Saturday, December 17, 2005

Grackles on the move

Pear trees at south end of Grand Army Plaza with Pulizer Fountain [statue of Pomona on top]

Pear trees at north end of Grand Army Plaza
with statue of William Tecumseh Sherman

There are two symmetrical semi-circles of pear trees at the Grand Army Plaza just east of the Plaza Hotel, one at the north end surrounding a statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, and the other at the south end, surrounding the Pulitzer Fountain.

In October, when I first started observing the huge flocks of grackles and starlings flying out of Central Park every evening, the entire flock roosted for the night in the southern semi-circle, at the fountain. Those ten pear trees hosted what I calculated to be more than a thousand birds each night.

A few weeks ago, when most of Central Park's trees had lost their leaves,
the Bradford Callery Pear trees finally began to lose their green color. The leaves, however, now brownish- bronze, hung on tenaciously. Last week the trees were evidently getting thinner. For some reason, however, the trees near the Sherman statue seemed to be hanging on to their leaves longer than the Pulizer Fountain trees.

Probably because there was more cover there, a few birds began to roost at the northern end's trees. At about that time the flock became a bit smaller.
But most of the flock continued to roost at the Fountain trees.

Two nights ago the trees by the Pulizer Fountain were almost completely bare; just a few small, shriveled up brown leaves remained. I was amazed to see small bunches of Grackles -- the starlings seem to have gone elsewhere -- still roosting for the night on those bare trees, about 50 birds, I'd guess. They were very conspicuous there, as you may imagine, especially with their backdrop of the lighted windows of Bergdorf Goodman's on 58th Street and Fifth Avenue. That night many, many more birds, perhaps 150, roosted at the north end trees, the ones surrounding the Sherman statue.

Where is the rest of the flock? I'd say they've finally headed south.

According to that authoritative source, The Birds of North America, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the American Ornithologists' Union, Fall Migration for grackles "can begin in August-September but typically peaks late October-early November and is usually completed by early December." Well, today is December 16th and at least part of the flock is still here. The larger part of it were still here in early December, though they seem to have finally gone. So much for authoritative sources!

PS At 7:30 last night [12/16/05] there were still about 50 grackles roosting out in the open on the bare trees surrounding the Pulitzer Fountain. Since there were still quite a few leaves on the pear trees at the north end of the plaza, [around the statue of Sherman,] I couldn't really see how many birds were sleeping there. I could make out many dark shapes, but wasn't sure whether some of them weren't birds. Shining my bright flashlight up into the crown of the tree only made the bird shapes recede into the leaves, for some reason.