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The Epic Battle of the Mourning Warbler - Central Park

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

Black-billed Cuckoo, Harlem Meer (Central Park) by Deborah Allen, 24 May 2019

29 May 2019 - Mourning Warbler, Game of Thrones Edition

Bird Notes: Most of the migration has passed us, but this is turning into a great year for Mourning Warblers that peak in early June...add to those a dash of flycatchers and the first breeding birds - we will see much, learn some and have fun doing so. Sandra Critelli has her last Thursday walk for the spring (30 May) - every walk only $10.

Below we detail the Epic Battle of the Mourning Warbler of Memorial Day 2019...the difficulty of actually seeing one, and then what happens when two bird groups confront one another with a Mourning Warbler in the middle. Don't worry! Most people saw the Memorial Mourning, and everyone came away with their own story to tell of what happened that fateful day. We describe the encounter in the 27 May (Monday) bird notes below...and then following up with this week's Historical Notes, we present (1) a note on the Mourning Warbler in Brooklyn in June 1862 at New Lots; (2) the status of the Mourning Warbler in the NYC area from approx. 1890 to 1923; (3) the status of the Mourning Warbler 1930-1958 in our area; and (4) occasional notes and comments about the Mourning Warbler in the NYC area during the last 125 years.

male Mourning Warbler at the Upper Lobe, May 2018 by Bruno Boni

Adult male Mourning Warbler by Bruno Boni, late May 2018


Good! The Bird Walks for Late May / Early June

All Bird Walks in Central Park - $10

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here:

1. Thursday, 30 May at 9am - meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond (78th st. Mid-Park)

2. Thursday, 30 May at 6pm - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park (Sandra Critelli)

3. Friday, 31 May at 9am - meet at Conservatory Garden (105th st./5Ave)

4.***Saturday, 1 June at 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park 5.***Sunday, 2 June at 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park

6.***Monday, 3 June at 8am/9:00am - Imagine Mosaic at STRAWBERRY FIELDS (72nd st)

*** On mornings when two walks are scheduled, you can do both walks for $10/person. So you get two for one. OR you can do either the early walk or the second walk for $10/person.

Any questions send them our way: or call: 718-828-8262 (home)

male Mourning Warbler by Doug Leffler, autumn 2017

Male Mourning Warbler by Doug Leffler, autumn 2017


The fine print: On Saturdays and Sundays, our walks meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive). Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!. On Fridays we meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue - walk down the steps and walk straight ahead for the far side. If worried, ask someone to direct you to the men's restroom - we meet 10 meters from that location. On Mondays we are at Strawberry Fields - meet at the Imagine Mosaic - that is approx. 72nd street about 40 meters inside the park from Central Park West. On Thursdays we meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond - for all of these meeting locations check this web site - there is a full page devoted to meeting locations! Evening walks (Tuesday and Thursday nights from 23 April through and including Thursday, 16 May) meet at 6pm at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe. These evening walks are led by Sandra Critelli.

Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above ( If you are lost and trying to get to the bird walk, call Deborah's cell phone...but remember on weekends there will be 2-3 other people calling who are also lost - please be patient! If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there 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 walks (except Fridays) at the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.

male Red-winged Blackbird doing display by Deborah Allen, Sunday May 26, 2019 at the Oven (Central Park)

Male Red-winged Blackbird by Deborah Allen on 26 May 2019 - doing a display to female calls at the Oven (Central Park)


Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Thursday, 23 May (Dock on Turtle Pond at 9:00am): small crowd though we knew it would be a good day...unfortunately it rained from about 5am until 8:50am...and only grizzled birders were out and about today. We had a nice male Indigo Bunting at the Tupelo Field; a fine female Bay-breasted Warbler at the Point; and overall 16 warbler species for the day. A Northern Rough-winged was a nice surprise at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 8:59am...but overall a very slow year for swallows in the park with all the rain.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Thursday, 23 May:


Friday, 24 May (Conservatory Garden at 9:00am) - standing on the west side of the Loch at the north end of Central Park at 7am, I played the tape near the usual loud Red-eyed Vireo alarm call. Up jumped a male Mourning Warbler - and almost as quickly it dropped into the lowest shrubbery. I walked east and then had a singing Mourning Warbler. Now of course, just because I saw/heard these birds (or one bird that moved quickly to the east), does not mean anyone on the 9am walk was going to see Mourning Warblers..they are notorious skulkers and getting them to hop up for all to see is like finding feathers on dinosaur fossils. So returning with the group we played the tape, looked and listened and nothing, of course...BUT, Beck Kramer said in her soft voice, that there was a Black-billed Cuckoo across the water from us - perhaps 50 feet away. If one looked carefully, one could see the white breast and black beak...what to do? Play the damn tape of course, and we quickly had the cuckoo pop up into clear view. Then the amazing starts to happen: not one but two Black-billed Cuckoos fly across the Loch to perch right over us (about ten feet away - see Deborah's photo above)...and then one tries to land on the fence next to us, below eye-level (about five feet away). We would later encounter an additional cooperative Black-billed Cuckoo at the Harlem Meer (on the island)...which may have been one of the two original ones at the Loch. Nonetheless, this is the first walk where we have seen this many Black-billed Cuckoos - and amazing views as well. It was all because there were no Mourning Warblers, and Beck Kramer fortuitously found a hiding cuckoo - without that sighting the walk would have been a bird disaster...

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Friday, 24 May:


Saturday, 25 May (Boathouse Restaurant Cafe at 7:30am/9:30am) - we were surprised at how good today was, and turned out to be. Highlights were a well-seen Yellow-throated Vireo at the Persimmon meadow on the very east side of the Ramble. We scored the first Olive-sided Flycatcher of the season in the Ramble (thanks David Barrett for suggesting we go to that location); two Grey-cheeked Thrushes; lots of Cedar Waxwings; and a Mourning Warbler at the Point (well-seen by most on the walk), plus 14 other warbler species for the day.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 25 May:


Sunday, 26 May (Boathouse 7:30am/9:30am) - after the wonderful Saturday, the number and diversity of birds starts to decline. Getting more than ten warbler species in a day is an effort, with about eight species seen considered a good day (through 10 June when one species seen is a good day). Today we managed 11 warbler species including a not very well-seen Mourning Warbler in the Tupelo Field (David Barrett). Consolation prizes included Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at Honey-locusts...and two very late male Black-throated Green Warblers.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 26 May:


Monday, 27 May (Strawberry Fields at 8am/9am) - there are warblers and there are warblers. And then there are Warblers: the Mourning Warbler is one of those Warblers. They are not rare, but are also not common on migration here in NYC. They are hardly ever well-seen.

There are bird walks and there are bird walks. This was a Bird Walk that will live in infamy to those who saw it unfold: the Epic Battle of the Mourning Warbler at Bunting Hill. It was led by one Outlaw Bob and his partner Bonnie Allen...with a Praetorian Guard of many including Tom Ahlf, Peter Haskel, Gilian Henry, Elizabeth Millard Whitman, Sandra Critelli (mafiosa), Mark of the Upper West Side, Andrew of well as folks from Riverdale (Bx), New Jersey and Turkey - about 45 people in all including two surgeons, one pediatric specialist, two doctors, three lawyers - and those were the less accomplished people on the walk. My office (and confidences) do not allow me to describe the other over-achievers among us. And of course with us was the Jeff Ward of Integrity and Honesty who remained calm throughout the fire. It was Monday, 27 May - Memorial Day...and the storm clouds were gathering.

The day began innocently enough at Strawberry Fields with Magnolia Warblers and a Redstart or two...a slow morning toward the end of the migration season. We headed to the Upper Lobe (Oak Bridge) where the tape brought in a Great Crested Flycatcher to fly back and forth over our heads. Heading north to the top of the Upper Lobe, I heard an "off" call of a Mourning Warbler just to our east. Donning my Outlaw sombrero, Bonnie Allen and I took the group up the hill of Bunting Meadow - once known as the Fruited Plain - to look for the famed warbler of late May. I cautioned the group that almost no one ever sees a Mourning Warbler: "Don't get your hopes up."

I played the tape - chip calls...and lo and behold up jumps a Mourning Warbler (see Bonnie's [Deb's] photo below of a first-year male) that five people see...and the bird drops down into the brush likely forever gone. I move 20 yards away and play the chip calls again - and the bird follows the sound to the source. More people saw the bird the second chance. I move again, play the chip calls, and the Mourning Warbler follows the sound to the source - you get the idea: most (if not all) people on the walk eventually saw the bird. I put the info out on Twitter (the wonderful Manhattan Bird Alert moderated by David Barrett). And we called it a day, happy over the Mourning Warbler we saw ("this never happens"), and headed to Shakespeare Garden. Not much there...what to do?

It was getting late - why not circle back to see the Mourning Warbler one more time and then head to the Boathouse. As we returned to Bunting Meadow I could see an enemy force at the top of the hill. I could see they were not seeing the Mourning Warbler - at least not well. Why not go help them see the bird in better light?

Silently our army marched up and took a position to the south of the society people looking intently into the ground with an occasional point. I gathered my troops: "We are going to "steal" their bird." So I played the "cheery-cheer-cheery" Mourning call and then the chip call. Immediately some in the enemy camp began yelling at me...they were purists and wanted to find the bird "naturally." Meanwhile the Mourning Warbler had jumped up into a shrub in plain sight - midway between the two armies. And while they yelled at us, and we yelled back at them, Generalissimo Jeff Ward was calmly saying there is the bird...look at the bird...the bird is in the open. But nobody listened to Jeff...I watched the bird a bit, but when someone from the other group said that people should boycott my bird walks - well that got my attention. Before I could say anything several people on my walk pointed out that there were 40+ of us and maybe seven of them...People had already voted with their feet to use a Bronx expression.

Anyway, no harm no foul. A bit of yelling and controversy...that is the sine qua non of Central Park. It makes the local bird world go round! I only wish people would listen to the erudite Jeff Ward occasionally: "Just look at the bird!" Indeed that is why everyone was in the area. My goodness, a Mourning Warbler in the open at about eye-level. Easy to see...but easier to fight over. The Epic Battle of the Mourning Warbler at Bunting Hill ended peacefully enough with everyone returning to their respective corners. Outlaw Bob and Bonnie Allen will live to ride another day...even if his soul has gone to hell (and back - expelled even from hell).

Postscript: To prepare for a trial defense of my unethical behavior (yes someone already reported me to the ABA), I asked one of the best lawyers on the bird walk if, as part of his professional requirements, he had to take on a certain number of pro bono cases defending the indigent. "Yes" was the reply..."But not hopeless cases."

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Monday, 27 May:

female Mourning Warbler by Stephen Spenceley in September 2017 in the Ramble (Central Park)

Female Mourning Warbler by Stephen Spenceley in September 2017 in the Ramble (Central Park)



MOURNING WARBLER(Geotlhlypis philadelphia). Giraud, in writing of this species in 1844 (Birds of Long Island, p. 65) says: "A few years since, a specimen was obtained by Mr. Bell on Long Island, the only one which I have known to have been procured here." So far as I am aware, there is no other published record of the occurrence of this species on Long Island, so I wish to place on record a specimen, now in the collection of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, taken at New Lots (now a part of the city of Brooklyn), in June, 1862, by George B. Brainerd. -- ARTHUR H. HOWELL, Washington, D. C.


1923. Mourning Warbler. Central Park. Rare spring, very rare fall transient. 19 May 1896 (C. W. Vaughan); 31 May 1900 (Chubb); 16 May 1905 (Hix); 24 May 1909 (Anne A. Crolius); 22 May 1910 (Anne A. Crolius); 26 May 1913 (Griscom); 18 May 1914 (Anne A. Crolius); 21 May 1917 (Janvrin); 5 June 1917 (Hix); 22 May 1920 (Griscom). On southbound migration, as early as 6 August 1908 (Anne A. Crolius and Griscom) and 11 August 1913 (Griscom). Mr. Miller's experience at Plainfield (NJ) and my own in Central Park is that this species is usually recorded on the day of the wave of Blackpolls and female Warblers, which comes after the peak of the migration has passed. The greater rarity of the bird in fall is to be expected; it is just that much harder to find. BRONX REGION. Very rare spring transient, no fall records; Mr. L. N. Nichols has recorded it 18 May 1913; 20 May and 31 May 1917 and 18 May 1918. Cruickshank saw five in one day in Van Cortlandt Park but no date/year given. LONG ISLAND: Very rare transient, scarcely a dozen records, 14 May 1912 in Brooklyn (Mrs. E. W. Vietor) to June 1862; September 11, 18, and 26 [Brooklyn? No year stated]; previously unrecorded is a specimen taken at Baldwin (Nassau Co.) on 16 August 1908 (J. P. Chapin). 1958. Mourning Warbler. Central Park. Uncommon spring, very rare fall transient. Seen in spring as early as 10 May 1948 (Aronoff) to as late as 10 June 1954 (Carleton). On southbound migration seen as early as 6 August 1908 (Griscom) to as late as 10 September 1944 (Bull, Eisenmann). Eight individuals seen in August 1923 (Griscom). Maximum four in one day on 2 June 1930 (Watson). 1959-1967: new late season dates: 16 September 1961 (Messing); 9 October 1963 (Carleton). Maximum seen in one day is now seven, on 21 May 1966 (Peter Tozzi). 1958. Mourning Warbler. Prospect Park. Uncommon spring, very rare fall transient. Earliest date in spring: 8 May 1943 (Russell) and latest: 6 June 1953 (Russell). In autumn on southbound migration, seen as early as 16 August 1953 (Restivo, R. Clermont); to (late dates): 21 September 1955 (Carleton); 25 September 1949 (Alperin, Jacobson); 29 September 1912 (Fleischer); 7 October 1917 (Vietor). 1959-1967: Fall migration date: seen as early as 29 August 1965 (John Yrizarry). 1964+. Mourning Warbler. "Apparently rarer in fall." 2017: Deborah and I think perhaps slightly less common in fall than spring migration. 1964: "This species is exceedingly difficult to observe in autumn because of the heavy vegetation at that season and because the bird does not sing then. Although numerous dead Connecticut Warblers have been picked up at the Fire Island Lighthouse, only one Mourning Warbler has been recorded there on 19 August 1888 (Dutcher). Notes (1923 - Griscom): “Next to the Orange-crowned, the Mourning Warbler is undoubtedly the rarest Warbler that visits this territory with any degree of regularity. I cannot help thinking, however, that it is also frequently overlooked. By nature shy and retiring, an inhabitant of the densest undergrowth, and usually entirely silent when migrating, the bird is never seen unless specially searched for. Most local observers stop Warbler hunting after the height of the migration and go to the coast for Shore-birds; in other words they are far away at just the time when this species is most likely to occur. Those who have seen the Mourning Warbler most frequently are those who visit favorable territory the last ten days in May, when the returns seem small and insignificant compared with the abundance of the preceding week.”

first-year male Mourning Warbler by Deborah Allen on 27 May 2019


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow our Bird Sightings on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

Schist Rock formation just east of the North Meadow Ball fields in Infra-red, June 2006


Looking toward the Point in Infrared in June 2015

From Bethesda Terrace toward the Point (Central Park) in June 2015


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