Birds that were once rare in New York City have been making more frequent appearances in recent years, to the delight of local bird watchers. But that excitement is tempered by the knowledge of what could be causing these changes: warming ocean temperatures, melting snowpacks and wildfires.
“It raises awareness of what’s happening to the planet and that it’s a concern, and it causes more people to care about what’s happening with climate change,” said Heather Wolf, a birder and application programmer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. That excitement causes people to get involved in conservation efforts, he added.
Birders have also noticed a reduction in the number of birds passing through New York City, said Marshall Iliff, the project leader for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird project. Many birders want to watch the warblers on their migration south in mid-August, but Mr. Iliff noted that wildfires in Canada have caused many birds to leave earlier than expected.
“These are the kinds of things that kind of raise the question of whether the birds are going to be able to adapt to environmental changes,” said Mr. Iliff. He said that as forests dry out and fires increase, the birds expected to be seen passing through Central Park in the spring may become “these rare occurrences.”
People who subscribe to Cornell’s E-Bird alerts can receive updates when a rare bird is in the area. Here are some of the rare birds seen in New York recently.
The brown booby, a tropical species often found in the Caribbean, used to be hard to find in this country, even in Florida. But since 2010 or so, that bird has been seen “all up and down the East Coast, multiple times every year,” Mr. Iliff said. One was spotted at Coney Island on June 27.
The brown booby is a large warm water species with brown fur and a white belly. It was seen farther north because of warming ocean temperatures, scientists said. It has also been seen inland, including lakes in western Massachusetts, confusing birders because it is typically a saltwater bird.
Ms. suggested Wolf to look for brown boobies around New York Harbor or the Hudson River area. He recommends taking the NYC Ferry because “you’ll see things you can’t just walk through the parks.”
It is not clear whether the species will become a truly regular bird encountered in the North.
The brown pelican is another southern bird whose range is expanding northward due to warming ocean temperatures. The species has become a regular sight on Long Island’s western beaches over the past decade. Several were seen on Aug. 6 at Manhattan Beach Park, and one was seen at Coney Island in July, Ms. Wolf.
The species, with its long white neck and yellow feathers on its head, is common in northeastern New Jersey and at the mouth of the harbor on western Long Island. “People who go out and watch the ocean for the better part of the day have a good chance of seeing a pelican today,” Mr. Iliff said.
Birders who want to see this species should keep their eyes directed to the horizon. The brown pelican, like the brown booby, is a large bird and shouldn’t be too difficult to spot, Ms. Wolf.
The brown pelican may begin nesting in New York state in the next decade, Mr. Iliff said. This can lead to territorial disputes between new birds and existing ones, but seabirds tend to be tolerant of each other.
The white ibis, a coastal marsh bird, is common in Florida, Texas and South America. It gradually expands northwards. In recent years, the ibis, with its long pink bill and pink feet, has begun nesting in Cape May, N.J. The species tends to breed in May through early July.
“It’s kind of exciting because this bird hasn’t really made it to the New York area regularly before, and now people have a decent chance of finding them if they go to the salt marshes — basically now – August and September,” said Mr. Iliff.
At least two have been seen in recent years in Brooklyn: One was seen last year in Calvert Vaux Park, and another was seen in 2015 flying over Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park. Viewing open spaces is a great way to spot rare birds, Ms. Wolf.
The species has not been seen recently in Jamaica Bay, Mr. Iliff said, but the large salt marshes there would be a good place for people to look for them.
Arctic geese mostly nest in the high Arctic, but as the snowpack melts, the geese have more space to nest and breed. That allowed their population to expand.
Pink-footed geese and larger white-fronted geese, which are mainly brown with orange feet, commonly nest in Greenland. But they also started going regularly to the Northeast and the New York City area. Greater white-fronted geese have been seen in Central Park and Van Cortlandt Park.
A pink-footed goose has been seen in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx for the past decade. The species has not yet been seen in Manhattan but could appear in Central Park in the coming years, Mr. Iliff said, adding that “a lot of bird watchers are watching for that bird’s appearance.”
When an Arctic goose is spotted, it is usually an individual traveling with a flock of Canada geese.
“If you look at all the sightings ever of the pink-footed goose 20 years ago, there would be two for the entire northeast region,” Mr. Iliff said. But it’s now a bird that people have a “really good chance of finding” if they’re “diligent, looking at the big, big flocks of Canada geese.”