Monday, December 5, 2016

A Closer Look at Midtown's Sparrows: Part II

Over the last few years, we have cultivated a relationship with the NYC Audubon, resulting in biweekly Birding Tours of the park during migration. We've been delighted as our Audubon Guide Gabriel Willow teaches us about the avian life of NYC, and helps us spot some of these magnificent creatures up close. Now Gabriel shares his experiences in the park.

In a previous post, I introduced readers to sparrows, the “little brown jobs” that are ubiquitous in city parks worldwide, including Bryant Park.

The majority of these sparrows are the House Sparrow, a non-native species introduced from Europe. But we also have a number of native, migratory species of sparrow, which although they share a similar name and appearance to the House Sparrow, are unrelated.

At first they may all appear similar. One of the joys of bird-watching (or of any other extended practice of study really) is starting to see or hear with a new attentiveness, and realizing there is more to the world around us than previously perceived. So it is with sparrows: perhaps the most nondescript group of birds, which likely appear uniformly similar to the uninitiated (if they are even noticed at all), but with experience, suddenly one realizes there are numerous species, each distinctive in their own way. It’s exciting, and a good practice for generally noticing more details in our surroundings and everyday lives.

So, here is a quick guide to distinguishing some of these little brown birds.

We’ll start with the most common of all, the House Sparrow. This is the yardstick. You can expect to encounter them almost anywhere you go in the world, at least in areas with human settlement, so it’s good to be able to identify them and use them as a baseline bird to compare others to.

House Sparrows are about 6 inches long. They are highly social birds, usually found in flocks, often around hedges and shrubs. They nest in holes and crevasses in buildings, streetlights, and trees. They are typically tamer than our native sparrow species, having evolved alongside humans for millennia. A great way to observe them would be to head to Bryant Park on your lunch break; as soon as the sparrows spot you and your sandwich, they will likely gather round in search of crumbs.

Their shape differs from our native sparrows: House Sparrows have larger heads, shorter tails, and fuller chests and shorter legs, giving them a stockier, squatter appearance. The males are slightly more colorful than the females. Notice the varied shades of brown and the subtle patterns. The most distinctive markings shared by both males and females are a pair of pale tan stripes, bordered by black, running down their backs, which look like suspenders. They also generally show a bright white wing-bar.

The male House Sparrow typically has a gray crown and underparts, rusty-brown wings, and a rusty stripe behind the eye, as well as a dark mask through the eye and a black throat. The female is nondescript clay-brown in color, with a pale stripe behind the eye. The bill color varies from black (breeding season male) to yellowish (female).

Photo: Creative Commons by Deanne Fortnam.
Perhaps the key “field mark” to identify these birds is not their color or pattern, but their frequent proximity to a scone or bagel!



Ok, so hopefully now you’ve spent some time observing the homely House Sparrow. It’s time to try to spot some of our native, migratory sparrows! They tend to be a bit less bold than the House Sparrows, not having the advantage of thousands of years of co-evolution with humans and cities. In fact, it’s possible that some of the White-throated, Song, or Chipping Sparrows that can be found in Bryant Park during the fall and winter months may have never encountered a human or city before migrating south from the potentially remote, rural land of their birth!

So, our native sparrows are often more reclusive than the House Sparrow. In Bryant Park, they often congregate in the hedgerows on either side of the lawn (or now skating rink), or in the boxwood and yew shrubs in the corners of the park. Sometimes they venture out with their urban brethren to hop under chairs & benches and peck at crumbs however.

Most of our native sparrows are lankier than the House Sparrows, with longer tails, more delicate bills, and longer legs. They are often more boldly striped or spotted as well. They tend to scratch in grass, gravel, or leaf-litter, hopping with both feet and kicking to uncover insects or seeds.

This time of year, the most abundant species by far is the White-throated Sparrow. In fact, they may even outnumber the House Sparrows, although that is hard to ascertain, as they are more skulking in nature. They congregate in loose flocks in the undergrowth, scratching noisily in fallen leaves and calling to one another. Sometimes you may hear their cheerful whistled songs.  They remind me of chipmunks, with their penchant for woodland undergrowth and boldly striped heads.

Their head-stripes are the most distinctive thing about them, along with their namesake white throat-patch. They have bold alternating light and dark stripes down the crown and through the eye. A subtle but distinctive trait is a small yellow spot in front of their eye.

Photo: Creative Commons by Henry T. McLin.
Another fairly common sparrow in Bryant Park is the Song Sparrow. Although it is named for its song, it rarely sings during the fall and winter months that it occurs in Bryant Park. The Song Sparrow stands out with its boldly streaky appearance: its back and belly are both heavily streaked with brown, as if colored with a dark crayon. The streaks on its breast converge into a large spot right in the center.

Photo: Creative Commons by Eric Begin.
A third species that can be found in the park (in small numbers) is the Swamp Sparrow. As its name indicates, it is generally a wetland bird, but one of the wonders of Bryant Park is how unexpected species regularly call it home during migration. The Swamp Sparrow is closely related to the Song Sparrow, but is smaller, shorter-tailed, and more skulking.  The most distinctive thing about it is its overall rich rusty-brown coloration, with little streaking. The head is a contrasting cool blue-gray.  It’s quite a handsome bird if you can catch a glimpse of it!

Photo: Creative Commons by Tom Benson.
A final and distinctive sparrow species that can be found during the late fall and winter months in Bryant Park is the Dark-eyed Junco. Unlike the other sparrows, it is mostly gray rather than brown, and has no streaking. It has a contrasting white belly, and a bubblegum-pink beak. The males are a slate-gray color, and the females are more brownish-gray. They occur in small flocks, scratching in leaf-litter in search of seeds.

Photo: Creative Commons by Henry T. McLin.
There are several other species of sparrow that have been seen in Bryant Park (13 species of native sparrow to date, plus the ever-present House Sparrow of course!). Providing a guide to identifying all of them is beyond the scope of this blog post, but please go to the park and see what you can find! If you sit quietly on a park bench, they will often become accustomed to your presence, and you can observe them closely without even needing binoculars. Observing the subtle differences between these easily overlooked creatures can be almost meditative, and is a great way to hone ones’ powers of observation.

The Bryant Park bird tours have wrapped up for the season, but there’s still much to observe! The tours will return in April; I hope to see many of you then.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Give Thanks at Bryant Park this Thursday

Something else to be thankful for: Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park is open this Thanksgiving, as in previous years. 

You'll find something for all ages and personalities, from tasty snacks to charming gifts to an Olympic-sized skating rink with a festive soundtrack. There's no place as magical as New York City during the holidays, and at Bryant Park we take that to heart. 



Your best bet is entering the park from the north and east. 

When you do arrive at the park, be sure to use entrances along 42nd Street, as those along 6th Avenue and 40th Street will be closed during the Thanksgiving parade. A full map of access restrictions is below. Things will return to normal around noon, after the festivities have passed the park.


Some of the Park's food kiosks, restaurants and shops have special hours or offerings on Thanksgiving. We've summarized them below to help you plan your visit.

The Rink at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park: 8am-10pm
The city's only free-admission, public ice skating rink is open and frozen, so strap on your skates.

The Holiday Shops: 11am-8pm

Although many Shops do choose to stay open on Thanksgiving, it is ultimately up to the individual vendors to decide. For this reason, certain Holiday Shops may close early or close entirely for the day.

Le Carrousel: 12pm-9pm

At just $3 a ride, our carousel is a bargain, and its beautiful hand-painted animals present the perfect photo opportunity for your turkey tots.


Take your little ones for a ride on Le Carrousel this Thanksgiving.
Southwest Porch: 11am-10pm
Grab a hot cider (spiked if you're daring,) order a massive plate of delicious french fries, and catch up with a friend.

Food Kiosks: hours vary by kiosk

Kiosks will open as they can, depending on safety and pedestrian flow. All kiosks will be open at the close of the parade, which should be around noon, so you can count on a warm drink or delicious snack in the afternoon. The Park Shop and Info Kiosk will be open from 10am - 8pm.

Wafels & Dinges and Breads Cafe, on the 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue corner of the park, will open after the parade passes the park (usually around noon).  

Bryant Park Grill: 12pm-9pm

Cooking isn't for everyone. Luckily, the Bryant Park Grill has a special prix fix Thanksgiving menu, including roasted honey pumpkin soup, roasted free range turkey, and deep disk apple pie. Reservations are available at (212) 840-6500.

Public Fare: 8am-10pm

The view of The Rink from Celsius's second floor can't be beat, and the outdoor heaters and affordable menu guarantee a toasty break from shopping or skating.

Remember to scan your Polar Perks card as you proceed through the park so you can earn rewards just for visiting. We hope to see you on Thanksgiving!


Bank of America Winter Village
Daily, 8am - 10pm
Through March 5
#wintervillage

Friday, November 4, 2016

Tis The Season To Start Scanning For Polar Perks Points

Polar Perks, Bank of America Winter Village's loyalty program, returns for its second year. Scan to rack up points and redeem great prizes like cold weather gear (fleece headbands and alpaca throw blankets), Winter Village perks (free skate sharpening and VIP expereineces at signature Winter Village events) and Bryant Park prizes (complimentary rides on Le Carrousel and a Bryant Park bistro chair).

If you didn't participate last year, no worries--enrolling in the program is as easy as one, two, three.

Step One. Download the Belly app on your phone, or pick up one of the cards at the Bryant Park Shop and Info kiosk.
Step Two.  Link the card to your email address to start earning points.
Step Three.  Start scanning! Belly tablets are located at the Bryant Park Shop and Info Kiosk (W26), inside the Skating Pavilion, and at Public Fare. Each scan earns you 5 points, and no purchase is necessary. You can check in one per location per day.

Become a frequent visitor and see the rewards stack up. Happy scanning!

Enroll and start earning points today!

Polar Perks rewards are subject to change. Points earned at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park between October 2016 and March 2017 expire on March 2, 2017 at 11:59 EST. Visitors may scan to earn points once per day at each tablet location. Points are specific to each Belly location, and points used at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park cannot be spent at other Belly locations. Bryant Park Corporation reserves the right to cancel, modify or suspend this program or reward redemptions at any time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Closer Look at Midtown's Sparrows: Part I

Over the last few years, we have cultivated a relationship with the NYC Audubon, resulting in biweekly Birding Tours of the park during migration. We've been delighted as our Audubon Guide Gabriel Willow teaches us about the avian life of NYC, and helps us spot some of these magnificent creatures up close. Now Gabriel shares his experiences in the park.

Among the most familiar of all birds are the little brown ones that hop near our feet, searching for crumbs and seeds. Even most non-birders know that these unassuming creatures are called sparrows. They aren’t as colorful or charismatic as many other species of birds, but they are subtly beautiful and often diverse and abundant, so are worth a closer look!

Sparrows frequent Bryant Park. 
The most familiar and abundant sparrow species around NYC is not even native to our country: House Sparrows (formerly known as English Sparrows) were brought over from Europe in the 1800s. They have been transported worldwide by humans, and are now the most widespread bird in the world, generally associated with human settlement (hence the name House Sparrow). Ironically, they are declining in their native range in Europe, but seem to be maintaining their numbers just fine here in the US.

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) distribution. Dark green = natural range, light green = introduced range.
Here in NYC, there are a number of native species of small, brown, ground-dwelling birds that are also called sparrows, although they are unrelated to the House Sparrow. These species are mostly migratory, and many pass through our area in the fall or overwinter here. Bryant Park is a great place to look for some of these species, and to compare them with the ubiquitous House Sparrows.

At first they can be difficult to distinguish. They are all small and brownish, with conical bills. The resemblance of our native sparrows to the House Sparrow is a great example of what’s known as convergent evolution: when unrelated creatures face similar selective pressures, they evolve similar characteristics. Dolphins resembling fish despite being mammals is a famous example. A streamlined body with fins is one of the best adaptive solutions to living & moving underwater (although there are entirely different evolutionary solutions, such as those of jellyfish or octopi).

In the case of sparrow-like birds, they are mostly ground-feeders that eat seeds. Their thick bills are stronger than those of nectar or insect-eaters, since seeds often have tough hulls. They generally are brownish in color to blend in with fallen leaves or dead grasses, and often have streaks to provide further camouflage, since the ground is a vulnerable place to be (not too many ground-dwelling birds are brightly colored).

Sparrows congregate on seasonal mum displays. 
In their own earth-tone way, sparrows are a handsome group of birds, distinct from one another in shades of brown and tan, and patterns of streaks and stripes. Careful observation is rewarded! They might not catch the eye the way a Northern Cardinal or a Blue Jay does; I think it requires a certain measure of refinement and appreciation of subtlety to appreciate a sparrow.

A good way to begin to pick out the native sparrow species is to spend some time in the morning or on your lunch break observing the sparrows in the park. The House Sparrows should be the most obvious & abundant species; if you are eating a scone or a sandwich, they will often gather near your feet or even hop on your table in search of crumbs. Study them to begin to discern the differences between the more colorful (relatively speaking) males and the nondescript, tan-colored females. Once you are thoroughly familiar with this species, you can begin to notice the native, migratory sparrows, which will more often be hopping around in the hedge rows and flower beds than under the tables (although sometimes they join the House Sparrows in search of bread crumbs).

In part II of this post, I will explore some of the more common native sparrow species that can be found in Bryant Park, and how to tell them apart.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

As One Reading Room Closes, Another Re-opens

From famous authors to Spelling Bees, our 2016 season saw tons of great speakers, workshops, and literary events at the Bryant Park Reading Room. But like every good novel, this story has completed its arc. The Reading Room closed for the season on September 28th.

We were pleased to present more than 100 literary programs at the Reading Room in 2016, including appearances by writers of fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, writings workshops, and programs for children.

Summer Saturdays were filled with stories, music, magic and visits from our favorite literary characters. Comic-Con kids presented an afternoon filled with superheroes, action-adventurers, and graphic novels. Photo: Angelito Jusay
This year, we tapped into the popular culture of crosswords by introducing Coffee & Crosswords, a program that included two workshops filled with valuable tips and advice on solving puzzles, as well as our first-ever crossword tournament. This program was a big hit, and we’re looking forward to bringing it back in 2017.

This year we saw Bryant Park's first ever Crossword Tournament. Solvers competed on three original puzzles by crossword guru Mike Shenk. Photo: Angelito Jusay
While this marks the end of the Reading Room for now, think of this season as an anthology: simply one of many great editions. Keep on the look out for announcements about our indoor Word for Word Winter Poetry lineup as well as details about our 2017 season!

The Reading Room is home to the Park's annual Spelling bee, co-hosted by comedians Olivia Petzy and Kevin James Doyle. Unlike the spelling bees of your youth, these are adult-only affairs with cheeky commentary to boot. Photo: Angelito Jusay

If ever there were a consolation prize, here is it: the Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library has finally re-opened! After shuttering in May of 2014 for much-needed renovations, the iconic Beaux Arts space has finally returned to provide one of the most tranquil public co-working spaces in the city. Keep your eyes peeled for the "Book Train," which whisks material from the Milstein Research Stacks deep below the park.
Make sure to check out NYPL's Reading Room during your next visit to the park!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Know Before You Go: Weekend of October 1 and 2

Bryant Park is the site of the first-ever Roots Picnic NYC, a two-day music festival taking place on October 1 and 2. As this festival makes its first foray into the Big Apple, there are some operational changes we'd like you to be aware of.

If you're not going to the concert...
Sections of the park will be closed to the general public starting Friday at midnight. You can still enjoy a meal at the Bryant Park Cafe or Bryant Park Grill during that time. We expect Wafels & Dinges to be open to the public as well. The Art Cart, on the Fifth Avenue Terrace, will be open from 12:30pm - 6pm. Park operations will return to normal on Monday morning at 7am.

There are still some tickets available for the concert, so click here to purchase if you'd like to attend.

Roots Picnic NYC comes to the park on October 1 and 2. 

If you're joining us for the concert...
Enter the park from Sixth Avenue by our Fountain. Ping pongputting and kubb, and Le Carrousel will be open for your enjoyment. Our food kiosks--Le Pain QuotidienCOFFEED, and Southwest Porch will be open for business; additional pop-up food and drink vendors will be present at the concert also. Outside food and drink are prohibited, as well as smoking in the park and bringing chairs from home. Read a full concert FAQ here.

The forecast currently predicts a chance of rain, so please dress appropriately for the weather. Our lawn will likely get muddy, so take that into consideration!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Square Dance 2016 Raffle Prizes and Rules

Bryant Park Square Dance is not only a fantastic time to try your hand at the Virginia Reel, or to perfect your trick roping technique; it is also the perfect opportunity to try your hand at a game of chance!

We're raffling off a pair of Southwest Air® go-anywhere tickets--yes, you really can choose your destination!--so start thinking of which pardner you'd like to take with you. We also have tons of great prizes from Bryant Park businesses, including the Bryant Park Shop and several of our in-park food kiosks. Did we mention that the raffle entry is free? One entry per person, please.

When you win a raffle prize, you'll be jumping for joy!
Photo: Angelito Jusay Photography.
Entry for the raffles opens at the event start time (6pm on Friday, and 3pm on Saturday), and closes at 7:15pm each day. The Bryant Park prizes will be called on-site at 7:30pm, so make sure you stick around until then. Winners must be present to claim their prize.

The winner of the airline tickets will be randomly chosen on Monday, September 26 and notified by e-mail (valid e-mails only). The winner will have until September 30 at 12pm EST to claim the tickets. If the tickets are not claimed, a different winner will be randomly chosen, and so on, until the tickets are claimed.

Best of luck out there, cowpokes!

Bryant Park Square Dance
Friday, September 23
6pm - 9pm
Saturday, September 24
3pm - 9pm
The Lawn