Weekly Wings and Migration Madness are part of a seasonal series. To see past entries, click here!
Fellow New Yorkers, take note: we are on the verge of a population explosion.
Over the next few months, hundreds of thousands of visitors will cross our state line, some taking up residence here through the end of the summer, others just doing a bit of sightseeing before heading on to more northerly locales.
Yes, spring bird migration is finally is upon us.
Despite the acres of asphalt and miles of traffic, New York City is actually a tremendous place to observe migratory birds. Our prime location in the Atlantic Flyway means that hundreds of species pass over us every spring and fall.
And while the dense urban development makes finding safe, suitable habitat challenging for our feathered friends, it also means that the small squares of green space in our city become concentrated islands of bird diversity as they seek out food, water, and resting places.
From Central Park in Manhattan to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx to Forest Park in Queens and Conference House Park in Staten Island, the five boroughs each contain prime birding locations.
In fact, migration season often sees an influx of human travelers too, as birding enthusiasts come from all over the world to spot rare species in the Big Apple.
A Hidden Layer
And yet, it’s startlingly easy to live in New York City without ever noticing the hundreds of thousands of birds that pass through each spring and fall.
That’s why we’re excited to announce a weekly migratory bird column here on NYER. With a few tips, the right equipment, and a small amount of basic knowledge, anyone can become an amateur avian enthusiast.
Spring is a fantastic time to start your new hobby. The birds are in full breeding plumage as they pass through New York, making identification a little easier, and the timeframe is a bit more compressed when compared to fall.
While the migratory traffic will truly peak in mid-May, things have already gotten started—not even the lengthy winter and lingering cold can postpone this natural phenomenon.
The Weekly Wings: American Woodcock
Our inaugural migratory bird profile is the American Woodcock. Appropriately, the woodcock is one of the first migrants to make an appearance in New York, arriving as early as February, even when snow is still on the ground.
It’s also a pretty charming little creature (affectionately called a Timberdoodle) with a silly walk, and if you’re able to spot one and hear its call, you’ll understand why we chose it!
A rotund bird about the size of a dove, the woodcock has a bill that looks too big for its body, and eyes that are set high on the back of the head, enabling it to see all around—even behind itself. Its long bill has a flexible tip specially adapted for probing into moist soil in search of earthworms. It can eat its weight in worms each day!
The woodcock’s mottled brown and black body enables it to blend in with the forest floor. As such, they can be difficult to spot and will often startle you if you walk by them. When they are found resting, however, they usually stay in place unless approached very closely.
Each spring, male woodcock perform an unusual courtship ritual in an attempt to attract mates. At dusk, a male will sit on the ground in an opening or small field and repeatedly utter a low, nasal ‘peent.’ He then takes off and spirals upward on whistling wings to heights of 100-200 feet before spiraling back down and landing near where he took off. He makes a chirping sound during this downward spiral. Males repeat this act again and again until well after dark.
Birders have spotted woodcocks across NYC already this year, including in Central Park, Prospect Park, and Greenwood Cemetery. Let us know if you see one!