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BIRDALERO: Central Park Spring

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

Blue Jay, the Bronx NYC, Spring 2005 Deborah Allen

30 March 2023

Bird Notes: Perhaps the most important info in this Newsletter is the change in SCHEDULE: Saturday and Sunday walks now at 7:30am and again at 9:30am meeting at the BOATHOUSE Restaurant/Cafe (and not the Dock on Turtle Pond). We also add a Bird Walk on MONDAYs at 8:30am meeting at the Imagine Mosaic in Strawberry Fields (72nd st. and Central Park West). SO: Bird walks on Fridays/Sat/Sun/Mondays. Check the Schedule page of our web site for details, especially the Calendar towards bottom. Cancellations due to rain will be posted there. (Indeed the Saturday 1 April bird walk is CANCELLED due to Rain.)

This is the week of April Fools, so we refer you to our most popular Newsletter issue ever: How to be an Evil Birder.

In this week's Historical Notes (a) there are some interesting bird observations from Central Park in Spring 1905 such as 150 or so SNOW BUNTINGS in early March. We've never seen Snow Buntings in Central Park - and the last sighting seems to be late autumn 1955 (via records from Deborah Allen). Also of note in spring 1905 was a lone BLUE-GREY GNATCATCHER in early May that year. Until the 1960s Blue-grey Gnatcatchers were rare sightings in Central Park, as they bred primarily from central/southern New Jersey south. Part (b) of the Historical Notes are the March 1982 sightings in Central Park excerpted from the Falconer of Central Park, a book written by a visiting journalist (Donald Knowler). He does the first "big year" in the park, though no one called it that at the time. It was more of a diary of what he saw in the park including ducks that were common (Lesser Scaup!); "hundreds of Northern Flickers" by late March; the blooming of red maple trees the last couple days of March 1982 (this year by 10 March); two Laughing Gulls on 26 March 1982 (none so far this spring); and a Red-tailed Hawk flying over Central well as mention of the reintroduction of the Peregrine to the NYC area. Both of these raptor species are now common breeders in Manhattan. Yes 1982 was an interesting year, including 10 murders in Central Park...

Black-capped Chickadee Central Park 04 March 2017 Deborah Allen

Donald Knowler in his book writes about hand-feeding chickadees in Central Park in 1982, but no mention is made about Tufted Titmice. In winter 2022-23 Tufted Titmice outnumbered Chickadees by at least 10-1 in Central Park.

Bird Walks for EARLY APRIL 2023

All Walks @ $10/person - all in Central Park (except where noted)

1. Friday, 31 March at 8:30am. $10. Meet at the Conservatory Garden Conservatory Garden is located at 106th st. and Fifth Avenue. Led by Deborah Allen.

2. Saturday, 1 April at 7:30am AND 9:30am. Meet at the the BOATHOUSE Restaurant/Cafe at approx. 74th st. and the East Drive. $10. If you do the 730am walk, you get the 930am walk FREE (two for one). Directions to the Boathouse: CLICK HERE.

3. Sunday, 2 April at at 7:30am AND 9:30am. Meet at the the BOATHOUSE Restaurant/Cafe at approx. 74th st. and the East Drive. $10. If you do the 730am walk, you get the 930am walk FREE (two for one). Directions to the Boathouse: CLICK HERE.

4. Monday, 3 April: (8:30am) Strawberry Fields (72nd st. and Central Park West) $10

Call (718-828-8262) or Email us with questions:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (male), Central Park 6 April 2019 Deborah Allen

The fine print: Our walks on weekends starting in early April meet on Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30am/9:30am at the Dock on Turtle Pond (approx. 74th street along the East Drive. The meeting location is NOT nearby Conservatory Water with its small buildings and Boathouse for model boats...people make this mistake all the time! Directions to the Meeting Locations (CLICK HERE) page of our web site.

Friday morning walks (8:30am) begin on 17 March and run through 2 June. These walks begin at Conservatory Garden (mostly closed for renovation in spring 2023): we meet at 106th street and 5th Avenue (north side of Conservatory Garden). Deborah Allen leads the Friday walks - she knows more about birds than Bob...Her email is: and phone: 347-703-5554. If you want to rent binoculars ($10) please (please) let her know the night before! If you are lost (or god forbid, arrive late) and need to find the group, feel free to call her but do note that 2-3 other people are calling her at the same time...Monday walks at 8:30am meet at Strawberry Fields (at the Imagine Mosaic) which is about 75 meters in from Central Park West.

Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is ( 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. Walks last about 3 hrs (a bit less if cold 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 aim to please. We usually end our M/Th/Sat/Sun Central Park walks at about noon near 79th street and the East Drive.

An Early Spring migrant to NYC: Palm Warbler Central Park 19 April 2022 Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Friday 24 March through Sunday 26 March: OK we are officially in spring, and birds are trickling in. All walks had Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Eastern Phoebes were also in low number and on the move. No perch it seemed was good for insects, so the phoebes roamed instead. Song Sparrows were around in reasonable number, but not as common as last weekend. Highlights seem to be the pair of Ring-necked Ducks found by Deb at the Reservoir; flyover Great Blue Heron; and of course the Great Horned Owl on Cedar Hill and the Flaco Eurasian Eagle-owl at the north end.

Deborah's List of Birds for Friday, 24 March 2023: CLICK HERE

Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday, 25 March: RAIN! NO Bird Walk

Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 26 March 2023: CLICK HERE

Snow Buntings 28 February 2021 Deborah Allen


Some Spring Records From The Vicinity of New York City [1905] Central Park, March 5. [1905] Snowflakes [Snow Buntings] about 150 remained a week.

March 7. American Crossbills - 3. March 26. Mourning Dove - 1. May 10. female Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 1. CARLETON SCHALLER, New York City.

CARLETON SCHALLER (Class of 1912, Princeton): with deep sorrow Class 1912 records the passing on of Carl Schaller on October 6, 1947, at his home in New York, as the result of a heart attack. Carl entered the importing business upon graduation and continued in this line of endeavor until his death at which time he was president of Carleton Schaller & CO. Inc., 15 W. 36th St., New York City, importers and manufacturers of fine linen. Whereas we did not see as much of Carl at Class affairs as we would wish for in the last few years, his affection and interest in Princeton was always uppermost in his mind. His quiet, sincere character endeared him to all those who came in contact with him. Carl's principal interest since graduation outside of his business was his farm at Lynchburg, Va., where he was interested in raising Aberdeen Angus cattle and Hampshire swine. The sincere sympathy of the class goes out to his widow, Catherine D. Elkin; his sons Carleton Jr. and William Neill; and his daughter, Margaret Ross.

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (male) late April 2012 Deborah Allen

MARCH 1982 - Birding in Central Park

It had been some weeks since I had checked the bird sighting register in the cafeteria [The Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe] so on 8 March [1982] I took a stroll that way. As I flipped through the loose-leaf pages, I discovered that a long-eared owl had been sighted. The owl arrived in the park during late February and was still about, although birders had stopped giving its exact location because people were disturbing it. The last reported sighting was at Dog Hill [Cedar Hill at 79th street]; I headed to the area immediately. Knowing the owl would seek the densest cover possible, I scanned a clump of evergreens, looking for a foot-long elongated shape that might be pressed tight against a tree trunk for camouflage. I searched for an hour, covering perhaps sixty trees, and was about to give up when I saw what looked like two birders standing under a pine at the top of the hill. They were kicking the tree and shouting at something in its branches. Immediately I knew it must be Gloria and a short Colombian man whom the birders in the park referred to as "Dimwit." The fierce, orange eyes of the owl had given its hiding place away, although the mottled silver and brown of its feathers, two tufts like ears above the head, blended perfectly with the pine bark. The birders were trying to photograph the owl and wanted it to face into the sun. The bird, although looking in the opposite direction, obliged by slowly swinging its head in a semicircle, then winked an eye and bent its head to study the birders more closely.

Into the second week of March, nature's rebirth after winter was beginning in a profusion of swelling buds. Tiny yellow flowers bloomed on Eurasian dogwood [Cornus mas] trees and common grackles streamed into the park from areas immediately to the south of the city.

The glossy-plumaged grackles, wedge-tailed and about the size of a jay, took control of the feeder area. The smaller birds had to display a greater patience level because grackles have been known to kill other birds for merely getting in their way.

The birds, their fight for survival, their antics and trust of humans, had hooked me and during March I made a decision to visit the park daily for the rest of the year so I could study the birds over a complete twelve-month cycle. I determined that was the only way to observe them satisfactorily. I had started what birders call a checklist and I set a target for year-end-one hundred and fifty species-to give me an incentive to track down what might be in the park at any given time. I had hoped to record forty species by the end of February but had only made thirty-six. The month of March, however, with the spring migration gathering momentum, would give me a total of forty-seven.

Warm sunshine and temperatures rising to the upper fifties on March 12 brought wasps to the rubbish bins at the boathouse and a woodcock to the Upper Lobe of the boating lake, where willows began to sprout tiny shoots. The arrival of the woodcock traditionally signals the end of winter in the park, but I had decided my own harbinger of spring would be the American robin, a bird I had not seen during the winter. I knew of only one sighting – by Lambert in mid-­February -- and when I hurried off to find the bird, Lambert had shouted to me: "Remember one robin does not make a spring."

Eastern Phoebe Central Park 20 March 2011 Deborah Allen

Now, on a patch of open ground between pin oaks, I came across three robins. Startled, the robins took off but the male among two females, pouting his orange breast, lingered on the low branch of a crabapple tree before dropping to resume feeding.

The boating lake and the fingers of gullies and streams, which feed it water from surrounding sections of the park, were edged by leafy willows by mid-March, the lime-green fringe contrasting sharply with the harsh brown of the other trees. It was in the willows that I saw the first important bird of spring, the Eastern Phoebe. The species, a member of the tyrant flycatcher family, is the hardiest of the park's birds that prey on flying insects. The phoebe is easily identified because it stands upright on an exposed perch and, with a characteristic flick of the tail, launches into the air to hawk insects. I watched the bird for about half an hour and then followed it west across the circular drive, into a grassy gully, where it began to bathe in a stream. A song sparrow joined it, but both birds were disturbed by a vagrant who appeared from the holly bushes. He placed a sleeping bag and two canvas grips alongside a big rock, which was partly obstructing the flow of water. The hobo took off his shoes, peeled off his socks and threw the socks into a pool. He reached into one of the grips, took out what appeared to be some more socks, underclothing, and a cake of soap. He had come to do his washing.

Near the sea lion enclosure, in the zoo, a man who dresses as a clown and calls himself Pegasus was telling a group of children: "Now stand back everyone and I'll give you each a magic wand. . . ." Skandy, the polar bear, was in the open section of his enclosure but the big cats were still locked in their cramped, heated winter quarters. A tiger cub, mischief in its wide yellow eyes, took swipes at a log, pretending it was prey to be killed. Six months later Skandy would do likewise, but he would have a man trapped between his powerful claws.

The loud rattle of a kingfisher startled two newly emerged turtles at the boating lake on March 20, and they slid from their log back to the caress of the mud. The female belted kingfisher settled in a willow near the boathouse and, after a few seconds, was off again, heading the five blocks to the Hudson River. The species is described as "belted" because the female has a large chestnut band across her chest, some­ thing lacking in the male. The female, in fact, is more gaily colored than the male, a rare characteristic in eastern America's species. I saw a male a little later and, when he heard the female calling from above Broadway, he soon headed in the direction of the Hudson.

A pair of flickers arrived on golden wings that same afternoon and within a few days there were hundreds more, some to spar with the starlings over nesting sites. The starlings, in their aggressive moments, resemble prize fighters: stocky, heads hunched in shoulders. Although bigger and with longer bills, the flickers were out of their class in these bouts.

A mourning cloak butterfly zig-zagged along a Ramble footpath as a crow gathered nesting material. The butterfly came to rest on a rock and splayed out its broad, chocolate wings, edged with yellow. The crow building the nest had gathered what looked like dead leaves in its bill, but before the bird could get to the nest site, high in a pine, a pair of grackles mobbed it. The grackles had chosen the same tree for their nest; they lunged at the crow, unable to defend itself because of the leaves in its beak. Finally, the crow struck back and bowed its head to see the leaves flutter to the ground. Lazily, as if not to create the impression it was making a retreat, the crow moved out of the tree and did not return to complete the nest.

Mourning Cloak NYBG (the Bronx) 9 April 2009

The mourning cloak butterfly [above] had promised spring but another cold front moved over New York City in the final days of March. It was so cold a foot-long stalactite of frozen sap hung from the branch of a birch that had been machine-gunned by a sapsucker. Two laughing gulls returned from winter playgrounds as far south as Florida on March 26 to find ice at the edge of the reservoir and the carcasses of more winter gulls-gulls which had succumbed to the cold. But this did not deter the laughing gulls from engaging in courtship displays way out in the center of the reservoir. The male thrust at the female to attract her attention, then took off and flapped as high as the Fifth Avenue rooftop gardens. With half-folded wings he plummeted, finally stretching out wings and feet to make a pelican landing, with a splash, next to his female.

Checking the register in the late afternoon, I found a migrating wood duck and a rarer blue-winged teal listed. With only twenty minutes of sunlight left I had to quickly decide between trying to find the wood duck on the boating lake or running to the reservoir to see the teal. I knew the wood duck, a dabbler in shallow water, could well be hidden in a lobe and take hours to find. At least I would be able to pick out the teal quickly, I reasoned. So I hurried to the reservoir, past Dog Hill and the canines with their winter coats back on, past joggers going home before it became dark. The usual flotilla of [Lesser] scaups and ruddy ducks, dozing in the sunlight, was spread across the reservoir, but I could not see the teal, a small bird whose wintering ground stretches from Florida down to Peru. I carried on walking, nervously, because the footpath was deserted, and I was at the spot where I had been mugged nearly three months previously. After glancing behind me, I focused my binoculars on a dark dot on the water, and there was the teal, a lone male. I had two minutes of setting sun to study his dark, bluish plumage; a distinctive narrow crescent of white curving from his forehead to below his chin, a streak of light blue on the wing. The sun dropped behind the tall buildings on the West Side, which hung like jagged cliffs over the park. At the precise moment the buildings' shadows raced across the reservoir, the teal pranced from the water and flew fast and low toward the flotilla, landed and nestled among the [Lesser] scaups.

Lesser Scaup (male) Central Park 22 March 2013 Deborah Allen

Red maples bloomed during the last weekend of March and squirrels ran through the branches of the trees to chew at the orange and red flowers. Stripped twigs littered the ground beneath the trees and a roller skater cursed when his skates stopped at the obstruction and he did not. At the Point another spring migrant, the golden-crowned kinglet, had arrived, and a pair of these birds worked a clump of black cherry bushes, looking for insects.

The birds were oblivious to danger, but danger lurked. A female kestrel was perched at the end of the Point and she had her eyes on the kinglets. The small birds were slowly moving toward the sourgum with the kestrel in its branches. I moved at the same pace behind them. Sometimes they were only a few feet in front of me, but they remained unaware of me or the kestrel. We were close to the kestrel now and the bird of prey focused on me. Wary, she nudged into the wind and was off. Within a few minutes I was to see my third bird of prey of the year. Peering into a cloudless sky, a raptor came into view a hundred feet above me. It was a red-tailed hawk, pretty common in the New York area, and it soared in wide circles that took it over both Central Park West and Fifth Avenue on each complete sweep. The thermals lifted it higher and the hawk, on rounded wings with fingers of feathers at the tips, sailed out of sight.

Although all raptors are superb flyers, the falcons are the masters of the air and even such dartlike birds as the barn swallow and chimney swift are not safe from aerial attack. The falcons are tailored for speed, but it is not only their tapered wings which separate them from the larger buteo and accipiter hawk species as well as the eagles, owls and vultures. Falcons have relatively weak talons and do not use them to pierce and kill their prey the way other hawks and owls do. Instead, falcons rely on powerful jaw muscles and short, compact beaks to bite at the neck of victims, killing them instantly. Female falcons are also much larger than males and scientists believe the reason for this may be that a larger female is more likely to produce a greater number of surviving offspring.

Since the banning of DDT, the peregrine has begun to make a gradual comeback and young birds, reared in captivity, have been released in New York City in the hope that they will return to breed in aeries on high-rise buildings, as they have done in the past.

Peregrine Falcon (adult) Pelham Bay Park (the Bronx) in 2018 Deborah Allen

There are 12-18 pairs of nesting Peregrines each year in NYC, even along Central Park. The first nesting pairs were in 1983 on bridges in Queens and Staten Island.

Lambert had been feeding the birds in the park since wintering species like the chickadees arrived in October and November of the previous year. Through the winter months his pockets bulged with packets of unshelled peanuts and at least one of the chickadees grew to recognize Lambert. This particular bird had a touch of albinism in the tail and was easily identified. I saw the bird many times, but it would not come to me directly unless I actually pursued it and littered the ground with peanuts to attract its attention. When, however, I was with Lambert I noticed the bird sought us out and made a beeline for the nearest branch overhanging Lambert's bush hat. The bird, with a noisy chick-a-dee­dee-dee, told Lambert what it wanted and flew to his hand without fear.

Lambert, long-sighted like a hawk, found two more Iceland gulls on consecutive days at the end of March. He pointed out they were of the Kumlien sub-species, from Canada. A month earlier I would have been excited by the gulls but I had become blasé now, my fresh target being the woodcock. On 31 March I decided to spend the whole day looking for a woodcock, starting out at the southern lobe of the boating lake where one had been seen the day before. The night-flying woodcocks often overfly the city when they have strong tailwinds and their sightings in Central Park are relatively uncommon. My hopes of seeing a woodcock at the boating lake location were dashed because a dapper young man, in three-piece suit, was under a nearby wooden pavilion, trumpet in hand, facing a chrome stand holding sheet music. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" started to boom out over the lake as I watched for a woodcock in flight. I could understand why the trumpeter was practicing in the park. His neighbors, no doubt, had complained about his music­ those missed notes and long pauses for breath. A little later, still hunting for a woodcock, I came across an aspiring actor in a long tweed coat, learning his lines. Studied pose, assertive voice; three blocks and a world separated him from Broadway.

Bufflehead Ducks (m/f) Pelham Bay Park (the Bronx) in 2012 Deborah Allen

I failed to find a woodcock but amid rusting beer cans, in a boggy area, I discovered another new bird, a swamp sparrow. The sun had enticed a solitary daffodil to unfurl its flower in the Shakespeare Garden and the year's second mourning cloak butterfly fluttered around flowering crocuses. The crocuses would have been enough to complete a perfect day of wildlife study but there was one more surprise. Out on the boating lake were two bufflehead ducks, a male with a bonnet-like white patch on his dark head, and his chocolate brown female. They had sought shelter in a creek from the choppy waters and were out of sight of the skyscrapers and park paraphernalia of statues and pavilions and benches. I thought for a moment of the untamed wilderness that greeted the first Europeans to North America, a land to be drained of fifty percent of its wetlands, to be stripped of much of its forests. The puffy head of the male bufflehead looked to the pioneers like the head of the then common buffalo, and that is why the species was given its name.

The bufflehead departed for Canadian breeding grounds as mourning doves completed a twiggy nest in a black cherry tree overlooking the boating lake. And, on the last night of March, the first thunderstorm of the year rolled across the sky.


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

Follow our Bird Sightings on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

House Finches in our Yard in the Bronx 29 March 2023 Deborah Allen


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