Central Park at Its Best: The Autumn Migration of Birds
Updated: Oct 5
Northern Parula Warbler (Hatch-Year Female) on Evening Primrose by Deborah Allen
Central Park, Manhattan, 19 September 2020
30 September 2020
Bird Notes: Fri-Sat-Sun-Mon bird walks - now is the best time to see autumn migrants. Though there is a slight chance of rain for Friday morning, we will be there at Conservatory Garden (8:30am) because we are expecting a very good morning to see birds - overnight winds (Thu into Friday) are from the northwest, and that will bring us birds. Please note: anytime there is a small amount of rain overnight during migration, fall or spring, Central Park is especially good for seeing birds the following morning.
In this week's Historical Notes we present information on migratory birds in late September through mid-October in the NYC area and beyond. In the 19th century (starting in 1886 when electricity first came into general use), birds while migrating at night collided with buildings primarily in Sept-Oct, but also in spring. More recently most bird deaths (both on migration and as residents in suburbia) are due to collision with reflective glass. We present (a) the October 1954 mid-town Manhattan bird fall out in Ohrbach's Department store (34th street, Manhattan) after a night of heavy migration; (b) the late September 1887 collisions of Palm Warblers and Blackpoll Warblers at the Fire Island Lighthouse on Eastern Long Island; (c) the October 1880 collisions of many songbirds against the lighthouse in Atlantic City, New Jersey; (d) the late September 1886 collisions of 1000+ songbirds at electric lights in downtown Decatur, Illinois; (e) the 12 October 2005 fallout of many hundreds (thousands?) of birds on the well-lit athletic field at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
Long-legged Fly (above), the Bronx (our yard) on 15 September 2020 by Deborah Allen.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Central Park (Turtle Pond) on 20 Sept. 2020 by Deborah Allen
Bird Walks for Early October
All Walks @ $10/person - All walks in Central Park
1. Friday, 2 October at 8:30am - Conservatory Garden at 105th street and 5th Avenue. Walk down the front (main) steps and straight ahead by 150 feet to the area between the men's room (on the right/north) and ladies' room (left/south) $10
2. Saturday, 3 October at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10
3. Sunday, 4 October at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10
4. Monday, 5 October at 8:30am - Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic) at 72nd St. and Central Park West $10
If you do the 7:30am walk you can do the second (9:30am walk) for free. You get two for one. Weekend walks will continue through August and into December. Monday walks at 8:30am begin on Labor Day, 7 September and will continue through the end of October. Friday morning walks start 25 September and through October at least. What are you waiting for?
Call (718-828-8262) or Email us with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tennessee Warbler at the north end of Central Park on 19 Sept. 2020 by Deborah Allen
The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 7:30/9:30am 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! Fridays we meet at Conservatory Garden; Mondays at Strawberry Fields - check the "Meeting Points" page of this web site for exact meeting location.
Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is (email@example.com). 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 Central Park walks (except Fridays) near the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total) - though the Boathouse is closed right now and will re-open in April 2021 according to the owners. 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 aim to please.
Ovenbird in Central Park (west side of the Great Lawn)
20 September 2020 by Deborah Allen
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)
Friday, 25 September 2020 (Conservatory Garden at 8:30am): Any bird walk with a well-seen Philadelphia Vireo is a good one! Add to that two Lincoln's Sparrows and a Marsh Wren (most often found in Salt Marshes), yes it was a good morning...and that surprised us because the overnight winds were not favorable for migration. This time beggers were choosers: we had riches of birds wherever we went including 13 warbler species.
Deborah's List of Birds for Friday, 25 September: https://tinyurl.com/ycr5domy
Sat-Sunday, 26-27 September 2020 (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am): Please note: the bathrooms at the Boathouse are NOT open. However, we do pass two other sets of bathrooms on the walk. Saturday, 26 September: October birds are arriving! Today was the first good morning for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Though September continued in the form of 14 warbler species including Cape Mays (2) with one at the Pinetum undoubtedly interested in the sap wells made by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in non-native Siberian Elm trees. Another October bird, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (7), had its best showing of the season so far; and Brown Thrashers were also abundant early on in the Ramble, and then near Belvedere Castle on the walk. Finally we found two Tufted Titmice, perhaps an indication that more seed-eaters including Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches will soon arrive. On 27 September (Sunday) we had 12 warbler species, with all numbers of birds reduced from the previous two days. The overnight southerly winds were working against us. We found two Eastern Towhees (M/F), and the usual contingent of Red-breasted Nuthatches that surrounded us like dolphins with a few almost landing on us at the Pinetum.
Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday, 26 September: https://tinyurl.com/ycmq2dzb
Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 27 September: https://tinyurl.com/y5gs6rac
Finally, Monday, 28 September was the slowest day of the weekend in terms of numbers of species and numbers of birds seen: we had 9 Warbler species. On the other hand, we had two Yellow-bellied Flycatchers together at the north end of the Maintenance Field.
Deborah's List of Birds for Monday, 28 September: https://tinyurl.com/y6ky9vbq
American Goldfinch (hatch-year male) in Central Park on 19 Sept 2020; Deborah Allen
About New York
25 October 1954
The news that 123 birds, of passage were killed the night of October 6-7  against the Empire State Building masonry wasn't the last word on that curious phenomenon. The next night a lot of small birds died the same way at the airport outside of Allentown, Pa. A full report on that has reached the Audubon Society here.
There was another local phase, too, that hasn't quite ended. The violent downdrafts that threw the migrating birds against the Empire State tower (experts figure it must have been that) forced hundreds of them, at the same time, into open loft and department store windows all around the Empire State.
The Ohrbach store [5 West 34th Street] had more than 100 finches and warblers in it when the doors were opened for business the morning of October 7, and some of them haven't left yet. Girls in the shop leave water and crumbs for them; customers are startled when they whir past.
Kenneth Morrison of the Audubon Society thinks the birds ought to be caged by some agency and released in Central Park. He thinks they are bewildered and can't find their way out.
PALM WARBLER Dendroica palmarum. [23 September 1887]. During the night of the 23d of September, 1887, a great bird wave was rolling southward along the Atlantic Coast. Mr. E.J. Udall, first assistant keeper of the Fire Island Light, wrote to me that the air was full of birds. Very many of the little travelers met with an untimely fate, for on the following morning Mr. Udall picked up at the foot of the light house tower, and shipped to me, no less than five hundred and ninety-five victims. Twenty five species were included in the number, all of them being land birds, very nearly half of which were Wood Warblers (Mniotiltidae). Among these I found one female Palm Warbler. This is the first record for Long Island of the western form, those included by Mr. Giraud, and Mr. Lawrence in their lists being undoubtedly the eastern form, hypochrysea.
BLACK-POLL WARBLER Dendroica striata. [23 September 1887]. Of the five hundred and ninety-five birds which were killed by striking Fire Island Light, September 23, 1887, no less than three hundred and fifty-six of them were of this species. Among them I found a very beautiful partial albino.
Flew Against the Light [October 1880]. Stopping at our mutual friend, John Krider's, this morning, I was shown a large quantity of warblers and other birds that had been sent him by the lighthouse keeper at Atlantic City, N. J. They were found at the base of the tower, having flown against the light in a nightly migration during a late storm. They comprized the following varieties: blue-winged yellowback [Blue-winged Warbler]; indigo birds or blue linnets [Indigo Bunting]; black-throated blues [Warbler]; red-eyed vireos; red starts; black poll warblers; Connecticut warblers; black and white creepers [Black-and-white Warbler]; olive-back thrushes [Swainson’s Thrush], Maryland yellow-throats [Common Yellowthroat]; yellow-throats [?], yellow-rumps and magnolia warblers. This was doubtless the great southern migration which takes place every autumn. During the fall, about four years since, the wife of the keeper of the same lighthouse caught alive several brant geese which, during the prevalence of a fog, had entangled themselves in the grating protecting the light. These birds are now alive, one of them, I think, having been presented to the Zoological Garden at Philadelphia.
Northern Parula Warbler (Hatch-Year Female) on a Phragmites stem by Deborah Allen
Central Park, Manhattan, 19 September 2020
Birds Killed by Electric Light Towers at Decatur, Illinois [29 September 1886] - I enclose a slip cut from the Decatur Republican of last evening; also a list of birds brought to me yesterday by boys from different parts of the city, as determined by Professor J. H. Coonradt of our High school. Some of them are seldom seen in this neighborhood, so far as my observation goes. Indeed, most of them are rarely noticed in the city this time of the year. I think none were found under the lamps this morning. From the numbers I saw and heard of yesterday I should think it probable that a thousand birds were killed around the electric light towers which light our town. I suppose this is not an unusual occurrence, but as the numbers were so great I thought possibly you would like to make a note of it.
Following is the list of the birds killed by the electric light towers: Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), red-breasted grosbeak (Goniophia ludovicina), indigo bird (Cyanospiza cyanea), black and yellow warbler (Dendraeca maculosa), house-wren (Troglodytes aedon), Maryland yellow-throat (Geothlypis trichas), Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax acadicus), scarlet tanager (Pyranga rubra) cat-bird (Galeoscoptes carolinensis), olive-backed thrush (Turdus swainsonii). - E. A. Gastman, Decatur, Ill., Sept. 29, 1886.
Magnolia Warbler on 1 Sept. 2017 by Doug Leffler in Michigan
Nocturnal migrant fallout - Cornell campus (Ithaca NY)
Date: October 12, 2005 (Wednesday)
From: Michael G Harvey
..... one of the most spectacular avian spectacles I have witnessed occurred tonight on campus. After a late night at the lab, Tim was dropping me off at my house when we noticed incredible numbers of nocturnal flight calls overhead. In fact, in ten seconds Tim counted 26 flight calls (extrapolated, that equals over 150 calls per minute). We noticed the lights were on in the football stadium on campus, and thought that perhaps the combination of this bright light source and the low clouds were drawing in large numbers of birds. As we approached the stadium, it was obvious something big was going on. Phone calls were made and in the end Mike Anderson, Tim Lenz, Glenn Seeholzer, Lena Samsonenko, Colin Thoreen, Ellie Wallace, Ryan Douglas, Dan Lebbin, Jesse Ellis, Jake Barnett, Brian Sullivan, Curtis Marantz, Scott Haber, and myself assembled at the stadium. Within and in the trees surrounding the stadium were literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrants! Savannah Sparrows blanketed the astro-turf, Common Yellowthroats flitted among the bleachers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers sallied low overhead. Most of the birds appeared to be feeding, largely on moths, and all were quite approachable and easy to see in the brilliant stadium lights! We canvassed the area between roughly 9:30 PM and almost 2 AM, when the lights were shut off. Jesse left early so this report includes the totals for the entire night, including after he left. We split up several times to better cover the area, so I may have missed something, but here are approximate numbers:
Great Blue Heron (8+)
heron sp. (1, possibly a bittern, seen from my house by Tim and myself)
Green Heron (10+)
Red-tailed Hawk (1)
Semipalmated Plover (1+)
Greater Yellowlegs (1)
possible Solitary Sandpiper (1)
Pectoral Sandpiper (1)
possible Wilson's Snipe (1)
Mourning Dove (2+)
cuckoo sp. (1)
Belted Kingfisher (1!)
Eastern Phoebe (1+)
Wood Thrush (2 on ground, many overhead)
Swainson's Thrush (many overhead)
Gray-cheeked Thrush (many overhead)
Hermit Thrush (1 on ground, quite a few overhead)
Gray Catbird (4+ on the ground, 1 heard calling apparently overhead from my house -
American Pipit (2+)
Northern Parula (4+)
Tennessee Warbler (1)
Nashville Warbler (1)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (1, Glenn only)
Magnolia Warbler (4+)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (15+)
Blackburnian Warbler (1)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (400++)
Black-throated Green Warbler (8+)
Palm Warbler (20+)
Bay-breasted Warbler (2)
Blackpoll Warbler (1)
Black-and-white Warbler (1)
American Redstart (2)
Ovenbird (1, specimen later obtained)
Common Yellowthroat (45++)
Hooded Warbler (1, Tim only)
Scarlet Tanager (1)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (2+)
apparent BLUE GROSBEAK (2-3!, I heard these birds and I agree that they are consistent with recordings and what I remember of Blue Grosbeak calls, but I will leave it to those who identified these birds to provide additional details)
Indigo Bunting (2+)
DICKCISSEL (4+, calling overhead, often low)
Chipping Sparrow (few heard overhead, none on ground)
Savannah Sparrow (200+ on astro-turf at one time, many dozens more in trees, parking lots, and overhead. probably over 1000 on the night!)
White-crowned Sparrow (4: 1 ad, 3 juv)
White-throated Sparrow (3+)
Swamp Sparrow (2)
I apologize if I missed anything. Perhaps almost as interesting as what we saw were the species NOT represented on the ground in this flight. Thrushes were very scarce relative to the numbers we were hearing, and vireos and kinglets were completely absent! I think I speak for all of us when I say tonight will not be soon forgotten! 17 warbler species...on October 12...at night...in a football stadium! Hopefully a few pictures from the fallout will be posted in the near future.
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD
Swainson's Thrush, 20 January 2017 in southern Ecuador. Yes they migrate that far!