and see below). 4. Sunday, 22 April - 7:30am/9:30am - DOCK ON TURTLE POND 5. Monday, 23 April - 8am/9am - Strawberry Fields/72nd street (Imagine Mosaic) 6. Tuesday, 24 April - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) 7. Wednesday, 25 April - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) 8. Thursday, 26 April - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) Any questions/concerns send them our way: or call: 718-828-8262

***NOTE: on MORNINGS when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 8am/9am or 7:30/9:30am), you can do both walks for $10/ get two for the price of one.

OWL WALK Saturday, 21 April at 4:30pm. Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx: There are now young chicks (owls) in the nest...Driving to the parking lot is easy - meet us at the northeast corner of the parking lot (straight ahead as you enter the parking lot); if coming by train give yourself ample time because the bus that leaves from the last stop of the #6 train (it is the #29 City Island bus) does not run frequently...every half hour or so? Check schedule: - ask the Bus Driver to let you off at the "Orchard Beach Circle/City Island Road (also known at the Police Firing Range at Rodman’s Neck) can walk (10 minutes from there or give me a call: 347-703-5554 and I will come and pick you up). Need more info? Call or email us at home.

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here:

The fine print: On Sundays, our walks meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Dock on Turtle Pond adjacent to Delacorte Theater on the south end of the Great Lawn (approx. 79th street). We also meet here on Tuesday/Wed/Thursday in late April-May-June but only at 9am. On Saturdays, we meet at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 7:30am and again at 9:30am. (It is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!). Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= On Fridays, we will meet at Conservatory Garden (105thand 5th Ave) at 9am (only). Finally, Monday walks in meet at Strawberry Fields at 72nd street and Central Park West - look for the “Imagine" Mosaic - we meet on the benches nearby at 8am and again at 9am. NOTE: on MORNINGS (Sat/Sun/Mon) when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 8am/9am or 7:30am/9:30am), you can do both walks for $10/ get two for the price of one. If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not, check this web site the morning of the walk: info will be posted on the main landing page as well as the "Schedule" page by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk! We end all our weekend Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). For our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue.

Seaside Sparrow copyright Linda Yuen 2018

Seaside Sparrow photographed by Linda Yuen in Central Park on Sunday, 15 April

Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights).

Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best: Thursday, 12 April (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - it was a reasonably good day: large numbers of Song Sparrows had made their way into the park were primarily found at the Pinetum. Several Louisiana Waterthrushes (4) and multiple Kinglets of both species were still in the park. However, gone were most of the Fox Sparrows. We found the only Yellow-rumped Warbler in the Ramble...and we could not count all the Eastern Phoebes. However, however though folks liked these little birds, most attention was paid to the Barn Owl on the hill just south of the Boathouse. No one got a good look because the owl was hidden high in a pine was Platonic birding at its best: just the idea of a Barn Owl nearby made people happy - they didn't have to actually see the owl. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Thursday, 12 April:


Friday, 13 April (start at Conservatory Garden, Central Park at 9am) - overnite strong winds from the south made today's high temperature almost 80f and with it came more southern migrants including at least two if not three Yellow-throated Warblers in the park. For our group the big finds were the Blue-headed Vireo at eye-level (thanks to the recorded calls I use); Louisiana Waterthrush; Palm Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warbler; an Osprey circling the Harlem Meer and almost diving for a fish in the Harlem Meer; the lovely 11 male Ruddy Ducks (and one female), and then to end the walk, a flyover Peregrine Falcon. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Friday, 13 April: ------------------ Saturday, 14 April (Boathouse in Central Park at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - are you a Platonic birder or a Socratic Birder? I ask because if you like owls, then in Central Park it is best to be a Platonic birder. Why? Because you will rejoice in the idea of a Barn Owl being very near, rather than actually getting a good look at said owl. The latter (only being satisfied with a good look) puts you in the Socratic camp. Aren't all birders Socratic birders you might ask? No...some birders are happy to identify birds by sound..and you folks at home are hopefully gaining some knowledge and insight about birds by reading about events in Central Park rather than actually seeing them first-hand. Anyway, if you want me to translate the above, we had so-so looks at a Barn Owl well-hidden in a pine tree near the Boathouse. Meanwhile, we had lots of people today...I can now buy Deborah a hamburger with her French Fries sometime this week. For everyone else, do have a look at Deborah's lists, especially for today. I don't know anyone else in the area who takes such diligent notes and then carefully sorts through them - and publishes the bird sightings within hours of the bird walk. Her book will be this good too Deborah Allen's list of birds for Saturday, 14 April: ------------------ Sunday, 15 April (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - by Sunday winds had shifted to the east-northeast and coming in off the ocean it was cold...gone were thoughts of summer. Most folks stayed home today, but for the five or so people on the early (7:30am) walk, birding was quite good. Highlights were the Yellow-throated Warbler we found at the Point, along with a nearby Louisiana Waterthrush...and just as good was the Barn Owl that was perched in clear view and fairly low. We had great looks. On the other hand the folks on the 9:30am walk (it was still cold) had not as good looks at the owl and only Palm Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler. We did add two Rough-winged Swallows...and lots of the usual stuff: Eastern Towhee; Ruby-crowned Kinglets (and one Golden-crowned Kinglets); Chipping Sparrows (and one Field Sparrow). Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 15 April: ------------------ Monday, 16 April (start at Strawberry Fields at 8am and again at 9am) - No Walk. RAIN!

Cliffs of the Palisades in New Jersey at State Line (27 March 2015)


Glossy Ibis. Plegadis autumnalis [1848]. Colonel Pike presented this specimen, and states as follows: "I have killed this species twice on Long Island, one at Southampton on September 12, 1847, and one at Canarsie Bay on October 10, 1848. Mr. Akhurst purchased still another specimen in Fulton Market that was shot on Long Island. It was purchased by Col. Pike who presented it to Count Tipani, who took it to Italy." =============== Glossy Ibis Sighted in Van Cortlandt Park; Wind Believed Cause of Tropical Bird's Visit (May 1935) A lone glossy ibis, a strikingly colorful member of a bird family that is found ordinarily only in semi-tropical or tropical climates, has been discovered foraging for food on the marshy bank of Tibbetts Brook in Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx. The Bronx visitor was described by officials of the National Association of Audubon Societies as a straggler for whose presence so far north there was hardly any accounting. They advanced the theory that the bird might have been unwillingly carried northward off its course by heavy coastal winds while flying from the West Indies to Florida. Two others of the same species showed up three weeks ago at Plum Island, Mass., north of Boston. Available records showed that not since 1848 has a member of this family been seen in this area and then the locale was Long Island. The bird was discovered Monday by Dr. William H. Wiegmann, a naturalist. It was still in Van Cortlandt Park on Tuesday (14 May 1935) but whether it struck out for warmer parts yesterday or decided to remain here longer was not known. At any rate, it was not reported there yesterday. The bird was a fairly large one, resembling a heron somewhat, and measured about twenty-five inches from the tip of its sickle-shaped, bill to the end of its tail. From a distance it seemed to be entirely black, but on closer approach it took on the metallic luster that is characteristic of the glossy ibis. Its neck and breast became rusty brown and the wings took on a bronze-like color and at the same time a green and blue sheen. Audubon officials said the bird appeared to be much harassed, its search for food being interrupted by the approach of rowboats or the screech of passing suburban trains. Robert P. Allen, director of sanctuaries of the Audubon Society, said there were probably not more than 100 of the birds in Florida. The species is to be found in the West Indies, Southern European countries; Africa, Southern China, Borneo and parts of Australia. =========================== Glossy Ibis on Staten Island, N. Y. On Sunday, May 14, 1944, at 4:30 p.m. Eastern War Time, four Glossy Ibises (Plegadis falcinellus falcinellus) were observed for nearly an hour on the extensive lands of the Mr. Loretto institution at Pleasant Plains by Dr. and Mrs. James P. Chapin, Dr. and Mrs. A. J. C. Vaurie and the undersigned. This is the first-known occurrence of the species for Staten Island although there are records of single individuals in the New York City region in recent years. When first seen, the Staten Island birds were flying toward us from the southwest and it was noticeable that they flapped and sailed alternately, an Ibis trait, and that they flew in line as if members of a large flock. They alighted within a hundred yards of us, coming down to a small temporary pool in a field where there was a Greater Yellowlegs. The Ibises were wary, circling the spot three or four times before settling. They remained but a few minutes, then took off toward the west, flying into the sun, and soon disappeared. Later we relocated them at a larger transient pool about a half mile southwest of the first site. Here they remained for an hour or more looking for food but appeared to find none. Near them were four semi-domesticated Mallards. Other observers had been recruited by telephone and car until our group numbered ten, with several pairs of binoculars among us. When the Ibises took off again they circled the pond twice, then disappeared toward the south. The birds were not heard to utter any sounds and were not seen again. HOWARD CLEAVES, 8 Maretzek Court, Staten Island 9, New York. ===================== Glossy Ibis in New Jersey, 1947. J. D Arcy Northwood, Secretary of the New Jersey Audubon Society, a new member of the Society, discovered a Glossy Ibis on April 26th at Lake Nelson, near Dunellen, N.J. The observation was verified later that day by Judge Frederic Colie and others. The bird was also seen on April 27 at the same location by other observers. This is possibly the third record for this species in northern New Jersey. ========================= Eastern Glossy Ibis Sighted in Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx [1 May 1959] An eastern glossy ibis, about as rare these days as a Stutz Bearcat, has turned up in a swamp in Van Cortlandt Park, the Bronx. The specimen, not reported officially in the park since 1935, is a two-foot-tall marsh wader having a long, down-curved bill. It is similar to a heron but flies with its neck outstretched and alternately flaps and sails on its broad wings. The bird, alone, was sighted by William Ephraim, program director for the Community Center of Yonkers, and Howard Honig, 15-year-old junior at Steward Park High School. Mr. Ephraim was an observer of the 1935 specimen. The eastern glossy ibis' principal habitat is Florida. In this area it also has been sighted on occasion in the Jamaica Bay Refuge and in South Jersey. ============= Glossy Ibis Breeding in New York [1962]. Steward (Auk 74: 509) summarizes the first breeding occurrences of the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis jalcinellus) along the Atlantic coast of the United States, north of Florida, as of 1957. Since then this species has been found breeding in Virginia (Scott and Valentine, fide Potter, Audubon Field Notes, 13: 422, 1959) and New York (see below). During the past few years the Glossy Ibis has appeared yearly on Long Island, New York, chiefly at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, during May. Birds have remained all summer. Although breeding was suspected, no evidence to that effect was found until this year. On 25 June 1961 I discovered, within the refuge area, a nest containing three eggs. The nest was located, over one meter (four feet) above the ground, in a willow (Salix sp.) that was growing in a swampy area surrounded by Phragmites. Both adults were present at the nest. Several photographs of the nest and eggs were taken. This represents the first known case of breeding in New York. In addition, one other adult was seen, suggesting the presence of a second pair. On 1 July [1961] I returned to the heronry with Paul A. Buckley, Fred Heath, and Joseph Horowitz. On this occasion four adults were seen, and Mr. Buckley found a second nest containing four eggs, one and one-half meters (five feet) above the ground in a Beach-Plum (Prunus maritima). On this latter date the occupants of the first nest were still incubating three eggs. Nesting associates of the Ibis included: four pair of Green Herons (Butorides virescens), one pair of Little-blue Herons (Florida caerulea), six pair of Common Egrets (Casmerodius albus), 25 pair of Snowy Egrets (Leucophoyx thula), 35 pair of Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), and one pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons (Nyctanassa violacea). The site of this colony is approximately 135 km (85 miles), in a straight line, from the previous recorded breeding area of the Glossy Ibis at Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge, Oceanville, New Jersey (Forward, fide Potter, Aud. Field Notes II: 394, 1957). For a description of this heronry and an account of its breeding birds see: Post, Wils. Bull., in press; Post and Restivo, News-letter, 14(9), 1961. On 29 June 1961 Herbert Johnson, the refuge manager, discovered still a third nest, four and one-half km (two and three-quarter miles) due east of the two nests described above. This nest, located one and one-half meters (five feet) above the ground, contained three eggs, and was situated in a Bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanlca). The nesting associates were four or five pair of Black-crowned Night Herons. The writer wishes to thank Dr. Dean Amadon, of the American Museum of Natural History, and the Mae P. Smith Fund, which supplied necessary funds. Peter W. Post, 575 West 183rd Street, New York 33, New York. ======================= Factors Affecting Nesting Success of the Glossy Ibis [1978]. ABSTRACT. We studied Glossy Ibis nesting success in New York during 1974 and New Jersey during 1975. The clutch size in New York (2.56) was significantly smaller than in New Jersey (2.93). Fewer eggs hatched in New York, due to higher rates of predation, nest abandonment, and perhaps egg infertility. Including only nests in which at least one egg hatched, however, the same number of eggs hatched in New York and New Jersey, but significantly fewer chicks fledged in New York. The third egg in a nest hatched at a significantly longer interval from the first egg in New York than in New Jersey. In New York, no third chicks fledged, while in New Jersey 37% fledged. Starvation and predation on all chicks were highest in New York. The daily weight of chicks up to 10 days of age was significantly lower on most days in New York, but the rate or length of feeding bouts did not differ from that in New Jersey. This suggests a lower food supply in New York, which may explain the lower clutch size, greater hatching asynchrony, and greater chick starvation in New York, but colder temperatures and rainfall on more days in New York undoubtedly also contributed. Feeding behavior appears not to be as adjustable to prevailing conditions as clutch size and asynchronous hatching. THE northward expansion of the breeding range of the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) from Florida since 1940 is well documented (Steward 1957, Hailman 1959, Bull 1974). Factors such as colony and nest site selection (Burger and Miller 1977) and colony success should be examined to help understand this rapid expansion. There are no detailed studies of the nesting success of the Glossy Ibis in North America. The success of some Ardeids that nest with ibises, however, has been investigated (e.g. Meanley 1955; Teal 1965; Dusi and Dusi 1968, 1970; Jenni 1969; Pratt 1970, 1972; Taylor and Michael 1971). Except for Pratt's studies, these authors studied nesting success during only one breeding season in only one area. Yet for many avian species, success varies between years and sites (see Klomp 1970). In this study, we compare the nesting success of the Glossy Ibis in two mixed colonies in New York during 1974 with that in two mixed colonies in New Jersey in 1975. Ibises have been breeding near Brigantine, New Jersey since 1957 (Potter and Murray 1957), which was their northern breeding limit until 1961, when they began breeding on Long Island, New York (Post 1962). In 1973 they began breeding in Maine (Finch 1973). We were especially interested in the overall success of the colonies and in the nature, timing, and causes of nesting failure as possible contributing factors to the northward expansion of Glossy Ibis. DISCUSSION. The differences in the nesting success of the Glossy Ibis between the New York Colonies in 1974 and the New Jersey colonies in 1975 could reflect intra-area or yearly variation. Fewer (minus 37%) ibises bred on Long Island in 1974 than in 1973 (Buckley and Davis 1973). Numbers of breeding ibises increased in 1975 to the 1973 levels (Buckley et al. 1975). A low food supply in New York during 1974 is indicated by the chick weights, which were less even though feeding frequency and duration were not different from New Jersey. Perhaps this postulated low food supply prevented many ibises from breeding in 1974. Some species lay smaller clutches when food is below normal (see Klomp 1970), which might account for the significantly smaller clutch size in New York. Hatching was asynchronous in both areas, which is an adaptation to an unpredictable food supply for the young at the time of laying, and will operate through starvation to reduce the brood size to the number the adults can feed (Lack 1947). In poor food years, the last hatched chick(s) will quickly starve, but in good years, all will be raised (Lack 1954). In New York, many chicks probably died of starvation and all third chicks died. In New Jersey, where higher chick weights might indicate a greater food supply, fewer chicks probably died of starvation and 63% of the third chicks died. Starvation has also been reported to be an important factor in chick mortality in other Ciconiiformes, such as the Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) (Vespremeanu 1968), Louisiana Heron and Snowy Egret (Jenni 1969), Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) (Pratt 1970), Cattle Egret (Blaker 1969) and the Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) (Owen 1960). The degree of asynchrony in hatching should indicate the extent of variability in the food supply (Hussell 1972). This would account for the significantly longer interval between the hatching of the first and third eggs in New York. Low temperatures and heavy rains during egg-laying might also have been a factor, since low temperatures are known to delay the laying of the second or third egg in swifts (Apus apus) (Weitnauer 1947). Even though adults in New York were unable to deliver adequate amounts of food, the feeding rate and length of feeding bouts were not different from those in New Jersey. These behaviors appear stereotyped and are not modifiable with clutch size and asynchronous hatching to the prevailing conditions. In both New York and New Jersey most egg and chick loss was due to predators (gulls and crows; possibly rats and night herons). These rates are comparable to predation in other mixed heronries reported by Teal (1965), Baker (1940), and Taylor and Michael (1971). Crows have been reported to be serious predators in heronries (e.g. Baker 1940, Stoner 1942, Dusi and Dusi 1968). There have been no reports of Herring Gulls as predators of Ciconiiform chicks, although they are known to prey upon other species (Harris 1965, Parsons 1971) and upon their own nestlings (Hatch 1970). In the White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) in Utah, 22% of all eggs and 15% of all chicks were preyed upon by Franklin's Gulls (Larus pipixcan) (Kotter 1970). It is not known if the nesting success in New York and New Jersey is typical for the edge of the breeding limit for ibises, or at what age ibises first breed; both factors would contribute to understanding the rapid range expansion. Some Glossy Ibises may breed after their first year, for an ibis color banded as a chick in New York was observed building a nest the next year in Maine, the current northern breeding limit. The breeding expansion of the Glossy Ibis has been characterized by the initial appearance of only a few pairs (see Hailman 1959, Post 1962); perhaps ibises from range edges help establish colonies further north. In order for a species to expand, extrinsic factors (e.g. climate, predators, habitat), which usually work against expansion, must exert less of an effect than intrinsic factors (e.g. rate of increase, population density, age structure) (Stepney and Power 1973). Ibises' rate of increase and the early age at which they may breed contribute to making them an expanding species, but the rate of increase in any one colony depends on the factors considered in this paper: food availability, predation and environmental conditions. LYNNE M. MILLER and JOANNA BURGER


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

59th street Pond on 9 April 2010 - near where the Seaside Sparrow was found by Linda Yuen

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