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Spring Birding in Washington Square Park

With fall migration underway in New York City, I thought I'd look back at the spring birds Washington Square Park Eco Projects observed during wildlife surveys between 2017 and 2018. 

Believe it or not, fall migrants are in NYC. I first became aware that migration season had launched when Heather Wolf posted a photo of a Yellow Warbler in Brooklyn Bridge Park on August 6. Then WNYC interviewed Purbita Saha of National Audubon this week for a segment about fall migration. From the WNYC episode I learned that 10 species of warbler (!) have already been seen in Central Park. Eco Projects hasn't spotted any migrants making the southward trek yet but I've got spring data to share with you, specifically, Spring (March to May) 2017 and Spring 2018.

The birds we saw on our official survey walks in both Spring 2017 and Spring 2018 are:

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Mourning Dove
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • American Robin
  • European Starling
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • House Sparrow

The Red-tailed Hawks were more successful in breeding and fledging this year.

Birds we saw on our official survey walks in Spring 2017 but not in Spring 2018 are Kentucky Warbler, Downy Woodpecker, Swainson's Thrush, and Gray Catbird. The Kentucky Warbler sighting in Washington Square Park in 2017 was very special! It is important to note that Swainson's Thrush and Gray Catbird were observed in the park in Spring 2018, but they were not observed during our survey transect walks. Similarly, birds seen during our Spring 2018 season that were absent from our Spring 2017 season were observed during non-survey transect walks. View the eBird Washington Square Park Hotspot Map for details.

When I prepared the lists I was immediately struck by there difference in species richness between this spring and last. There is almost a 40% increase between the two years. I wondered what could account for the difference. Then I counted the number of checklists we submitted to eBird during each season. We surveyed the park five times in 2017 and ten times in 2018. This is a doubling of the number of times we were in the park looking for birds. The greatest contributing factor to the disparity in richness between the spring season in 2017 and 2018 is the number of survey walks we conducted.

Related Link: Bird Species Diversity in New York City Parks

Let's ignore the difference in the number of survey walks in each year, and assume there was truly more species in the park in 2018. An element that often plays a role in the richness of (native) species is the presence of native vegetation. More native vegetation and greater structural diversity supports higher species richness (Chase and Walsh 2006). However, neither the native plant community nor its structure increased significantly in diversity or complexity between 2017 and 2018 so this factor is not a driver in the greater species richness in 2018.

Eco Projects has advocated for more year-round, bird-friendly plants in the park in its annual reports to the Natural Resources Group of NYC Parks. 2018 marks the "100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act". Audubon and several other conservation organizations have declared 2018 the Year of the Bird. One of the actions you can take this year is to plant native vegetation for birds. There are 73 best native plants for birds in 10012, the zip code in which Washington Square Park is located. Of the 73 species (39 of which are trees), the park has 13 14 plants, all trees, growing within it:

  • American elm
  • American hornbeam
  • American sycamore
  • Hawthorn (cock-spur)
  • Eastern white pine
  • Flowering dogwood 
  • Northern red oak
  • Northern white oak
  • Pin oak
  • Red maple
  • Red mulberry
  • Silver maple
  • Sweetgum
  • Tulip-tree

Related Link: Washington Square Park - State of the Nature Report 2017

Eco Projects will continue to encourage NYC Parks to increase the abundance and richness of bird-friendly plants in Washington Square Park. Hopefully this will translate into bird species richness during future spring migrations.


Bryony Angell said…
I hope too that you are successful in getting the park to plant more bird-friendly and year round plants. Birds inhabit every level of the canopy from top to bottom!
Georgia said…
You are quite right, Bryony. Structural diversity is an important consideration in a vegetation plan.