Christmas Owls 2020 and Historical CBCs from 100 Years Ago

Updated: Feb 20


Ring-billed Gull eating Crab-apples in Pelham Bay Park, the Bx, on 17 December 2017


16 December 2020


Bird Notes: Please keep an eye on our web site for latest updates to our bird walk schedule. The impending snowstorm seems like it will play havoc with roads, and especially park paths over the weekend. This might result in cancellations of some bird walks! That being said/written, we have a Saturday walk scheduled (9:30am) at Conservatory Garden besides the usual Sunday offerings...and a Sunday Owl walk at 4pm as well - check SCHEDULE page for details and the written schedule below.


Some excellent birds have appeared in Manhattan in the last several days including a juvenile (first-year) male Western Tanager that continues, and a Long-eared Owl in Central Park (15 December only). Deborah Allen sends photos of both, and see our Historical Notes below for more on Long-eared Owls in NYC 1906-1948.


We continue the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season Historical Notes. This week we present (a) 1920 CBCs at various sites on Long Island. Once again we are struck by how few bird species were seen in 1920 (<20 at some sites) compared to today when upwards of 100 species can be seen on certain counts. in 1920, notable highlights included a Western Kingbird (called then an Arkansas Kingbird); the number of Eastern Meadowlarks on the count at several sites. (In 1920 Meadowlarks were still common nesting birds in parts of NYC and Long Island); and the paucity of Ring-billed Gulls; by comparison Herring Gulls were present on the 1920 count in high number, and there were Black-backed Gulls seen as well. It would still be a few more years until Ring-billed Gulls became the most common gull species seen in the region. In (b/c), we present two articles on Long-eared Owls in the area - because one was found in white pine trees on Tuesday, 15 December 2020 near Belvedere Castle in Central Park. In (b) Dan Beard (the co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America) writes about a family of Long-eared Owls outside his window in Queens (1906), that had nested nearby; and (c) in November 1948, we have a story about a migrating Long-eared Owl flying through an open window of the RCA building in Manhattan, and what subsequently happened.


Western Tanager (immature male) in the Chelsea district (Manhattan), 10 December 2020 Deborah Allen

(below) Western Tanager (male) in Whatcom Falls Park in Washington state , 17 July 2016 Deborah Allen

Bird Walks for mid-late December 2020

All Walks @ $10/person

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


1. Saturday, 19 December at 9:30am. Conservatory Garden; 105th street and 5th Avenue $10. We are censusing the north end for Christmas Bird Count birds!

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2. Sunday, 20 December at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10.

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2a. Sunday, 20 December at 4pm (Central Park) for BARRED OWL - $10. See Schedule page for details on this OWL Walk. Please note: we will post the exact meeting location on Sunday, 20 December before 2pm if the Barred Owl changes its roost tree location to the north end. Right now (Fri-Sat 18-19 Dec), this owl is consistently roosting in a tree near the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe - so we will (99% sure) meet there for the Sunday walk - Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe (74th street and the East Drive in Central Park)

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3. Friday, 25 December at 9:30am (Christmas Day) - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10


3a. Friday, 25 December (Christmas Day) at 4pm (Central Park) for BARRED OWL - $10. See Schedule page for details on this OWL Walk. Please note: we will post the exact meeting location on Sunday, 20 December before 2pm - but it will most likely be at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe (74th street and the East Drive in Central Park)


On Saturdays/Sundays, 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 middle November and then resume in March 2021. Friday morning walks start 25 September and end in early December...to resume in March 2012. What are you waiting for?


Call (718-828-8262) or Email us with questions: rdcny@earthlink.net

Long-eared Owl; Central Park (west of Belvedere Castle), 15 Dec. 2020 by Deborah Allen


(below) Long-eared Owl; Central Park (Pilgrim Hill), 2 February 2014 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 (rdcny@earthlink.net). 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.

Long-eared Owl (roost tree by day) at approx. 73rd st and the East Drive (near Boathouse)

2 February 2014


Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Sunday, 13 December (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, 12 December: well we canceled this walk due to a forecast of rain...It never did rain - but given the forecast and how we know people plan their lives/weekends - we decided to cancel the morning walks. On 13 December (Sunday) birding is slowing down until March...This you have to remember: we are in December! Please come with reduced expectations to all bird walks for the next several weeks. Today, we fed birds by hand for a bit and people love this...but a male Cooper's Hawk was perched nearby so the birds had opposite interests: survival or eat peanuts. We noticed fewer Tufted Titmice this week than last. Highlights of the walk included the Red-bellied Woodpecker diving at us in the Maintenance Field; a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the Pinetum; a male American Kestrel sweeping across the south end of the Great Lawn and then perching near Sparrow Rock; and (what saved the walk), a Barred Owl near the Upper Lobe - that was Barry.


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 13 December: https://tinyurl.com/y7ea3h23


OWL WALKS Saturday night 12 December for Eastern Screech-owls (Inwood Hill Park) and Sunday night (13 December) for Barred Owl (Central Park): The Eastern Screech-owl (ESO) walk was a visual let-down: we did not see any despite making extensive efforts for two hours. However, no one has seen any ESOs here for several weeks - or at least reported any! BUT but there is always a silver lining: we definitely heard two different owls calling back to our taped calls. So we added a bit to scientific knowledge for the park that there at least two Eastern Screech-owls at Inwood right now. By comparison, the Barred Owl walk on 13 December in Central Park was an amazing success. We watched the owl fly out (4:50pm) and make a few attempts to catch a squirrel right over our heads; then (once it was completely dark/5:25pm) we had much luck bringing the Barred Owl to us along the paths in the Ramble - using calls from my tape...the owl calling back to us several times. We can see why this Barred Owl likes the Ramble: there are rats of all sizes everywhere at night...

Cooper's Hawk (first-year male) at the "Point" Central Park 13 Dec 2020 by Deborah Allen

HISTORICAL NOTEs


Bird-Lore's Twenty-first Christmas Census for 1920


THE highest number of species recorded in this census, in the northern and middle Atlantic States, is 38 at Montauk, Long Island, and Cape May, N.J.; in the south, 58 at Plant City, Fla., and in the Mississippi Valley, 35 at Kansas City; and on the Pacific Coast, Santa Barbara with 96 has no close competitor. The unusually open season, no doubt, accounts for a number of sporadic records of birds far north of their usual winter range, such as the Phoebe, Catbird, and Palm Warbler. The early date at which the census goes to press leaves little opportunity for statistical study of it. We may note, however, that the ‘comeback' anticipated for the Golden-crowned Kinglet exceeds our expectations. In the 1919 census, 26 of the 138 lists for states east of the Mississippi reported 1 to 11 individuals of this species, with a total of 85. This year (1920), 41 of 134 lists record 1 to 37 individuals with a total of 278.


On the other hand, the scarcity of birds in places is less general than was anticipated. The average total species for Massachusetts is 14, versus 16 in 1919; whereas in New York it is 17, and in New Jersey it is 20, in both 1919 and 1920. In Ohio, however, there has been an increase of from an average of 16 in 1919 to 18 in 1920. J. T. Nichols.


LONG ISLAND


Montauk to Montauk Point, L. I., N. Y. 1 January 1921; daylight until dark. Clear; ground bare, all ponds and creeks open; wind south, very light; temp. 28 degrees to 36 degrees. Observers together. Holboell's [Red-necked] Grebe, 1; Horned Grebe, 4; Loon, 150; Black Guillemot, 2; Dovekie, 2; Great Black-backed Gull, 20; Herring Gull, 500; Bonaparte's Gull, 4; American [Common] Merganser, 1 (male); Red-breasted Merganser, 20; Black Duck, 50; Golden-eye, 50; Bufflehead, 1 (hunter's game-bag); Old Squaw, 100; King Eider, 1; American [Black] Scoter, 30; White-winged Scoter, 125; Surf Scoter, 15; Ruddy Duck, 2; Brant, 17; Sparrow Hawk [American Kestrel], 1; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Arkansas [Western] Kingbird, 1; Horned Lark, 18; Crow, 16; Starling, 50; Meadowlark, 9; Snowflake [Snow Bunting], 7; Ipswich [Savannah] Sparrow, 1; Tree Sparrow, 17; Song Sparrow, 5; Tree Swallow, 12; Myrtle [Yellow-rumped] Warbler, 120; Catbird, 2; Brown Thrasher, 1; Brown Creeper, 3; Chickadee, 6; Robin, 2. Total, 38 species, 1,373 individuals. Both Guillemots were seen within 50 yards, diving and flying. Red feet of both seen. King Eider, a female, observed, at leisure, sitting on a rock and asleep on the water within 100 feet. The Kingbird was on the north beach catching insects in the piles of seaweed. It was exceedingly tame, was approached within 50 feet on numerous occasions, and flitted up the beach just ahead of us for nearly a mile, thus under observation for half an hour. Every possible detail of coloration noted, including the outer tail-feathers, thus positively eliminating Cassin's Kingbird. Griscom familiar with the species in life, and all three with the Guillemot. The Catbirds and Thrasher were together in a thick patch of bayberries and briars, well seen by Crosby and Griscom. 2 January 1921: Mourning Dove, 1.

Maunsell S. Crosby, Dr. E. R. P. Janvrin, and Ludlow Griscom.


Orient, L.I., N.Y. 25 December 1920; all day. Clear; ground bare; fresh to strong northwest wind; temp. 22 degrees at start, 20 degrees at return. Horned Grebe, 1; Loon, 2; Herring Gull, 150; Red-breasted Merganser, 50; Mallard, 1; Black Duck, 10; Green-winged Teal, 1; Greater Scaup Duck, 200; Bufflehead, 20; Old Squaw, 100; White-winged Scoter, 75; Surf Scoter, 10; Great Blue Heron, 4; Black-crowned Night Heron, 2; Sparrow Hawk [American Kestrel], 1; Screech Owl, 1; Mourning Dove, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Flicker, 2; Horned Lark, 32; Crow, 40; Starling, 6; Meadowlark, 35; Goldfinch, 1; Snow Bunting, 28; Tree Sparrow, 8; Junco, 6; Song Sparrow, 8; Myrtle Warbler, 40; Catbird, 1; Brown Creeper, 5; Chickadee, 11; Robin, 2. Total, 23 species, 867 individuals. Although a mild and open season, both water - and land - birds, with few exceptions, were rarer than in any census the writer has taken. Roy Latham.


Douglaston [Queens], L. I., N. Y. 26 December 1920; 9 a.m. to 12 m and 2.30 to 4 p.m. Partly cloudy; ground bare; wind north, light; temp. 19f at start, 28f at return. Seven miles on foot. Observers together. Herring Gull, 125; about 800 wild Ducks on Little Neck Bay, at

least 200 of which were Scaups, and at least the same number of which were Golden-eyes; Black-crowned Night Heron, 10 (a small wintering colony); Sparrow Hawk [American Kestrel], 2; Belted Kingfisher, 4; Downy Woodpecker, 4; Crow, 30; Fish Crow, 30 (the voices of both species of Crows were heard many times, but the relative numbers of each seen were estimated); Starling, 210; White-throated Sparrow, 22; Tree Sparrow, 15; Slate-colored Junco, 80; Song Sparrow, 34; Swamp Sparrow, 4; Chickadee, 6. Total, 16 species, (about) 1,375 individuals. Mr. and Mrs. G. Clyde Fisher and Farida A. Wiley.


Hempstead, N. Y. 24 December 1920; 9 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. Undecided; temp, about 40f. Herring Gull, 11; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Horned Lark, 40+ ; Crow, 62; Starling, 28; White- throated Sparrow, 5; Tree Sparrow, 30; Slate-colored Junco, 76+; Song Sparrow, 12, Brown Creeper, 9; Chickadee, 5; Robin, 2. Total, 12 species, 300+ individuals.

Theodore G. Roehner.


Long Beach, L. I., N. Y. 26 December 1920; 7 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. Clear to cloudy; wind northeast, moderate; temp. 18f to 25f. Horned Grebe, 9; Great Black-backed Gull, 22; Herring Gull, 1,500+; Ring-billed Gull, 2; Red-breasted Merganser, 2 (4-flock of 12?); Scaup Duck (sp.), 18; Old Squaw, 30; American [Black] Scoter, 6; Horned Lark, 24; Crow, 70; Starling, 10; Meadowlark, 3; Snow Bunting, 4; Ipswich [Savanna] Sparrow, 2; Tree Sparrow, 1; Song Sparrow, 2; Myrtle Warbler, 3. Total, 17 species, 1,750+ individuals.

Edward Fleisher.


Long Beach, L. I., N. Y. 27 December 1920; 6.40 a.m. to 12.37 p.m. Cloudy, heavy drizzle; strong east wind; ground partly snow - and ice - covered; temp. 30f. Observers together. Black-backed Gull, 100+; Herring Gull, 3,000+; Red-breasted Merganser, 30; Scaup, 5; Bufflehead, 1; Old Squaw, 1; White-winged Scoter, 4; Marsh Hawk, 1; Horned Lark, 3; Crow, 2; Starling, 75+; Meadowlark, 8; Rusty Blackbird, 2; Snowflake [Snow Bunting], 100+; Song Sparrow, 6. Total, 15 species, 3,338+ individuals. H. and R. Friedmann.


two juvenile (first-year) Red-tailed Hawks in the Ramble on 13 Dec 2020 Deborah Allen

Long Beach, L. I., N. Y. 26 December 1920; 10 a.m. to 4.15 p.m. Cloudy; ground bare; wind northeast; temp. 30f to 40f; surf calm. Holboell's [Red-necked] Grebe, 4; Horned Grebe, 11; Loon, 2; Red-throated Loon, 1; Black-backed Gull, 25+ (several in large flock of Herring Gulls); Herring Gull, 1,500; Ring-billed Gull, 1 (size, color of legs, and wing pattern clearly noted, by good light, in comparison with Herring Gulls); Red-breasted Merganser, 22; Black Duck, 30; Scaup, 6; Golden-eye, 3; Old Squaw, 60; American [Black] Scoter, 27; White-winged Scoter, 3; Sanderling, 13; Sparrowhawk [American Kestrel], 2; Short-eared Owl, 1; Horned Lark, 19; Crow, 25; Starling, 110; Meadowlark, 7; Ipswich [Savanna] Sparrow, 11; Song Sparrow, 1; Myrtle [Yellow-rumped] Warbler, 2. Total, 24 species, 1,9oo+ individuals. Maurice C. Blake, John U. Harris, Walden Pell 2nd, and Stuyvesant M. Pell.


Long Beach, L. I., N. Y. 24 December 1920. Partly cloudy; no snow or ice; fresh to strong northwest wind, rough sea; temp, at daylight 37f, at sunset 34f; many dandelions in bloom. Horned Grebe, 5; Loon, 1; Kittiwake, 1 (adult), on shore pond; Black-backed Gull, many; Herring Gull, innumerable thousands; Bonaparte's Gull, 1 (immature), on ocean shore; Black Duck, many hundreds off shore; Greater Scaup, 1; Old Squaw, fairly common; White-winged Scoter, 1 (two Scoters far out appeared to be Surf Scoters); [American] Bittern, 1, inward meadows nearer East Rockaway than Long Beach; Sanderling, 1; Sparrow Hawk [American Kestrel], 3; Horned Lark, 5; Crow, common; Starling, only in the town; Meadowlark, 10; Ipswich [Savanna] Sparrow, 5; Tree Sparrow, 5; Song Sparrow, 2; Myrtle [Yellow-rumped] Warblers, 2. Total, 21 species. E. P. Bicknell.


Amityville, L. I., N. Y. 26 December 1920; 9.30 a.m. to sunset. Clear, becoming overcast; ground bare; wind light northerly, changing to moderate easterly; temp, about 20f, rising to 30f. Observers together until 2 p.m. Herring Gull, 20; Sparrow [American Kestrel] Hawk, 3; Downy Woodpecker, 2; American Crow, 50; Starling, 150; White-throated Sparrow, 25; Tree Sparrow, 60; Field Sparrow, 3; Junco, 8; Song Sparrow, 15; Fox Sparrow, 2; Myrtle Warbler, 200; Brown Creeper, 2; Chickadee, 12. Total, 14 species, 552 individuals.

Walter Granger, Ludlow Griscom and J. T. Nichols.


Southold and Peconic, N. Y. 28 December 1920; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Clear; ground bare; wind, strong northwest; temp. 33f at start, 30f at return. Herring Gull, 20; Red-breasted Merganser, 1; Black Duck, 3; Old Squaw, 1; White-winged Scoter, 5; Surf Scoter, 3; Red-shouldered Hawk, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 2; Flicker, 1; Blue Jay, 2; Crow, 45; Tree Sparrow, 25; Junco, 4; Song Sparrow, 3; Towhee, 1; Cedarbird [Cedar Waxwing], 2; Myrtle Warbler, 6; Chickadee, 8; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1; Robin, 6. Total, 21 species, 132 individuals. Mrs. Frank D. Smith and Roy Latham.

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Long-eared Owls resident at Flushing [Queens], Long Island, N. Y [1906]. Some time ago [1902] I wrote regarding the Barn Owls which formerly occupied a church steeple on Bowne Avenue in Flushing, Borough of Queens. It may be of interest to you to know that within a few hundred yards of my studio here on Bowne Avenue, there are now roosting six Long-eared Owls (Asio wilsonianus now Asio otus). This family of owls has been in and about this neighborhood for several years. They breed here, and this last season they wintered here. Probably they have done so all along. I have examined a number of their pellets and found in them nothing but the remains of mice with now and then the bones of an English sparrow. If this is the regular diet of these birds, which from different authorities consulted I infer to be a fact, it might be well to plant a colony of Long-eared Owls in every city and village in the United States. The birds roost in the thick foliage of an evergreen tree, but when watched too closely do not hesitate to leave the tree and fly about in broad daylight, and the manner in which they dodge obstructions when approaching their former perch, makes it evident that their eyesight is very good even in daylight.


Dan Beard, Flushing, N.Y.

Six Long-eared Owls roosting in Chicago, January 2009

A Long-eared Owl Flies High, and then is Grounded [1948]

Bird Soars into a 67th floor window of RCA building, lands at the ASPCA


17 November 1948


If somebody had thought to measure the owl’s ears yesterday, when it flew into the sixty-seventh floor window of the RCA building, it might be easier to say what kind of owl it was and what it was doing in the skyscraper.


By its coloring – brown, black and grey – it might have fitted the loose “barn owl” description offered by a man at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter who looked it over at the animal hospital. But considering it was apparently matured, the owl, aloof in its own cage amongst dogs and cats, was too small to be a barn owl. It was only about eight inches tall.


A temporarily unoccupied drama critic heard about this owl and suggested it might be of the screech or short-eared owl variety. This one was about the height of those species and such owls are particularly fond of the city because their favorite food is pigeons.


He scoffed at the possibility that any owl that lives on citified pigeons might have forgotten how to fly and not be able to get to the sixty-seventh floor of a building without taking the elevator.


“It is a myth that city pigeons are pedestrians,” he said.


The unidentified owl also obstructed business at the Bronx Zoo, where the curator, Lee Crandall, refused to be pinned down with anything less than a full description. He said nothing could be divined from the fact that the owl had spurned lettuce. “Owls,” he said curtly, “are not rabbits.”


But a woman in his office – she was identified by her telephone voice – revealed that it would be safe to narrow the field down to the long-eared and the short-eared varieties. This types are either natives or transients headed south at this time. “Please don’t quote me,” she added.


Only two other persons might have examined the owl’s ears. One was a window washer named George Camal. He caught the bird when it flew into the office as he opened the window to work at about 9 A.M. Mr. Camal said that back in Mexico where he learned to catch birds he did not bother to look at their ears.


“You don’t catch a bird by its ears,” he explained.


Finally there was the publicity man for the RCA building who had called the ASPCA agent. He had not noticed the owl. “You may say,” he suggested, “that the owl created no disturbance in the building.”

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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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

(above) Spotted Wood Owls at an Oil Palm roost near Ipoh, Malaysia by Laurence Poh 2008

(above) Brown Hawk-owl in Malaysia in March 2002 by Ooi Beng Yean

Long-eared Owl nesting on a building in Serbia - 2009


#LongEaredOwl #BirdWalksCentralPark #BirdsofCentralPark #ChristmasBirdCount1920

@2002-2021 ROBERT DECANDIDO, PhD