NYC Big Three: Snowy Owls, Peregrines and Bald Eagles + a warm December 2021

Updated: Jan 28


Bird Notes: No bird walk for Saturday (29 January): the forecast is for a snowstorm ("bomb cyclone" aka winter hurricane). Instead come see us on Sunday in Central Park as we look for Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons at the Reservoir. See the Schedule page of our web site for more details, or below in this Newsletter.


27 January 2022


Welcome to late January when coooold has most everyone in hunker down mode. On the bright side, recall that at this time last year there were so many NYC social media wars over who was too close to an owl; don't (or do) publish the location of an owl...and who was the most ethical being in the presence of NYC owls. This year is more relaxed: we can instead discuss Snowy Owl plumage...local manifestations of global warming...and call your attention to an amazing Snowy Owl story in the heart of Brooklyn, on a rooftop in the Hasidim community of Boro Hall: Click here


We won't even mention the banded adult Bald Eagle that is regularly visiting the Central Park Reservoir to prey upon (sea)gulls! If you want to know what is happening at any moment in time with Central Park birds (and birds in any of the five boroughs) the Manhattan Bird Alert is your best resource. (Pssst! our lips are sealed regarding the Great Horned Owl that is along the Loch of the North Woods of Central Park - right now!)


Snowy Owl Breezy Point (Queens) on 22 January 2022 Sandra Critelli

see the end of this Newsletter to read why Deborah Allen believes this is a first-winter female

For more info on the Snowy Owls of NYC, see past Newsletters:


(a) Snowy Owls in NYC pre-1900 Part 1

(b) Snowy Owls in NYC, mostly post 1950: Part Two (click on each)

Muttonbird (Sooty Shearwater) for dinner on Stewart Island. This bird is one of the most common seabirds in the world.

Peregrine Falcon Central Park (the Reservoir) on 23 January 2022 Deborah Allen. The Band Number reveals this male ("tiercel") was hatched at nearby Riverside Church (123rd st. and Riverside Dr.) in May 2019. See banding certificate at end of this Newsletter for more info.


In this week's Historical Notes we present (a) a summary of the weather for December 2021 - the third warmest December on record for NYC since records have been kept starting approx. 1870. December 2021 was 4.3F degrees above the average for all Decembers from 1990-2020 - a time frame that was warmer than any previous 30 year cycle. We also send (b) a Snowy Owl in Red Hook Brooklyn in March 1891; as well as a couple of short notes regarding the number of Snowy Owls shot (50+) for taxidermy purposes in November 1876 and March 1891; finally (c) the Tawny Owl in northern Europe: how the proportion of brown vs. light grey morphs has significantly changed through time. Brown morphs are much more common now than 30 years ago - WHY?


adult Bald Eagle eating a gull on the north side of the Central Park Reservoir in mid-February 2014. Photograph by Thomas Schuchaskie (who runs Urban Kid Adventures a SUPERB after school program for kids). This was the first eagle we are aware of that caught prey in Central Park - and then perched in a tree to eat it!

Lots of White-capped Albatrosses (Stewart Island, NZ) on 29 November 2019
Good! Bird Walks for Late January 2022

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

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


1. Sunday, 30 January 2022 at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

2. Saturday, 29 January 2022: No Bird Walk (high winds + impending heavy snow)

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3. Saturday, 5 February: TBA

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


Any questions send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262 (home)


Peregrine Falcon (female) Central Park Reservoir on 23 Jan 2022. She is not banded which is unusual for NYC Peregrines. Her mate is banded and shown above. Deborah Allen

[Gibson's] Wandering Albatross on 22 November 2019 at Kaikoura Bay (South Island, New Zealand)

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.

Carolina Wren by Deborah Allen on 10 November at Shakespeare Garden (Central Park)

[above] Great Blue Heron in Pelham Bay Park on 22 January 2022 by Deborah Allen


Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)


22 January (Saturday) meeting at 9:30am Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx for Great Horned Owls. This was an humiliating defeat for the mighty bob. We found no owls, and just scant evidence for the presence of owls where there was abundant evidence last year in Dec-Jan. Meanwhile on this same Saturday, owlers in Queens were finding Great Horned Owls in that borough...and worst of all, a Great Horned Owl turned up in Central Park (but was gone by the next morning/Sunday). What is happening at Pelham Bay Park? Frankly, I don't know: Deborah and I have seen pairs at known locations in the last several months; and individual owls have been reported recently from the areas we brought people to....Perhaps owls are nesting early (they can start as early as late December); perhaps all the restoration work in natural areas in Pelham Bay Park is not having the best results for all species; or owls have moved their roosting/nesting areas somewhat...or etc. More footwork and research are needed.


23 January (Sunday) meeting at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe. It was cold, but our intrepid group of birders had no difficulty finding the tweety birds of the lower park: Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-throated Sparrows, House Finches, etc. BUT, these folks were after the Manhattan Big three (predators): Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Snowy Owl. Two of these had been seen at the Reservoir in the last day...and a Snowy Owl was there last winter. So we made our way north, and found the Long-tailed Duck hidden amongst the several hundred Ruddy Ducks on the Reservoir. She had her bill tucked in so we could not determine the sex of the duck that day. Nearby, both male and female Peregrine Falcons were perched in a tree near the North Pumphouse. Being familiar with this pair from January 2021, I again used my recorded calls (the "echup" call) to get their attention. The female immediately started "echupping" back. Soon we had both adults flying about, and Deborah was able to take photos of the male's band, and she determined that the female is not banded. Sound can be used for scientific purposes too - besides "just" having fun with birds. We looked in vain for "Rover" the adult Bald Eagle (has an R7 band on one leg, and has been seen at Prospect Park lake [Brooklyn] and Greenwood Cemetry [also Brooklyn]). Alas, "Rover" arrived in the late afternoon...and returned Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu (24-27 January).


Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Sunday 23 January 2022: Click Here

White-capped Albatross near Stewart Island, New Zealand on 29 November 2019

Wood Duck Central Park 23 Jan 2022 Deborah Allen

HISTORICAL NOTEs


December 2021 NYC Weather Recap: Mild & Dry

Original Article Click HERE:


by Rob Frydlewicz on the NYC Weather Archive


In NYC, December 2021 was the third mildest on record (behind 2015 and 2001, and 0.1F degree ahead of 1984), and tied for fourteenth driest. At 4.7 degrees F above average, it was the most above average month of 2021 (passing October, which was 4.1F above average). Although it ranked third for mean temperature (average of high/low), the month had the second mildest average low, and was tied for seventh mildest average high ever for NYC. [See Table below.]


Seven days had mean temperatures that were 10+ degrees above average, and eight days had highs of 55F or milder (half of these days were in the 60s). The mildest reading was 66F on 12/11, which was a record for the date. Two extended periods of mild temperatures were largely responsible for the month being so mild, as Dec. 11-18 was 11 degrees above average (high/low of 56°/44°), and the last week of December was 8 degrees milder than average (48°/40°). This was just the seventh December to have no temperatures of 32F or colder in the last seven days of the month.

Six days had lows of 32°F or colder (average number for December is 14), with the coldest reading being 25° on 12/20. Only three other Decembers have had a milder reading as their coldest reading: 2015 (34°); 2012 (28°); and 1974 (26°). And Dec. 1984's coldest reading was also 25°. (On average, the coldest reading in December is in the upper teens; before 1970 it was in the low teens).


Like November 2021, December was quite dry, with just 1.39" of measured precipitation. Combined, these two months became Central Park's driest Nov.-Dec. on record. [See Table below.] Ironically, this dry combo occurred in one of the ten wettest years on record. By contrast, the nine driest November-Decembers behind 2021 had about twenty inches less annual precipitation than 2021.

With the exception of the last week in October, which had 4.71" of rainfall (the wettest last week of October on record), the other 12 weeks between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 had only 3.06".

December had just 0.2" of snow, which occurred in the pre-dawn hours of 24 December 2021. However, meager snowfall in December isn't uncommon, as smaller amounts (or none at all) have occurred in five Decembers since 2001, and nine since 1994 (once every three years).


Unusually low humidity was reported on two dates - 20% on 12/14, and 14% on 12/17 (both in the afternoon). Going back to the early 1940s, 14% is the lowest humidity ever reported in December (the previous low was 16% on Dec. 8, 1981). Humidity levels below 25% are very rare in December (most instances of low humidity occur in March and April).

Finally, the month, and year, ended on a mild note as the temperature at the stroke of midnight was 51° (after a high of 55°). This was the mildest reading during the ball drop at Times Square since 2004 (and the fifth mildest ball-drop reading on record).


Two Additional Comments:


(a) Because 1998, 2001, 2006, 2011, and especially 2015 had very warm Decembers in NYC, the average temperature for the 30 Decembers based on data from 1991-2020 is 39.1 degrees. This is a significant uptick from the previous average of 37.5 degrees based on the 1981-2010 period. December 2020’s average temperature was 39.2 degrees, 1.7 degrees above the average based on the 1980-2010 period; 39.2 degrees would be right near the average based on the 1991-2020. December 2021’s mean of 43.8 degrees is 4.7 degrees above average based on the 1991-2020. If you do a recap of 2021 as a whole and consider each month’s departure from average, note that January-April’s comparisons are based on the 1981-2010 period. The change to comparing months’ averages based on the 1991-2020 period began in May. (b) On December 11th, 2021, a record high temperature of 66 degrees was set in Central Park, breaking the long-standing record of 64 degrees set in 1879. Looking at the years 1998-2021, of the 31 days in the month of December, 17 days (1998-2021) had a record high temperature since records have been kept in NYC since the year 1870.


I'll repeat: In NYC, over half the days in the month of December 1998-2021 have had record high temperatures compared with all weather records for December since records have been kept since @ 1870.

Snowy Owl Breezy Point (Queens) on 15 February 2021

Snowy Owls in Brooklyn and Massachusetts [1891]

SNOWY OWL IN NEW YORK [1891]. Red Hook, N. Y., 9 March. About three weeks ago a snowy owl was seen in this neighborhood. It soon disappeared and was supposed to have gone to a climate better suited to its taste. To-day, however, it appeared again, and three gunners started in search of it. One of them, John W. Bain, was fortunate enough to get a shot at the bird. At a distance of 120yds, he made a center shot. Though the rifle was a .38cal., the specimen was not injured. The bird goes to John Wallace, 16 North William street, New York, to be set up [= taxidermied].


SNOWY OWL. Westfield, Mass., 5 March 1891. There is on exhibition in the show window of Conner's stationery store, a magnificent specimen of the Canadian snowy owl (Nyctea scandiaca), which attracts considerable attention, as it is quite a rare thing to see so fine a specimen of this beautiful bird. The mounting was done by "Prof. Scott," of this place. The owl was shot in Greenville about Christmas time, by John D. Ripley of that place.

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Snowy Owls [November 1876] have been unusually abundant this fall about Boston, over two hundred having been brought into town, it is said, within a week. This is a chance for inland collectors, with whom this species is much more uncommon than with us on the coast, to secure a specimen or two of a bird no where very abundant. All along the coast north of New York these birds have been found in unusual numbers; does their great abundance this fall point to the approach of unusually cold weather?

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THE SNOWY OWLS. Boston, 18 November 1876. We here, for the last two weeks, have seen such great numbers of the large white owl shot, that it reminds us of the like occurrence about ten years ago. At one taxidermists to day, there were 30 fine specimens killed within a radius of 20 miles of Boston, in a few day's past; at anothers, 26 more like individuals. What causes this bird to come so near the city, and even enter the very heart of it, and quietly perch on houses, window sills, etc., in some cases, is a mystery, and causes in much remark?

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Owls turn brown as climate warms (2011)

Tawny owls turn brown to survive in warmer climates, according to scientists in Finland.

by Emma Brennand Feather colour is hereditary, with grey plumage dominant over brown in European Tawny Owls. But the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that the number of brown owls was increasing. As winters become milder, the scientists say, grey feathered tawny owls are likely to disappear. This study indicates that the birds are evolving in response to climate change. Dr. Patrik Karell from the University of Helsinki, who led the study, gathered together data from long-term tawny owl studies carried out across Finland over the last 30 years. The owls can be split into two plumage-based categories - brown or grey. The colour of a tawny owl's plumage does not change throughout its lifetime, so Dr. Karell and his colleagues were able to use the data to create "colour maps" of breeding pairs and their offspring. The maps showed that plumage colour was hereditary; pairs with grey plumage had the grey "version" of the gene that coded for plumage colour, so they produced grey offspring. In the case of mixed colour breeding pairs, the grey colour trait was "dominant", which meant that an owlet that inherited both grey genes and brown genes would be likely to have grey plumage.

Lighter shade The team examined tawny owl data, which was compiled by amateur bird ringers from the Finnish Museum of Natural History. This revealed that, in years when winter weather was particularly severe, there was a higher mortality rate in the brown owl population. This could be because brown owls were more visible to predators when there was thick snow cover. Previous genetic studies have also suggested that brown owls' may have other disadvantages compared to their grey counterparts, including weaker immune systems and higher metabolic rates - meaning they need to forage more in order to survive. But as the winters have become warmer, and snow cover has been reduced, the brown tawny owl populations have greatly increased. Dr. Karell told BBC News that the brown owls, which used to form 30% of the tawny owl population in Finland, now make up 50%. "Its survival has improved as winters have become warmer," he said. "In other words, climate-driven selection has led to an evolutionary change in the population." The results also suggest that a changing climate could, in some species, reduce the number and variety of characteristics that can be inherited. If the grey owls disappeared from the "gene pool", for example, there would be only one version of the colour gene to be found.

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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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


Snowy Owl, Breezy Point [Queens], Saturday 22 January 2022

photos by Ms. Sandra Critelli (below) with comments by Deborah Allen

This bird is probably a first-winter female. Of all the plumages of the Snowy Owl, the first-year female is the most strongly marked, appearing much darker overall than other sex and age classes. An adult male can be nearly all-white with only faint markings. Between these two extremes are adult females and young males.

The bird in question is heavily barred below and on the crown. It has at least three solid dark bars on the central tail feathers like those typical of a first-winter female; first-winter males have fewer and smaller markings on the tail. A top-down look at the bird in flight reveals what appear to be some replaced feathers among the secondaries on the right wing. The secondaries are the feathers on the trailing edge of the inner wing. These two feathers are less strongly-marked than the adjacent feathers, with a row of small spots. However, if we look at the left side of the bird, we don't see a matching pattern, so it may be that these paler, more adult looking secondaries are not a result of a normal molt, which would suggest a second-winter bird, but instead grew in to replace feathers that had been lost.

[below] Peregrine Falcon band results from Central Park (the Reservoir) on 23 January 2022 - Photo above of the male Peregrine by Deborah Allen - and band data/results via Deborah Allen as well. I deserve no credit whatsoever for her efforts on this one!