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The Boreal Owl of Central Park December-January 2004-05

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Bird Notes: We've scheduled a morning Great Horned Owl Walk for Saturday (22 January) at 9:30am at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx (free parking). We will likely (95%) find owls at both sites we will visit, though nothing is ever guaranteed! The trip should last about three hours. See the Schedule page of our web site for more details + info below in this Newsletter. $10/person; little kids are free; cold, clear weather is forecast - but no wind (good).

20 January 2022

Great Horned Owls will soon be nesting, laying eggs anytime from the first week of January through the last week of this month - but usually around 20-25 January. So this Saturday's trip to find two pairs of Great Horned Owls at Pelham Bay Park might be the last one for a while until young start to appear in nests about mid-March - and we start making visits to nest sites. Our advice: join us if you can this Saturday.

For more info on the Great Horned Owls of NYC, see past Newsletters (2021):

(a) City of Great Horned Owls Part 1 and Part Two (click on each)

(b) Observations on the Great Horned Owls of Pelham Bay Park, 17 January 2021: Click

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

Boreal Owl Central Park 20 December 2004 Deborah Allen

In this week's Historical Notes we present (a) an article on the occurrence of the Boreal Owl in Central Park in December 2004-January 2005. What a time that was! People coming from all over the east coast to see the rarest of the eastern owls in a conifer at Tavern on the Green restaurant on the west side of Central Park (approx. 64th street). We also send (b) an email from Dr. Paul Kerlinger on the irruptive tendencies of Boreal Owls and Snowy Owls; and a follow-up from Katy Duffy who banded owls at Cape May NJ: her advice for what is the best call (audio lure) to bring in Boreal Owls; finally (c) some comments from Minnesota birders on how unusual the irruption of owls was in the winter 2004-05, and their interpretation of this (perhaps) once in a lifetime phenomenon.

Red-breasted Mergansers: adult males and first winter males at

Randall's Island/Manhattan on 13 January 2022 by Deborah Allen

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)

1. Sunday, 23 January 2022 at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

2. Saturday, 22 January 2022 at 9:30am (yes 9:30am): Great Horned Owls at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx (anything underlined in the following leads to a web site for directions/info) with much more info for this Owl Trip on our SCHEDULE page.

Meet for Part 1 at 9:30am at the Southern Zone Parking Lot (click on that link!) of Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx (PBPK). More info on this part of the trip can be found on our SCHEDULE page

Exact Address For GPS: Middletown Road & Stadium Avenue, Bronx 10465

Use this for Directions: Click Here

Meet for Part 2 at (approximately) 10:45am at the NORTHEAST CORNER (far left corner) of the Orchard Beach Parking Lot (click). This spot does not have a street address..

Any questions? Email us (click) or give a call: 347-703-5554 (Deborah's cell).


3. Saturday, 29 January 2022 at 9:30am: TBA

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

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

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

American Woodcock (female) on Randall's Island/Manhattan

16 January 2022 by 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.

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

Hermit Thrush in Central Park on 16 January 2022 by Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

16 January (Sunday) meeting at 9:30am the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe and then at 4:30pm for Great Horned Owls at Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan. There are no two ways about it. It was (a) cold and (b) there were not many birds. I could tell the latter because every time I turned around fewer people were still with the group. But there were highlights like oases in the desert: a lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Belvedere; a couple of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers...and a Cooper's Hawk sitting right above us in the Maintenance Field. Otherwise Deborah has warmer words for this weekend than I do...Almost forgot! We did get the lone Great Horned Owl at Inwood Hill park. Using calls from my speaker we determined it was a male. I played some higher pitched hoots of a female for comparison - and we were able to watch this owl fly back and forth over our heads a few times. By 515pm we left...not so frozen since the temperature had climbed to a balmy 34f. The Great Horned Owl continued to hoot - looking for a female mate.

Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Sunday 16 January 2022: Click Here

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

Downy Woodpecker Central Pk 16 Jan '22 Deborah Allen



Peter W. Post in the Kingbird 55(2): 102-106 (April-June 2005)

Abstract. A Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus) was discovered by James Demes in Central Park during the Lower Hudson Valley Christmas Bird Count on 19 December 2004. The Boreal Owl was seen daily in the vicinity of the Tavern on the Green restaurant from 19 December 2004 through 14 January 2005, except for three nonconsecutive days when it could not be found. Seen by more than a thousand people and copiously documented, this represents just the second record for this species from Region 10 (New York City and Long Island).

At the Central Park Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which is a part of the Lower Hudson Valley CBC, held on 19 December 2004, no one wanted to bird the southwest section because it is the most built-up and least productive. No one ever sees any good birds there. Nonetheless, James Demes volunteered to bird that section. At the luncheon tally, Jim reported that he had seen a Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus). He said the bird was fairly well exposed and about 10 feet above the ground in a small Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) at the Tavern on the Green restaurant. After lunch, anxious to see if the bird was photographable, I returned to the site with Jim and several other birders. We found the bird facing away, hunched up and huddled against the hemlocks main trunk. The first thing I noticed was the large head and overall size, which told me it was not a Saw-whet Owl. But what was it? Several minutes later, after getting a look at the horn colored bill, black border of the facial discs, and fine white spots on the forehead I realized that it was a Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus)! One of the most sought-after of New York States owls. A birder s dream.

Boreal Owl in Wyoming January 2010

I immediately called Lloyd Spitalnik, one of the CBC participants, via a borrowed cell phone, and told him to get your @*#$ over here right away. He was almost home when he received my phone call. Luckily the person driving him home understood the urgency of the situation and drove him back to the park. Fearing that the bird might prove to be a one-day wonder, Lloyd called as many of the active Central Park birders as he could reach. Some 20 birders got to see/photograph the bird before nightfall.

The next morning the Boreal Owl was relocated perched in the open about 20 feet above the ground in a Norway Spruce (Picea abies) about 250 feet from the hemlock where it was seen the day before. It moved every few days between these two trees and an ornamental holly (Ilex sp.). One day it perched on grape vines (Vitis sp.) on the side of the restaurant. The latter two locations are within a few yards of the hemlock in which the bird was originally found. The only time it was not seen in the immediate vicinity of the Tavern on the Green, it appeared about a quarter of a mile away in an Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra). The Boreal Owl was seen daily from 19 December 2004 though 14 January 2005, except for three non-consecutive days when it could not be found.

Judging from its relatively large size, the bird appeared to be a female, which is consistent with the fact that females rather than males tend to wander (Cheveau et al. 2004). During its stay the Boreal Owl was seen eating a young Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus) and was reported to have been seen hunting young rats around the restaurant at night. The pellets that were recovered contain rodent remains that have yet to be identified. However, the only other small rodent species known to occur in Central Park are House Mouse (Mus musculus) and White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus).

During the entire time the Boreal Owl was present, either Lloyd, myself, or both of us, spent considerable time monitoring the bird. People were generally well behaved and there was only one known incident of someone who jumped the fence that surrounded the spruce tree to get a better look. We estimate that between 1,000 and 1,500 people saw the owl. To our knowledge, the farthest anyone traveled to see the owl was a gentleman from California who used his relatives in New York as an excuse to see the bird.

Other New York State Records. A very rare vagrant to New York State (D Anna 1998), the Boreal Owl is especially rare in the southeastern part of the state. There are only two previous verified records from the New York City area (including northern New Jersey), both specimens: one struck a building at the Raritan Arsenal, near Bonhamtown, Middlesex County, NJ on 1 November 1962 (Bull 1964); and one was found dead at Cedar Beach, Suffolk County, Long Island on 15 January 1975 (Feustel 1975). A 12 February 1951 record from Croton Point, Westchester Co., observed for one hour at fifty feet by John Mayer and George Rose was rejected by Bull (1964, 1974) on the basis that no one else was informed about it until too late and thus no confirmation was possible. Unfortunately, although Mayer was well known for his superior birding skills, both he and Rose were loners who seldom reported the birds they saw, although they were responsible for some major finds that were later verified by others. These are among the southernmost known occurrences of the Boreal Owl in the northeastern United States.

There are more than two dozen Boreal Owl records from New York State, including several specimens and photographed individuals. Most records are from the Adirondacks and vicinity and the Lake Ontario Plain in Monroe and Oswego counties (Yunick 1979, D Anna 1998). At least four other Boreal Owls, besides the one in Central Park, were reported from New York State during the winter of 2004/05. The first of these was a bird found by Brett Ewald on the 18 December Wilson Lake Plains CBC at Wilson-Tuscarawas State Park, Niagara County. Seen by many observers it could not be found the following day (Mike Morgante, Willie D Anna, via e-mail). A second bird found by Marg Partridge on her property in the town of Wilson, Niagara County, on 23 January stayed until nearly mid-March (Mike Morgante, Willie D Anna, via e-mail). Although the latter two locations are about three miles apart it is believed that these were not the same bird (D Anna, via e-mail). David Tetlow found another Boreal Owl on 30 December at the Braddock Bay Wildlife Management Area, Monroe County. Subsequently seen by a number of other observers it only stayed through the following day (Kevin Griffith, via e-mail). A Boreal Owl heard a few nights later very near where this bird had been seen was probably the same individual (Willie D Anna, via e-mail). A fourth Boreal Owl was found stunned on a patio in the village of Hilto, Town of Parma, Monroe County and reportedly photographed, but no other details are currently available (Kevin Griffith, via e-mail).

Southward Irruptions of Northern Owls. The largest documented irruption of Great Gray Owls (Strix nebulosa), Northern Hawk Owls (Surnia ulula), and Boreal Owls ever recorded took place in the mid-West this past winter. More than 400 Boreal Owls were recorded in Minnesota as of 21 February 2005 compared to only one recorded the previous winter (Alt 2005). The full extent of this invasion in eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. has yet to be assessed. Cheveau et al. (2004) showed that Boreal Owls periodically irrupt southward at 4-year intervals that are significantly correlated with low population densities of Red-backed Voles (Clethrionomys gapperi), their main food source. Although southward incursions of Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls are correlated with those of Boreal Owls, the irruptions of the former two species are neither as strong nor as regular as are those of Boreal Owls. Cheveau et al. (2004) hypothesize that this is due to the larger size of Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls, which allows them to access a wider size range of prey species than Boreal Owls, and to these owls preference for open habitats in which population fluctuations of small mammals are less extreme than those of Red-backed Voles.

Boreal Owl in Wyoming January 2010

Observations on Migratory Owls: Boreals and Snowy Owls

From: "Paul Kerlinger PhD" To: Bob DeCandido Sent: 27 December 2004 Subject: Boreal Owl

Bob - Another way of viewing the larger number of boreal owls that are migrating this year is not to rely soley on the dearth of mictrotines and other small rodents, but to view it as an abundance of owls following a peak of small rodent abundance. This is a chicken and the egg type of reasoning, but without the peak, you can't have the valley in rodent (and owl) populations. Also, think about this nomadic owl (like snowy owls) leaving an area in winter and where it will go the next spring. If there is a crash in rodent populations at the nesting area in winter, there certainly won't be enough to eat there (and definitely not enough to breed) come spring. So, the migration is only a part of a dispersal pattern away from areas where there is little food and preps these birds for finding areas where there is enough food to nest the following spring. Remember, nomadism is simply a continuous search for food in a fluctuating environment. Philopatry in this case means starving, so why be philopatric? I'm not lecturing you, so don't yell at me for sounding patronizing or condescending. While studying snowy owls, I took shit for not going along with the old arguments. The Europeans say alot about Tengmalm's owl being nomadic, and they also say something about snowy's as being nomadic. My studies of snowys show they are more migratory than people realize, it is just that they migrate to places where birders don't normally hang out (like the wheat fields of Alberta and Saskatchewan). I suggest that boreal owls also migrate more than people realize, but are in places where there aren't birders! Great stuff on the banding stations and what's going on in other parts of the world. No wonder the New York birders are a bit miffed at you. You threaten them by showing that we live in a big world - one with borders that extend beyond Central Park and the Hudson River. Paul


From: "Robert DeCandido, PhD" <> To: Email List Sent: Monday, December 27, 2004 Subject: Boreal Owl Calling All Owls, Thanks to our own J. Arthur LeMoine (and Eve Levine), the Boreal Owl was found again (Sunday, December 26th), after managing to elude the birders for 24 hours or so in Central Park. Last night, I watched the Boreal Owl fly out from its roost. That was nice, since I was the only person there shivering in the northerly winds. The owl spent a considerable amount of time looking down at small rodents that I could only hear running in the dry leaves. It is amazing how active/alert this owl became after dark, turning its head in all directions, but ignoring me. In Europe and Asia, the owl is called Tengmalm's Owl. I sent an email to my friend Misha Markovits (whom we banded birds with in Eilat, Israel). Misha works for the banding station near St. Petersburg, Russia, perhaps the largest banding operation in the world. In that part of Russia, the Boreal Owl is not an uncommon migrant (along with Long-eared Owls and a few other owl species). If I hear any info from him, I will pass it along. Further east, Martin Williams never found this owl in the area of Beidaihe, China as part of his wonderful study of migrating birds from 1986-1990 in that country/place. Below is some info about Boreal Owls from Katy Duffy who has been banding migrating owls at Cape May for the last 24 years or so. (And note: I am not advocating capturing the Central Park Boreal Owl to band it. though it would be nice to know if it was a male or female and what age class.) The owl looks like a male to me (about the size of a Saw-whet), since it looks small when you see it at eye-level. (Females are significantly larger than males, on average.) In some of the literature I have been able to read through, the current thinking is that females and immatures migrate further south than males. Much research has been done on this owl in Europe (and probably Russia too except that the language barrier prevents most of that work from reaching the west). In Europe this owl species mostly stays within the summer breeding range year-round in the coniferous forest though they will migrate south in large number when food (red-backed voles and small birds) is in short supply. If you recall, I sent an email several weeks ago from midwest bird banders who were happily banding large numbers of Boreal Owls this year. By comparison, owl banders in eastern Canada were not seeing an unusual number of Boreals this year... We have an owl walk at 7pm on Wednesday meeting at the Boathouse. If anyone is interested in going earlier (say meeting at 5pm at the Boathouse) in order to see the owl fly out, let me know. I will see what can be done. The Boreal Owl part of the walk will be free as it was last week for the 20 or so people who turned up. Let me know if you are interested in watching the Boreal Owl fly out. If there is enough interest, I will plan on arriving early. I will also have to make sure we can track down the owl during the day in order to go see it fly out after dusk. Lots of ifs, but something most everyone should see at least once. ------------------ Date: Sunday, 26 Dec 2004 From: Katy Duffy Subject: RE: Boreal owl calls In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we trapped several boreal owls during the breeding season in Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming. These owls were fitted with radio transmitters. To capture the Boreals, we used an audio lure set within a V of mist nets using our ski poles/avalanche probes as mist net poles because there was always snow on the ground in April and early May. The audio lure was usually a loop tape of the Peterson version of a male's territorial call (the advertisement call, also called the staccato vocalization), the one that sounds like the winnowing of a snipe. Our partner in this project asked us to use the National Geographic version at one trap set. The results were really weird: it was the only time a female responded and we never caught the male. One of the people helping us that night was Eric Stone who did his Ph.D. on magpie vocalizations. Eric is also a professional musician with incredible ears. He said the NGS tape had calls from at least three different males. The rest of us couldn't tell the males apart, but Eric could and, of course, so could the targeted boreal owl.

The moral is: whatever recording you use, make sure it contains calls from just one male. Katy Duffy and Patrick Matheny


Boreal Owl Info - Minnesota (+ other owls too) 4 January 2005

This info comes from a Minnesota bird list. A former New Yorker (Frank Nicoletti) is banding more owls (Boreal Owls and Great Grey Owls) than anyone since 1991-92.

"The winter of 2004-05 is the winter of Owls in Minnesota. The first date for Great Gray Owl sightings called into the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union (MOU) Rare Bird Alert was 17 August. There were a total of three August records, one September record, and several more in the first week of October. We cannot tell if these were resident birds.

First report of Northern Hawk Owl was 3 October. This is not assumed to be a resident bird. The first Boreal was banded on 17 October. Frank Nicoletti and Bill Lane were banding Boreal Owls along Lake Superior's north shore this fall and began getting them in large numbers, with more than 300 banded since October. The majority of netted birds were healthy, not underweight, and female. This leads to conjecture that this may be, at least in part, a natural dispersal of females and not due to the result of stress from dwindling food supplies. The male Boreal typically holds to his breeding territory until stress induces him to move.

A thick hard layer of ice or a crash in the Red-backed Vole population - their primary food source - often results in a Boreal Owl invasion year. Banding has been intensive this year, so perhaps the influx of Boreals in good condition is not so exceptional.

Boreal Owls were still very hard to find away from the banding nets as of New Year's Day 2005. They are one of the most nocturnal of owls, and Steve Wilson, DNR wildlife specialist, notes that Boreals not yet found hunting in daylight suggests we have not yet stressed birds.

In November, large numbers of northern owls began being seen hunting along roads in central St. Louis County, especially in the Sax-Zim Bog (click) area. Elements contributing to stress can be different among Great Gray Owls (GGOW), Northern Hawk Owls (NHOW), and Boreal Owls (BOOW).

GGOW and NHOW use microtine voles as the majority of their diet - primarily Meadow Voles. When these rodent populations crash, this exerts stress on the owls. Dr. James Duncan of Winnipeg has monitored small mammal populations in the Roseau Bog area of northwestern Minnesota since 1986. The populations in the fall of 2004 were the lowest recorded since 1992. Not coincidentally, in the winter of 1991-92 what was then a record number 196 Great Gray Owls and a record 142 Northern Hawk Owls were reported in Minnesota. In that same winter, only three Boreal Owls were noted.

A similar invasion appears to be happening this year. Meadow Voles breed throughout the winter while tunneling under the snow. They can breed at two months of age, and with an adequate food supply and proper habitat their numbers can explode. Red-backed Voles do not normally reproduce in the winter, and prosper under a forest canopy which prevents the snow from forming a hard crust. Boreals are reported to have an affinity for sheds and woodpiles, both great habitat for Red-backed Voles, Deer Mice, and White-footed Mice.

There have been over 1,300 reports of GGOW, 200 NHOW, and 300 BOOW in Minnesota this season. This compares to last year's more typical numbers of 35 GGOW, 6 NHOW, and 1 BOOW. This is indeed a banner year. Without the banding, we may never have known the magnitude of Boreal Owl movements this year.

We are all waiting to see what comes of this. How far south will each species travel? Pine County and Aitkin County, about 70 miles south of Duluth, each have areas where GGOW and NHOW are often seen each winter.

These great birds are now spread throughout the northern half of the state of Minnesota. Sax-Zim was where the large numbers were first discovered, but they have dispersed and are being seen elsewhere as well. The numbers of birders driving and stopping on the roads, using scopes and cameras in front of local residents' homes, has created stress on the good people who live in this part of the state. If you get a chance to visit, please come, but hook up with a guide or a member of the MOU to find where to go.

Mark Alt

President, Minnesota Ornithologists' Union (MOU)

Brooklyn Center, MN


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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

Snow Goose at the Reservoir of Central Park Central Park 16 Jan 2022 Deborah Allen

[below] Central Park North Meadow Ball Fields on 7 January 2011

[below] The Bronx on 21 March 2015

[below] Central Park (The Lake) looking south towards Bethesda Terrace on 21 March 2015


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