The Pigeons of New York

I made reference in my post about Mourning Doves that my family has a strong affinity for pigeons. I know that this is an attachment that is not shared by most of my fellow humans, especially not most of the urbanites among you. In that same post I complained that I didn’t often have the opportunity to photograph pigeons in my own neighborhood. Over the summer I decided to rectify that situation with a trip to the best pigeon watching ground in my area, New York’s Central Park.

One of the great things about urban pigeon populations is the variety of colors and plumage styles. Most cities, including New York, have pigeon racing clubs. The pedigree pigeons sometimes do more than just fly home when they are released for a race. The evidence of their romantic dalliances can be seen in the more exotic white and brown plumage one sees mixed among the gray native populations of Rock Pigeons.

Love was definitely in the air on this particular summer day as I was able to observe at least two males attempt to incite a lady pigeon, really any lady pigeon. One was a darker blue-gray, while the second male had more of the traditional light gray Rock Pigeon coloring. Their flirtatious behavior can at quick glance be confused with their normal head bobbing walk. However, courtship is accompanied with the male spreading his tail feathers, puffing up his chest and walking mostly in circles around or at the female. Sometimes those circles are rather tight, giving the impression that the male pigeon is engaged in a game of hokey-pokey, and keeps turning himself around.

Both of the males I observed were in hot pursuit of ladies who seemed distinctly uninterested. The males didn’t seem to be bothered by the lack of interest or consent, probably confident that their charms would win out in the end. At times their actions were akin to those of a pantomime villain, lurking just behind the female waiting for the opportunity to pounce!

Central Park, New York City

As someone who is not a resident of an urban jungle, I often underestimate the quality of nature watching available in big cities. Sure they don’t have bears and bobcats (or at least we hope not) but they often provide more thrills than you were expecting.

To that end, I am willing to admit that I often don’t give Central Park in New York the credit it deserves as a wildlife habitat. When Fredrick Law Olmstead started work on the park in the late 1850s, who knows what animals he foresaw (if any) making a home among its trees and meadows. Expected or not, they found their way there and they are staying.

Beyond the squirrels, pigeons, and the carriage horses, Central Park is home to many of the same birds we see in the suburban parks of New Jersey and New York. In fact, according to the Central Park website, there are 230 different birds that spend time in Central Park throughout the year. Canada Geese and House Sparrows are a given, as are Starlings, Blue Jays and Cardinals.

However, if you luck out, you might spot a Heron or and Egret in one of the many ponds or lakes around the park. One warmer December day, while having a drink outside at the Loeb Boathouse, located not far from the Bethesda Fountain, we noticed a juvenile Great Blue Heron, fishing off one of the overturned rowboats.

On more than one occasion we have also been lucky enough to see a bird of prey in Central Park. Last Autumn we were wandering among the paths and we noticed a good deal of fluttering. We looked up at the tree in front of us to see a Red Tailed Hawk, who had just caught himself lunch, a lovely squirrel, which he proceeded to eat while we watched. First taking dainty bites, he very quickly decided to swallow the rest in one go.

Central Park, it really is a jungle…who knew? For an interactive map of Central Park and more information about the park and all it has to offer, visit http://www.centralparknyc.org