top of page

NYC Cardinals, Chocolate Snow and the Weather, the Weather

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Northern Cardinal in Central Park on 29 March 2013 by D Allen

20 January 2021

Bird Notes: With this issue we move to bi-weekly publication until the spring - unless something special turns up in our area. Sunday walks at 9:30am in Central Park continue throughout the year. Owl walks again in February-March.

Everyone's favorite image of a Cardinal is with snow falling and holly berries in the background. Why is it then that many birders still think of the Cardinal as a more southern species that has only recently made its way north to nest in NYC and environs - as the climate has warmed? Below we present several historical accounts of Cardinals in NYC starting in 1867 and continuing through 1914. Cardinals bred regularly here, even in Central Park and Prospect Park (Brooklyn), in the mid- to late 19th century. Cardinals then went into decline in NYC (ca. 1900-1960) though no has come up with reasonable explanations why...Nonetheless, observations from birders in much of the 19th century show the Cardinal doing just fine in NYC and surviving cold winters.

Female Northern Cardinal

On the other hand, two of the warmest years on record for NYC have occurred in the last decade: the warmest (2012) and a close second (2020). We reprint Rob Frydlewicz's article from The New York City Weather Archive on NYC weather of 2020 detailing the warmest November on record, and the fifth hottest summer on record. Links to his wonderful blog, and NYC-centric weather articles, are also provided below. What bird species might be indicators of the warming trend of the last several years?

Northern Cardinal along the Bronx River by Deborah Allen on 28 April 2005

Bird Walks for Late January 2021

All Walks @ $10/person

1. Sunday, 24 January at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10

2. Sunday, 31 January at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10

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

Barred Owl in Central Park (Shakespeare Garden) on 17 January 2021 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 ( 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.

Great Horned Owl pair (smaller male on the left) at Pelham Bay Park (the Bronx)

by Deborah Allen on 14 January 2021

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights):

Sunday, 17 January 2021 (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. A fine morning of feeding birds by hand - though the Tufted Titmice were a bit slow today...but the adults and kids enjoyed it all. We found two Barred Owls this morning, and we are predicting there will be a nesting pair this year! And finally, the White-fronted Goose (from Greenland, which is north of Iceland) was on the Reservoir for all to see. Throw in some Red-tailed Hawks and a Cooper' a dive-bombing Red-bellied Woodpecker...we had fun.

Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 17 January:

OWL WALK Sunday night (17 January at 4:00pm) for Great Horned Owls (Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx): it is tough for a large group of people to be quiet, patient and still - this is NYC after all and we are accustomed to events happening quickly and again and again. So we watched a Great Horned Owl at close range, and then moved away hoping its mate would arrive...but no luck on that account...which leads me to believe that this pair of Great Horned Owls are nesting. Deborah and I watched this pair copulating just two nights before, so we are optimistic about young appearing here in March.

Great Horned Owl (adult female) in the Bronx, 14 January 2021 by Deborah Allen


Cardinalis virginianus. Cardinal Redbird [1867]. A male specimen was taken on Manhattan Island in February, 1867, by Mr. George Bird Grinnell, it having alighted near his house during a snow-storm, and on October 12, 1874, I saw a pair at Riverdale, where I also observed a male on June 8, 1872. Mr. Akhurst tells me that on Long Island one or more of these birds are taken almost every year, and further states that he has often found them about Sandy Hook, and knew of a pair breeding years ago near Jersey City.

E.P. Bicknell


Cardinal Redbird Winters in New York [1882]. In your issue of 26 April 1882, Mr. Geo. B. Badger records the notice of a female cardinal grosbeak (C. virginianus) in Central Park on April 16, under the title "Birds That Have Come,'' and states he is surprised by the occurrence.

We saw redbirds in the park until December, and one was noted on the 13th of that month. Then I feared that the severity of the present winter ('80-81) had driven them southward, for in my two following walks I saw none. But on January 12, while in the park with Dr. Wendell Prime, we heard the cardinal's note, and a moment after we obtained a full view of a fine male, as it flew across an open space. During the past winter I have visited the park on an average oftener than once a fortnight, and with one exception, have noticed the redbirds each time. If I had remained longer in the park, and looked for them at all carefully, I am very certain they would have been found then, for a little active searching has never failed to reveal them.

In the New York Observer of March 10, 1881, Dr. E. A. Mearns, of Highland Falls, N. Y., says of this species "It is a permanent resident in the park where it breeds, building its nests in thickets beside the water, where a number of old nests are to be seen. Its note is a sharp, metallic chip, resembling that of several other sparrows, but sharp and clear, like the note of a water thrush."

In the early part of last May [1881] while rambling through Central Park with Mr. Horace Barnard, Jr., my attention was attracted to a little grove by a spirited chirping. We soon discovered two beautiful males of this species, with crests erect, and tails and wings spread, in full fight. After a desperate contest one was worsted and flew away; and it was only then that we noticed the pretty but less brilliant female which had been a silent spectator of the strife. After a little love-making these two disappeared in some bushes by short, jerky flights, plainly showing that they had discovered us. Later in the same month we again noticed these birds—perhaps the identical pair—nest-building, not far from the scene of action. During the following days I watched this bright couple very often, but further observations were stopped by my leaving town.

Louis A. Zerega.

111 East Seventy-second street, New York, May 1, 1882.

[Many years ago we saw this species in New York city in the month of January, but had, until recently, supposed their occurrence here at that season to be wholly fortuitous. It is extremely interesting to have it established that these birds winter regularly in Central Park.]


The appearance of a cardinal redbird, C. virginianus, in Central Park, 16 April 1882, as noted by Mr. George B, Badger, I do not think at all strange, if reference is made to it as an early arrival. I have known the bird to remain in Pennsylvania all winter, indeed, quite near to Philadelphia, and have trapped it when snow was on the ground in February.

The coming of the scarlet tanager he mentions as seeing the same date, is considerably in advance of the usual time, of its arrival with us in Pennsylvania, I begin to look for him in ordinary seasons about May 1, and have found the orioles and the tanager to show themselves at nearly the same time. — Man. Philadelphia, Pa.

Northern Cardinal along the Bronx River by Deborah Allen on 28 April 2005

The Cardinal Grosbeak breeding in Brooklyn, N. Y. On 8 June 1884, I found Cardinalis virginianus breeding in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The nest, which contained three eggs, was very loosely constructed, principally of the long, slender leaves of various aquatic plants, and was suspended in a mass of vines drooping over the bed of a small brook.

E. T. Adney, 29 West 30th St., New York City


CARDINAL GROSBEAK IN NEW YORK IN WINTER [1888]. On Tuesday, Jan. 17, I saw on 156th street, near Eleventh avenue, a young male Cardinalis virginianus. The species is not uncommon in Central Park in summer, and has been reported more than once as occurring in winter; but the circumstance is perhaps sufficiently unusual to warrant this brief mention. G. B. G. (New York, Jan. 20, 1888).


Cardinalis cardinalis cardinalis. CARDINAL [1912]. Of late years very rare. A male in the cedar grove at Sheepshead Bay observed by Messrs. C. R. Rogers, and G. E. Hix, January 1, 1912, is the only recent occurrence of which we are cognizant.


Prospect Park Notes [1914]

I wish to report the presence of a male Cardinal in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. As far as I can learn this is the first record since 1902. According to Braislin's 'Birds of Long Island,' the Cardinal was formerly common in this section and bred in Prospect Park in 1884. It is now very rare here. The bird was seen by me on May 2, 1914, on the large peninsula near the lake. A few days later it was observed by Miss Kumpf of the Brooklyn Bird Club. There was a rather unusual migratory wave on May 2, which brought many Warblers before their usual time. A male Cape May on that date seems to be an early record. At the same time five Brown Creepers were observed, a rather large number for so late in the season.

Edward Fleischer, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Tufted Titmouse in Central Park on 17 January 2021

Until recently (1960) the Tufted Titmouse was a more southern species

A Review of 2020's Weather - New York's Second Warmest Year

Rob Frydlewicz / The New York City Weather Archive:

2020 was 2.4 degrees above average and became New York's second mildest year, behind 2012. Only two months during the year, April and May, were chillier than average. November became the mildest on record, July the seventh hottest, and February and March each became the eighth mildest. January finished just outside the top 10, ranking eleventh, and June made it to sixteenth. The summer was the fifth hottest (tied with 1983). Despite 2020's warmer than average theme, there were some moments of chilliness worth noting:

April had no highs in the 70s or 80s for the first time in 80 years.

For the first time since 1978, May had readings in the 30s, and the low of 34F on the 8th was the coldest reading in May since 1891.

The year's last reading of 80F or warmer was on Sept. 10, which was the earliest of any year with 20 or more days with highs of 90F+. A typical 90s/100s season lasts about three months (late May through late August), but in 2020 it was two months long (late June through late August). However, the number of days in the 90s in 2020 was slightly more than average (20 days).

Later in September, the low of 49F on Sept. 21 was the earliest for a low in the 40s since 1993.

Halloween had its first low of 32F or colder since 1988.


The first half of the year was dry as the 16.15" measured was eight inches below average (the seventeenth driest first half on record). The second half, however, had nearly twice as much precipitation, with 29.20" measured (three-and-a-half inches above average). May and June both had less than two inches of rain, the first time since 1993 that these months were this dry. Overall, 2020 had 45.35" of precipitation, 4.59" below average.

Jan. 10 and 11 had record highs of 69F and 68F, respectively. Meanwhile, chilly April's warmest reading was 68F, the first time since 1940 that April's mildest reading wasn't 70F or warmer.

The winter of 2020's last measurable snowfall was on Jan. 18, the earliest date on record for a last snowfall (breaking 2002's record by one day). At the end of the year December's snowstorm produced more than twice as much as the previous winter.

Four tropical systems moved through the area. The year's biggest rainmaker was from the first, tropical storm Fay, on July 10, which produced 2.54" of rain, most of it falling in a three-hour period during the afternoon. While Fay brought the rain, tropical storm Isaias on Aug. 4 delivered ferocious winds, with 65-75 mph gusts common outside of Central Park (which had a peak gust of 48 mph).

July's coolest reading of 67F was the mildest coolest reading of any July. Furthermore, July 2020 had the most lows in the 70s or warmer of any month (26). This helped July become just the seventh to have an average temperature of 80F or above.

November had its first streak of six days with highs in the 70s (Nov. 6-11). Later in the month, Thanksgiving Day's high of 65F tied for third warmest, and its low of 55F was mildest ever on this holiday. The 0.79" of rain in the morning was the seventh greatest amount for Thanksgiving.

The 10.5" snowstorm of Dec. 16-17 was the biggest December snowfall in 10 years and the 13th during the month of 10 inches or more. And at 1.7 degrees above average, December 2020 was the second mildest to have more than ten inches of snow.

An intense storm system on Christmas Day morning dumped the third greatest amount of precipitation on the holiday (0.92"). The day's high of 61F was the eighth reading in the 60s on the holiday. The temperature dropped 32 degrees by midnight, which was the biggest daily drop in temperature all year. 2020 became just the second year (2015 is the other) to have highs in the 60s on Christmas Day (61F), Thanksgiving Day (65F) and Easter Sunday (63F).

Finally, the temperature profiles of 2020's first and last month were nearly identical. However, December had more than twice the amount of precipitation than January and nearly five times as much snowfall. Despite their similar temperatures January's was much more above average.


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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

Central Park Lake on 16 February 2014

Happy New Year and

thank You Doug Leffler for this video


bottom of page