Friday, May 23, 2014

An Indigo Bunting Makes 110 Species

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. 

We recently reached an exciting milestone on our Bryant Park bird walks: 110 species of birds recorded in the park!  For a sense of perspective, if a pair of each species landed in the park, Noah’s Ark style, and perched in the London Plane trees, there would be a bird in every one of the park’s 220 trees!

Or, put another way, a different species of bird for every person who plays Ping-Pong in the park on an average day.

Not all of these species have been seen on the walks, but we did spot the 110th species on one of our regular walks: a beautiful male Indigo Bunting, who even celebrated with us by singing his bouncing song from his perch high in a London Plane tree.

Photo by Norm Townsend

This was, in other words, the first Indigo Bunting ever recorded in Bryant Park.  That’s not to say they haven’t stopped by there before (they almost certainly have), just that if one did, no one saw it, or the person who did wasn’t aware that this small, bright-blue bird was something unusual, or they kept the sighting to themselves.

How do we track the sightings in the park?  It’s part of the burgeoning movement of Citizen Science, which allows everyday folks to add their observations to a body of scientific data.  There is a website created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society called eBird, where anyone can add their checklists of sightings of birds to a database.  Did you see a bird singing, like our Indigo Bunting?  You can mention that too.  Was it sitting on a nest?  Add that info!

EBird takes all of this data and collates it, creating graphs and charts and maps showing bird abundance by season, by location, and many other variables.  Before eBird, many people felt that certain species were declining, or were showing up in new places, or perhaps were impacted by climate change.  But without a robust data set, it’s hard to track these changes.  Now there are millions of sightings and observations from around the world, submitted by amateur bird watchers.

The day after our Indigo Bunting sighting, Bryant Park had another milestone on eBird: one thousand checklists submitted from Bryant Park!  Many of those may have consisted of pigeons and House Sparrows of course, but among the checklists were the 109 other species seen, many of which fly long distances from wintering grounds in the tropics to breeding grounds upstate or as far as Canada.  Bryant Park is an important resting and feeding oasis for them, and the eBird data reaffirms its importance.

How many more kinds of birds will be found in the park in years to come?  Will the park prove to provide shelter to 120 species?  150?  Ultimately, of course, the number doesn’t matter.  But what we learn about the species’ numbers and movements, and the timing of their migration, could tell us a lot.  So keep your eyes to the treetops, and report your sightings to eBird too!

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