top of page

Birding during the First World War: Candles in the Rain

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

American Robins are back - a sure sign of spring

Bird Notes: Saturday 26 February looks cold - still winter! Sunday is much warmer - see you 27 February at 9:30am. See the Schedule page of our web site for more details, or in this Newsletter. Below, any underlined text (click on it) leads to an outside source for more info.

23 February 2022

Melanie, released a song Candles in the Rain (1970), it begins with:

We were so close, there was no room We bled inside each others wounds We all shared the same disease We all sang the songs of peace

Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk was born in Astoria Queens/NYC (1947); her father was Ukrainian, and her mom, Italian.

Peregrine Falcon [1907] by Canadian artist Major Allan Brooks

In this week's Historical Notes we feature (a) an article from World War 1 on birding in Europe (Belgium): watching birds from the trenches. The piece is by Major Allan Brooks (1869-1946; photo below), a Canadian, who is a rather renowned bird artist - three of his paintings are included herein; (b) the beneficial effects of the first World War upon populations of wild birds. This seems very odd indeed - how could war have positive effects upon wild bird numbers? Finally (c): a 1919 piece by Tertius Van Dyke on a showy bird in Central Park (85th street and the Reservoir) and the "distinguished officers of the Allies in their handsome uniforms" at the end of the war.

Major Allan Brooks of Canada: He was recruited (age 45) for his skills as a sharp-shooter, and later was a chief instructor training snipers. He was awarded with a Distinguished Service Order: "For conspicuous gallantry in the operations of 2nd and 3rd September [1917] in front of Arras, France [the Battle of Arras]. As brigade observing officer he showed great daring and initiative, pushing forward at all times with the most advanced troops under the heaviest fire. Taking a wire with him, he kept brigade headquarters well informed of the situation, and enabled the commander to make decisions that saved many lives. When the enemy were retiring he pushed forward over 500 yards in front of the infantry and telephoned back information from a long distance in front of our advance. During the two days he personally killed twenty of the enemy by sniping shots."

Good! Bird Walks for late February - each $10

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

1. Saturday, 26 February NO BIRD WALK!!! Come see us tomorrow:

2. Sunday, 27 February at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

3. Saturday, 5 March: TBA/TB Determined

4. Sunday, 6 March at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

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

Redwing at Hyde Park (London, UK), 10 March 2020 Deborah Allen

The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) through early January 2020. Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!

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 Central Park 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.

Wood Pigeon at Hyde Park (London, UK), 11 March 2020 Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

20 February (Sunday) meeting at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe. was not the best bird walk we ever did - but it was not the worst either. What we will remember from this February is that it has been fairly mild - or at least not bitterly cold, and mostly sunny (a big difference from last year). So on 20 February our highlight birds were easily the small flock of Fox Sparrows (about 7) on the west side of the Ramble; the Great Blue Heron sunning itself near Bow Bridge; the Cooper's Hawk that came in to the sounds (from my tape) of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (calls are similar) - and the male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that came in as well. Finally, this is the second Sunday in a row that American Robins have been seen in the Ramble - that is a sure sign of spring. At this time of the year all robins are usually in the vicinity of crap-apple trees planted throughout the park, many of which are near the Great Lawn.

Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Sunday 20 February 2022: Click Here

Lesser Black-backed Gull Kensington Gardens (London, UK) 12 Mar 2020 Deborah Allen


Birds in the War-Zone (1916) Major Allan Brooks A few notes on the effect of the present unnatural conditions on the bird-life of the war-zone in Flanders may be of interest to readers.

These conditions may be summarized briefly as follows:

1. Complete cessation of all hunting.

2. Increase of natural enemies, especially rats.

3. Heavy gun-fire.

4. Aeroplanes in large numbers.

An army order, early in the war, prohibited all hunting and shooting in the war-zone during the duration of the war. This is rigidly enforced, and violations are rare. Personally, I have only once seen a bird of any kind shot here, which will indicate the immunity birds enjoy in this respect. A large increase of birds, especially game birds, should be the result, but the reverse seems to be the case. Whether this is due to an increase of natural enemies such as Crows, Magpies, weasels, and rats, I cannot say. All of these seem to have increased, especially the last.

This increase is not due to the immense amount of carrion, as I have never seen a Crow or Magpie indulging in a carrion diet out here. The wastage of food and grain accounts for the increase of rats, and the large numbers of stoats and weasels seen in the trenches may be a concomitant of this increase. Cats also abound, but seem to confine their hunting almost exclusively to mice.

Game birds-Pheasants and Gray Partridges-are scarce, as a rule; by far the greater number can be seen in the immediate vicinity of the firing line.

Wood-pigeons and Turtle-doves are common everywhere.

Small birds (including Thrushes, Blackbirds, and Larks, which are treated as game in France) are fairly common, but nothing approaching their abundance in England.

The effect of cannon-fire on birds is amazing. Almost without exception they absolutely disregard it. Even easily disturbed birds, like Crows and Wood-pigeons, are quite indifferent. My first experience of a heavy cannonade was in the early spring of last year (1915). The Blackbirds were all singing in the trees that lined the Yser Canal when on a sudden hundreds of guns of every calibre burst into a terrific and continuous cannonade; the enemy answered, and shells tore through the trees for hour after hour.

The effect was absolutely stunning to us humans, and when after three hours there was a sudden and complete cessation, the first thing that one's reeling senses realized was that the Blackbirds were still serenely fluting away I don't think they had ever ceased.

Another time I was listening to the rich chucklings and gurglings of a Nightingale -- the first of the season -- and had located the songster with my glass, when the morning calm was shattered by a burst of rifle-fire close by; the retiring and elusive bird paid no attention, nor did he seek a lower or less conspicuous perch.

Map of the Bronx Birding Spots in 1930

The only exception I have noticed out here to this general disregard (natural or acquired?) of noise, was in the case of one species, the Green Sandpiper, the Old World congener of our Solitary Sandpiper.

Twice I have seen this bird, and each time in a highly nervous state from shell-fire.

One of these instances afforded me some amusement at a time when a diversion was welcome. We were enduring nine hours of heavy hostile shelling with very inadequate shelter. As I lay behind a breastwork of sandbags, I watched the antics of a Green Sandpiper who was trying to get his breakfast in the water-filled shell-holes close by. Every time he settled, a big high explosive shell would burst nearby with a deafening crash and a geyser of black loam, and away would go the poor bird to circle in the blue for perhaps ten minutes, and then pitch down in front of me again, to repeat the same performance as another shell would land near him almost immediately.

Meanwhile an unruffled Cuckoo called continuously in some nearby pollard willows, and Larks (Crested Larks, very much like Sky-larks) rose one after the other, sometimes from the close vicinity of a bursting shell, singing serenely as if there was nothing to mar a perfect day.

My friend, M'C. de B. Green, who is driving an ambulance for the French in the Vosges, tells me the same indifference to shell-fire exists in the birds of that region, and with a corresponding scarcity of game. Wild boar however are apparently on the increase.

He also made the discovery of a new enemy to bird-life, although he had suspected its existence for some years past. This is the large slug of these parts, which destroys a large proportion of the eggs of ground and low-nesting small birds. It took him some time to get sufficient evidence, but it is pretty nearly conclusive. Of six Nightingales' nests he had under observation, only one escaped the slugs, and this was on account of its unusually high position.

While living on Queen Charlotte Island, B. C., some years ago, he suspected the large slug of those parts of similar depredations. This would indicate how much we have to learn in our efforts to protect birds.

Cedar (left) and Bohemian Waxwings Allan Brooks

Few people in America realize what a very small proportion of the destruction of bird-life-especially small-bird-life-is due to human agency, and how futile is the effort which is solely directed against the small boy, the sportsman, and the collector, as the only enemies of birds. One has to go to England, with its teeming wealth of bird-life, to see what intelligent preservation and protection can really accomplish.

A feature that strikes one over here, both in France and England, is the immense amount of cover for birds, and also the quantity of the food-supply that is afforded by the different wild fruits and berries. Just now every hedge is glistening with loads of blackberries, and all through the winter the hollies and hawthorns afford a plentiful food-supply to many fruit-eating species.

The winter Thrushes -- Field-fares and Redwings -- are coming south now in large flocks. The first Field-fares arrived on September 18, 1916, just ten days after the last Swift had left.

A few Swallows and Martins stay until October 20, much later than they would do with equal weather conditions in America.

The subject of migrations recalls an incident of last April. While following the course of a brisk little engagement between six or seven aeroplanes, my glass suddenly encountered a flight of six white Storks, which were caught between the opposing 'planes,' and it was wonderful to see the spurt of speed the great ungainly birds put on, but the aircraft seemed to pass them easily. Usually birds pay no attention to aircraft, possibly familiarity may have induced this condition.

One species that may have been driven away by the heavy gun-fire is the Lapwing. This Plover is very abundant in England now, and almost absent from this region where it should be common.

Flanders, Oct. 29, 1916.

Tufted Puffin in British Columbia (1926) by Allan Brooks

Birds in the Great War [WW1 - 1915]. The effect of a war on the wild birds and animals of the region affected is usually of a beneficial character. No doubt game animals, especially, have increased during the past four years of political disturbance in the unhappy republic of Mexico. In Europe, game-preserves in northern France and eastern Prussia have probably suffered, but, on the whole, bird-life in eastern Europe has enjoyed, during the past six months, a freedom from persecution to which it has long been a stranger. France has stopped all hunting, and the Minister of War has issued an order that the sale of no native game will be tolerated. Ordinarily more than one thousand tons of native-killed game are annually sold in the markets of France. The Larks of Belgium will evidently enjoy a year of unusual freedom from disturbance. In time of peace the people of Belgium export to France alone every year more than fifty thousand of these interesting birds. It is a pleasure to feel that some small good at least is to come out of the unspeakable holocaust we are now witnessing in Europe.

Rose-ringed Parakeet (Hyde Park, London) March 2020 Deborah Allen

A Parakeet in a City Park (1919).

Nothing could be more pleasing to the eye than the sight of the distinguished officers of the Allies in their handsome uniforms as they go about the streets of our city [New York City]. The drab-clad civilian notes them from the corner of an envious eye, and the small boys gaze with frank and unqualified admiration.

I noticed much the same effect among the birds in Central Park one afternoon in October. I was coming along the path around the Reservoir above 85th Street when my eye was caught by a large flock of dingy English Sparrows that were feeding in the grass by the bridle-path. As my eye roved from the outskirts of the flock toward its center I became aware of some cause of commotion and special interest. The birds were craning their necks, chirping loudly, and jostling one another in their effort to stand all in the same place. In another moment I had discovered the cause. Shining with the brightness of a patch of sunlight on the green grass, and politely oblivious of the vulgar peering crowd about him, sat a little Parakeet busily engaged in feeding on the grass seeds. He showed little fear as I approached, and finally flew to a small tree a few paces away, from which he watched a moment or two and then returned to the grass. The distinguished stranger was about the size of a White-throated Sparrow in body, but of course his tail was much longer. On his forehead he bore a clear yellow mark. His head, throat, breast, underparts, and rump were bright bluish green. His upperparts were distinctly yellowish green, while the wing coverts were blackish, each feather being delicately fringed with pale yellow or whitish. The tail feathers, as the bird spread them in alighting, showed a fringe at the outer ends of yellowish green and whitish.

Such a sight always fills the observer with strange thoughts of other lands and times. Perhaps some will be reminded of the day when Carolina Paroquets were casual visitors even in New York State. I suppose the little Parakeet was an escaped cage-bird, or, possibly, one that is allowed to fly at large to return at night to his cage. Anyway, I have not seen him since, and often wonder what became of him. But nothing can blot out the picture of the graceful, brilliant stranger so superior to the vulgar curiosity of the dingy Sparrows.

Tertius Van Dyke, New York City (his poem below)

Oxford Re-visited in War Time - 1942 (excerpt)

Now wounded men with gallant eyes Go hobbling down the street, And nurses from the hospitals Speed by with tireless feet. The town is full of uniforms, And through the stormy sky, Frightening the rooks from the tallest trees, The aeroplanes roar by. The older faces still are here, More grave and true and kind, Ennobled by the steadfast toil Of patient heart and mind.


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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

Bình luận

bottom of page