Saturday, April 08, 2006

Autopsy report on Hal the Coyote

From today's New York Times

April 8, 2006

Rat Poison Cited in Coyote's Death

Hal, the year-old coyote who died in custody after leading the authorities on a gripping chase through Central Park last month, was seriously ill from a heartworm infestation and internal hemorrhaging caused by rat poison, according to the results of a necropsy released yesterday by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

On March 30, 10 days after he was first sighted in Central Park and 8 days after he was captured in an intense pursuit, Hal stopped breathing during a routine tagging procedure by two biologists.

In a statement, the agency said, "His poor health, coupled with the stress of captivity and handling during the release, led to his death."

Paul Curtis, a wildlife specialist at Cornell University whose work focuses on conflicts between humans and wildlife, said, "It was a very sick coyote."

A graduate student of Dr. Curtis's, Dan Bogan, was one of the biologists trying to tag Hal for release into the wild when the coyote stopped breathing. Dr. Curtis said that the procedure caused minimal stress and that Mr. Bogan was experienced in tagging coyotes.

The necropsy added details about Hal's last days, noting that after he was transferred to wildlife rehabilitators on Long Island, he was fed venison, chicken thighs, organ meats, canned dog food and kibble.

It also described the tagging process, saying that after Hal was taken from his carrier and held with a catchpole — a long pole with a plastic-coated-wire loop used to secure animals — his mouth was kept shut with an Ace bandage. "The nose was clear for breathing," the report said. A few minutes later, "during ear-tagging," Hal stopped breathing.

Dr. Curtis said that signs of heartworms, caused by mosquito-borne parasites, are not outwardly visible. He also said it was likely that Hal had eaten a rat or mouse that had ingested poison.

Owl Clarification

Gray Screech-owl, one of the Ramble pair - 12/16/05
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

In response to my posting of 4/07/06 entitled Sad Saga..., Karen Anne Kolling writes:

I am very sorry about the owl. I have gotten confused about the owls. A while back, there was one of a pair that disappeared, wasn't there? Is this that bird?

No, the red-phased owl found dead on March 26 near the Loeb Boathouse was not the one that disappeared around January 11, 2006. That was the red-phased owl's gray mate [pictured above] with whom it had shared the "Riviera hole" . The little gray owl disappeared just when the Great Horned Owl was in residence in the Ramble. It was generally assumed that the GHO got it, since screech owls are often preyed on by Great Horned Owls. The red-phased owl continued to be seen, alone, for several months after her mate disappeared. And now it too is gone.

Meanwhile, only one owl,
the one we presume is the female, remains in the West Drive cavity. Its mate, you may remember, was flying out of its roost hole at 5:55 pm on February 24 when it collided with a car speeding along the West Drive. That owl, the male, was seen at the next two fly-outs. Then it vanished. The remaining West Drive owl is regularly seen flying out a little after sunset. Last night's fly-out was at 7:54 pm.

Lucky birders find Wilson's Snipe

Cal Vornberger, wildlife photographer [ ] was kind enough to send me the following pictures with a note yesterday [4/7/06]

Hi Marie:

Attached are photos of the Wilson's Snipe I took in the Ravine today.



A number of other birdwatchers were lucky enough to see this regular and early migrant yesterday, all in the Loch/Wildflower Meadow area of the northern part of the park, among them Ardith Bondi, Sylvia Cohen, Jim Demes, Malcolm Morris, Pat Pollock, Dorothy Poole and Starr Saphir. [You may recognize some of these names from Red-tails in Love.] Today it appears the bird is moving south: this morning the long-billed, cryptically colored shorebird was seen and flushed several times by birdwatcher Tony Lance as it moved around on the west side of The Lake .

PS Not so long ago the same bird was called the Common Snipe. That's how I referred to it in my book [p 30-31]where I noted that Tom Fiore finds one almost every year around the middle of March. Cal sent me the following elucidation from the Cornell website:


The Wilson's Snipe was recently recognized as a different species from the Common Snipe of Eurasia. The two snipes look extremely similar, but differ in the shape, patterning, and usually the number of the tail feathers. The Wilson's Snipe typically has 16 tail feathers, whereas the Common Snipe has 14. These numbers vary, however, and a Common Snipe may have from 12 to 18 tail feathers.

I wonder if the Central Park birdwatchers counted those tail feathers.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Sad saga of the red-phased Screech--an e-mail story

The Ramble Red-phased Screech Owl - 3/1/06
Photos by Lloyd Spitalnik

The first I heard about the dead owl was in an e-mail from Jack Meyer, Central Park birder and bird-walk leader. On March 28 Jack wrote

Marie, Yesterday, one of the park workers told me that another worker had found a dead owl. He knew only that he'd heard on his radio the other worker reporting having found it & asking what to do with it. Do you know anything about this? Jack

I hadn't heard anything about it. I thought it likely that the dead owl was the grey male of the West Drive pair and sent Jack’s e-mail to Regina Alvarez, Woodlands Manager of the Central Park Conservancy. Do you know anything about this? I asked. She answered right back:

Hi Marie -

My gardener said that the bird was given to him by a park patron who said he found it near the boat rental of Loeb Boathouse. It was definitely a banded bird but from what I hear (not confirmed, I did not see the bird) it was a red-phased. Might it be our little friend from the Locust and the Riviera? I hope not. On Sunday , March 26th, the supervisor on duty gave the dead owl to Yvonne McDermott of the Rangers. As soon as I hear something I will let you know.


If it was a red morph owl it didn't sound like our vanished gray male. At least there's that to be thankful for. Without a body found I continue to think it's possible that the West Drive male is alive somewhere.

I wrote Regina back:

The Loeb Boathouse ? That's mighty near the Locust and Riviera roosts. Jack Meyer just checked his records. He hasn't seen that red-phased owl in more than a month. Thanks for keeping me posted, Regina.

A few hours later Regina wrote:

Hi Marie -
Just wanted to let you know that I got confirmation that the screech owl was indeed a red morph. So I would think that it is very likely our little buddy from the locust. Very sad. Yvonne will let me know as soon as she knows anything. As soon as she does, I will get you that information.

We didn't have to wait very long. Today, April 7, 2006 , I received a final report from Regina:

I received word from Yvonne McDermott regarding the dead screech owl found near Loeb Boathouse. She had sent the owl up to Ward Stone at the DEC pathology unit in Albany to be autopsied last week. She tells me that he called to let her know that the screech owl apparently died from a fight with another raptor. From looking at the size of the injuries made by what looks like talons, he is assuming it was a small raptor, possibly another screech owl. He said he has seen many of these kinds of deaths from birds in the wild. This was a red morph screech owl, presumably the one in the Ramble that was in the black locust.

Nature red in tooth and claw -- Tennyson had it right.

R.I.P., Little Red.

Ladies in Waiting

Lola [with Pale Male] on Fifth Avenue -- 4/5/06
Photo by Lincoln Karim

Charlotte turning eggs on Trump-Parc nest -4/6/06
Photo by Lincoln Karim

What do they call a turkey in Turkey? A philological digression

Lika Levi, a reader of this website, sent me the following, extremely amusing communication. I enjoyed her note almost as much as the article, especially her sly use of the phrase "self-respecting". [See previous posts.]

I tried to find out where the article she sends was originally published. All I learned is that the author is a PhD from Harvard who is currently on the faculty of the University of Minnesota.

Ever since I found out about your central Park web-site, I became a devoted reader and follower of your news. Your recent news about the Central Park turkey made me think about this article I had received a while ago... Since I am originally from Turkey it was particularly informative.
Your interest in languages leads me to think you might like this, and who knows maybe even our self-respecting, field biologist Blakeman.

Talking Turkey: The Story of How the Unofficial Bird of the
United States Got Named After a Country

by Giancarlo Casale

How did the turkey get its name? This seemingly harmless question popped into my head one morning as I realized that the holidays were once again upon us. After all, I thought, there's nothing more American than a turkey. Their meat saved the pilgrims from starvation during their first winter in New England. Out of gratitude, if you can call it that, we eat them for Thanksgiving dinner, and again at Christmas, and gobble them up in sandwiches all year long. Every fourth grader can tell you that Benjamin Franklin was particularly fond of the wild turkey, and even campaigned to make it, and not the bald eagle, the national symbol. So how did such a creature end up taking its name from a medium sized country in the Middle East? Was it just a coincidence? I wondered.

The next day I mentioned my musings to my landlord, whose wife is from Brazil. "That's funny," he said, "In Portuguese the word for turkey is 'peru.' Same bird, different country." Hmm.

With my curiosity piqued, I decided to go straight to the source. That very afternoon I found myself a Turk and asked him how to say turkey in Turkish. "Turkey?" he said. "Well, we call turkeys 'hindi,' which means, you know, from India." India? This was getting weird.

I spent the next few days finding out the word for turkey in as many languages as I could think of, and the more I found out, the weirder things got. In Arabic, for instance, the word for turkey is "Ethiopian bird," while in Greek it is "gallapoula" or "French girl." The Persians, meanwhile, call them "buchalamun" which means, appropriately enough, "chameleon."

In Italian, on the other hand, the word for turkey is "tacchino" which, my Italian relatives assured me, means nothing but the bird. "But," they added, "it reminds us of something else. In Italy we call corn, which as everybody knows comes from America, 'grano turco,' or 'Turkish grain.'" So here we were back to Turkey again! And as if things weren't already confusing enough, a further consultation with my Turkish informant revealed that the Turks call corn "misir" which is also their word for Egypt!

By this point, things were clearly getting out of hand. But I persevered nonetheless, and just as I was about to give up hope, a pattern finally seemed to emerge from this bewildering labyrinth. In French, it turns out, the word for turkey is "dinde," meaning "from India," just like in Turkish. The words in both German and Russian had similar meanings, so I was clearly on to something. The key, I reasoned, was to find out what turkeys are called in India, so I called up my high school friend's wife, who is from an old Bengali family, and popped her the question.

"Oh," she said, "We don't have turkeys in India. They come from America. Everybody knows that."

"Yes," I insisted, "but what do you call them?"

"Well, we don't have them!" she said. She wasn't being very helpful. Still, I persisted:

"Look, you must have a word for them. Say you were watching an American movie translated from English and the actors were all talking about turkeys. What would they say?"

"Well...I suppose in that case they would just say the American word, 'turkey.' Like I said, we don't have them."

So there I was, at a dead end. I began to realize only too late that I had unwittingly stumbled upon a problem whose solution lay far beyond the capacity of my own limited resources.

Obviously I needed serious professional assistance. So the next morning I scheduled an appointment with Prof. Þinasi Tekin of Harvard University, a world-renowned philologist and expert on Turkic languages. If anyone could help me, I figured it would be Professor Tekin.

As I walked into his office on the following Tuesday, I knew I would not be disappointed. Prof. Tekin had a wizened, grandfatherly face, a white, bushy, knowledgeable beard, and was surrounded by stack upon stack of just the sort of hefty, authoritative books which were sure to contain a solution to my vexing Turkish mystery.

I introduced myself, sat down, and eagerly awaited a dose of Prof. Tekin's erudition.

"You see," he said, "In the Turkish countryside there is a kind of bird, which is called a çulluk. It looks like a turkey but it is much smaller, and its meat is very delicious. Long before the discovery of America, English merchants had already discovered the delicious çulluk, and began exporting it back to England, where it became very popular, and was known as a 'Turkey bird' or simply a 'turkey.' Then, when the English came to America, they mistook the birds here for çulluks, and so they began calling them 'turkey" also. But other peoples weren't so easily fooled. They knew that these new birds came from America, and so they called them things like 'India birds,' 'Peruvian birds,' or 'Ethiopian birds.' You see, 'India,' 'Peru' and 'Ethiopia' were all common names for the New World in the early centuries, both because people had a hazier understanding of geography, and because it took a while for the name 'America' to catch on.

"Anyway, since that time Americans have begun exporting their birds everywhere, and even in Turkey people have started eating them, and have forgotten all about their delicious çulluk. This is a shame, because çulluk meat is really much, much tastier."

Prof. Tekin seemed genuinely sad as he explained all this to me. I did my best to comfort him, and tried to express my regret at hearing of the unfairly cruel fate of the delicious çulluk. Deep down, however, I was ecstatic. I finally had a solution to this holiday problem, and knew I would be able once again to enjoy the main course of my traditional Thanksgiving dinner without reservation.

Now if I could just figure out why they call those little teeny dogs Chihuahuas....

PS from Marie
Turkey news from - A very real and alive wild turkey that has taken up residence on the grounds of the American Museum of Natural History on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Yesterday, this very same bird was spotted across the street in Central Park. Apparently it crossed Central Park West without being hit by a car.
The museum people hope the turkey decides to return to the park where it can roam a little more free.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Ohio Animals Reply

Two of Central Park's "wild" animals
Photo by Cal Vornberger

I guess I'm not getting the last word after all. Here's John Blakeman, defending the honor of his Ohio turkeys and woodchucks.


Now it's getting personal!

But not for me. I'm delighting in all of this, even your good-natured put-downs of my particular views on the “wildness” of Central Park wildlife.

The affront is to my wildlife friends out here in rural Ohio. Let me get personal and try, perhaps, to represent the viewpoints of Ohio turkeys and woodchucks. Of course, they aren't aware of the anomalous happenings of their kindred in Central Park, but if they were, I think they'd be expressing the same thoughts I have on these strange appearances and behaviors.

Ohio turkeys and woodchucks would be expressing the same thoughts that Dusty, one of Garrison Keillor's two peripatetic cowboys, expressed when both of them, Dusty and Lefty, ended up in some small town after selling their cow herd. The structural and cultural confinements of the town just got to Dusty and he depressingly remarked – as only he could -- “How can anybody live like this?” in reference, really, to all urban life. Ohio turkeys and woodchucks would offer the same thoughts about their NYC brethren. If my Ohio wildlife could talk, their conversations would be rather deprecating and judgmental regarding the wild animals that have invaded Central Park. “How can anyone live like this?” would be their moan.

But to be serious, we field biologists need to be learning the answers to that real question. I think I've got Pale Male and his cohorts pretty well figured out now. I still want to see what happens to the CP red-tail population as it continues to expand with new eyasses and nests in coming years. But the biology of the urban hawks is now comprehended, if not scientifically quantified. The CP red-tails have retained necessary wild traits, while taking on successful new urban ones, such as nesting much higher and on buildings, and changing their hunting techniques from the ones rural red-tails use.

Again, Central Park, of all places, is an unstudied wildlife laboratory. It's too bad some serious studies aren't being conducted. It's no turkey, so to speak.

–John Blakeman

Well, one last PS, from a regular website correspondent and then...on to other subjects. Pale Male and Lola, for instance, and Charlotte and Junior.

Hi, Marie --
I feel I must comment on all these discussions of wildness. The basic rules of nature for for all living creatures -- eat or die; reproduce or die out -- are irreducible, but a wild animal's behavior is not carved in stone for all eternity. Its ability to adapt to its surroundings and to change when necessary is a sign of success in a species. The denizens of Central Park are teaching us amazing things about not simply surviving in strange surroundings, but flourishing in them. And what incredible teachers they are!
Jan Lipert

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

What's going on?

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Photo: Lloyd Spitalnik

Thursday: Noon

The magnolias are blooming, the Norway Maples are in flower, the Azaleas are out at Hernshead, the willows are that newborn-baby green you'll only see this week and next. Both pairs of hawks are sitting on eggs, getting ready [we hope] to feed chicks in a few weeks. This morning the Early Birders saw Ruby-crowned and Golden Crowned Kinglets and several Swamp Sparrows.

Guess what? It's snowing.

Blakeman concedes: Well, perhaps it is "wild." Now on to woodchucks

In response to letters recounting tales of tame, friendly wild turkeys in various parts of the country, John Blakeman wrote back:


Wouldn't it be curious to know what Benjamin Franklin would have thought about the turkey in Central Park? Franklin argued strongly against the bald eagle as our national symbol because the big fish eagle was commonly seen attacking fish-carrying ospreys and stealing their prey -- not an admirable trait our Mr. Franklin argued. Instead, Franklin nominated the turkey, a quintessential and uniquely American bird (although sadly misnamed).

I will not altogether discount the possibility that the CP turkey is something of a "wild" bird. The interesting accounts of urban and people-tolerating turkeys in other areas are noteworthy and must be considered. These people aren't describing pen-raised or domesticated turkeys. Obviously, in certain circumstances wild turkeys do adapt to the presence of humans and urban environments. I was not aware of any of this. The turkeys I encounter out here in rural Ohio are still cautious denizens of wild lands, wary of the approach of any human at several hundred yards. The turkeys I encounter are truly wild, behaving in their natural habitats as turkeys have for centuries. That makes finding and observing one here truly special. Seeing photos of one strutting along with joggers in Central Park somewhat diminishes the experience, if not the wildness or authenticity of the bird itself. (The bird seems to have no naturally-wild self respect, for whatever reason.)

So, for the sake of argument and on the basis of the good evidence here, let's presume for the nonce that the bird is derived from wild parents. As a field biologist I still wonder how and why the bird got itself first on to Manhattan, and then many blocks down the urban canyons to Central Park. Was all of that "natural," or were humans somehow directly involved?

Let's see if a few more turn up. Will a Central Park turkey flock come to pass? What could be next? How about an otter in one or more of the ponds? A beaver? A woodchuck or muskrat could be interesting. And why not a real skunk?

The best, of course, would be a bald eagle's nest -- not an impossibility. Here in Erie County, Ohio, we had a bald eagle build a nest in a tree in a suburban back yard and produce three eaglets Believe it or not (we have photos to prove it), the three eaglets flew off the nest and began to jump up and down on a backyard trampoline -- for fun.
Wildlife across America is adapting to humans and urban environments. The turkey in Central Park might be just another chapter in this developing story. I thank everyone for their helpful observations and comments.

--John A. Blakeman

I wrote back:

In regard to your comment "A woodchuck or muskrat could be interesting."

Woodchucks were quite common in Central Park until about 7 or 8 years ago. There were always three or four in the various woodlands. Then they disappeared. The last one I saw lived behind the zoo. A well known CP character named Sister Marlene used to come to a certain nearby spot every afternoon with a bag of goodies. She'd lay out a plate and then make little kissing noises. The woodchuck would come immediately from wherever he'd been waiting, kiss her on the nose and then eat his tidbits from the plate. Am I to understand that your Ohio woodchucks act differently?


John Blakeman answered my woodchuck note:

Yes, like our wild turkeys, Ohio woodchucks maintain a wild self-respect. They are sometimes known as "whistle pigs," for the whistling warning sound they give to each other when a human or other threat approaches at distance. No, they don't take food from anyone's nose, hands, or from anyone close by. They remain truly wild.
The "wildlife" of Central Park continues to amaze. You have many of the same species as we have in our Ohio "wild," but the behaviors are markedly different, even distorted or warped (at least as field biologists would think).
But for Manhattan, these behavioral changes somehow work. Central Park is an unstudied laboratory of wildlife behavior and adaptation. As I was forced to do with Pale Male and the CP red-tailed hawks, field biologists must rethink what they know about other wild species' incursions into big city centers. None of this would have been predicted by those of us who think we know wild species.
Who knows what's next.
--John A. Blakeman

PS from Marie

Since it's my website I get the final word:


By reiterating that your Ohio critters are "truly wild" and that they have "self respect," you are implying that our Central Park wildlife, or rather our Central Park "wildlife" [to use your eloquent quotation marks,] are neither truly wild nor self respecting. Meanwhile, we don't feel at all judgmental about your Ohio critters, nor look down on them in any way, in spite of the fact that they don't eat off plates or nest on billionaire buildings without paying rent.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Many disagree with Blakeman about the turkey

photo by Cal Vornberger

A flood of letters arrived after I posted Blakeman's ideas about the Central Park turkey. Here is a sampling:

Ardith Bondi of NYC writes:

Hi Marie -

I am hardly a turkey expert, either, but just a couple of thoughts on the subject....

First of all, its attraction to Cal suggests that the turkey is more likely a "she" than a "he" (she also looks more like a "she" than a "he"). Besides, she might just like being the focus of attention.

Second, she is not dissimilar to the wild turkeys that took up residence in Riverside, Battery and Inwood Hill Parks a couple of years ago, both in appearance and in accommodation to humans. I know the bird in Riverside Park had as food sources a hot dog vendor who set up his cart near her hang-out and regularly gave her scraps and children in the playground there who dropped crumbs that she cleaned up at the end of the day. The local moms and nannies and children knew her well. She
roosted in the trees and somehow managed to escape the dogs by flying into the trees and staying behind fences - which this one does as well.

The Central Park turkey also roosts in trees, which is wild behavior. I have seen wild turkeys in New Jersey and in New York north of the city. Since some of them grow up around humans, why shouldn't they accommodate to them. Therefore, my inclination is to disagree with John Blakeman, who may not be used to the behavior of wild animals that have grown up in such close proximity with humans.

More on the Riverside Park turkey from Tony of NYC:

A year or two back there was a bird in Riverside Park very similar to the current "Wild" Turkey in Central Park. It would stand bold as a peacock (which some thought it was, perhaps escaped from the St. John the Divine Cathedral grounds) in broad grassy areas, and would easily elude dogs and joggers by flying up into a tree. It hung around for 6-8 weeks and then was seen no more. Until now... My wife and I had named it "Voldemort" after the Harry Potter villian, because it would seem to appear whenever we thought of it. Truth be told, it's unlikely that this is the same bird; we had always been saddened by its disappearance, morbidly thinking perhaps that it had become some vagrant's dinner.

Sheila Perry of Hillsborough County, NH writes
Hi, Marie,

Although I'm no wildlife expert, I do live in rural NH where we have a lot of wild turkeys,* and I don't think the behavior of the Central Park turkey, by itself, is a compelling argument against it being, in fact, a wild bird.

Especially when they are young, wild turkeys can indeed come quite close to people. (Never during hunting season, though. Don't ask me how they know.) I've seen flocks of wild turkeys feeding in meadows quite close to rural highway traffic, and have been within 4 feet of wild turkeys in our yard.

In Littleton, MA, a friend of mine has wild turkeys that fly up from her front yard to roost in her pine trees. The Town of Littleton sends around notices reminding the residents that even though the turkeys are a nuisance, it's illegal to hurt them (or to hunt them out-of-season or without a license or near residences).

There is also a flock of wild turkeys in Brookline, MA, that just made local news because they've become acclimated to people and are attacking passersby.

Karen Anne Kolling writes:
I'm not sure Blakeman is correct about this being a human-raised turkey. The wild ones come pretty close to humans in my area in RI.

Stephen Watson of Pasadena CA writes:
Could the turkey be from a nearby area where they're protected but still around people? When I was in Zion National Park, the wild turkeys there have become habituated to people (because people break the rules and feed them, a violation of both ethics and laws). Sadly, the park had to post notices that it was also illegal to harass them (such as by chasing, throwing things, etc.). Point being...they're wild, but the circumstances of being in a protected area coupled with food rewards made them really accepting of people.

A nice big herd of them walked right between buildings at the main Lodge...I have some pics of them around somewhere.

So, my guess is that it's a wanderer from some similar sort of area nearby. John is correct about truly wild turkeys. My grandfather had them on his farm in Indiana, and they were *very* elusive...and smart. He was a hunter, and always said that hunting wild turkeys was very hard because of their wariness.

From the West Coast Margie writes:
I hesitate to contradict Mr. Blakeman BUT: out here on the west coast, no one hunts turkeys and they are neither wary nor shy. On two occasions, I have come around a bend on a suburban road to find a whole flock of the critters hanging out, scratching themselves and drinking beer. I had to inch within ten feet of their tailfeathers before they moved out of the way, and even then, they just moved to the side. Several years ago, I stayed at a bed and breakfast near Monterey, and wild turkeys were all over the place, calmly foraging 25 feet from the cabins. The behavior of the Central Park turkey is just what I would expect from a West Coast bird.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Blakeman: Wild turkey? No way.


As you recall, after the appearance of the Central Park turkey I emailed to you a note of concern regarding this bird. I asked you not to post it, as I'm not an authority on wild turkeys.

But the pictures of Cal Vornberger you posted today are simply too revealing. There can be no way this bird is a wild-hatched, wild-raised turkey. Authentic wild turkeys simply don't tolerate or associate with humans at such close range. Those who know the species would affirm this. It's one thing for Pale Male to hunt in Central Park, soar through its airspace, and even sit in Central Park trees with streams of people walking by beneath. The red-tailed hawks of Central Park are legitimate, new wild colonizers of this great urban area.

The behaviors of this turkey, however, deny its "wildness." Before anyone marks up this bird as a new wild species for Central Park, some serious investigation should be done. If I had to pick an explanation for the bird's origin, I'd strongly suggest that the bird has been raised by humans and later released. It too easily accommodates people. Wild turkeys are famous for their wariness and unapproachability. This bird violates all of these wild survival skills. It's far too tame.

In fact, someone who knows the plumage of wild turkeys needs to closely examine photos of the bird. There are many domestic turkeys with dark, wild-like plumages. This bird may only be someone's released pet, a bird that spent its youth in a farmyard, pen, or even a Manhattan apartment (weirder things happen, I'm sure).

There are lots of big biological question marks here -- beyond the improbabilities of a wild turkey electing for some unknown reason to enter Manhattan. The red-tails simply soared over and dropped in, finding things to their liking. The coyotes are natural wanderers and those canines have colonized virtually all urban areas in the Midwest and East.

But the turkey? I've got my doubts, now further strengthened by Cal Vornberger's photos.


--John A. Blakeman

Lovelorn turkey pursues Cal


This turkey just won’t leave me alone. I was well hidden in the Ravine photographing a variety of birds and he somehow found me. I was forced to take more photos of him. He didn’t seem to mind the joggers,
bikers, tourists, dog walkers, and others on the 103rd Street Transverse.

Attached are some photos.



All photos by Cal Vornberger

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A site with info about Avian Flu

An item of interest from the April 2006 issue of the Birding Community E-Bulletin.


It seems like everyone is still talking about the potential dangers of the
spread of Avian Flu. For almost daily updates, we recommend this site, with
information from the National Wildlife Health Center/USGS:

Letting off steam...

The wildlife photographer Cal Vornberger [author of Birds of Central Park, Abrams Books, 2005] posted this on his Central Park blog on March 31st. [] It rang a bell with me. I too have had peaceful mornings disturbed by the intrusive behavior Cal describes. The bird below, by the way, is a winter wren, [photo by Cal Vornberger] one of the early migrants appearing in Central Park these days.

Cal writes:

I'm really pished...

This morning I was set-up in one of my favorite spots in the Ravine in the North End of Central Park. I was fairly concealed and from where I was positioned I had a good chance of getting the Golden-crowned Kinglets, Winter Wren, Swamp Sparrow and Towhee I had seen flitting about.

I got some nice photos of the Winter Wren and Swamp Sparrow and was waiting for the Towhee to pop-up into view when a large group of bird watchers, led by someone who shall remain anonymous, came into view. Many people know this guy because he is famous (or should I say infamous) for his "pishing." Pishing is the practice of making sounds in an attempt to get birds investigate what's making the racket.

According to David Sibley, in his book Sibley's Birding Basics, "The making of hissing, shushing, and squeaking noises (known among birders as "pishing") is done in imitation of the scolding calls of certain small songbirds. . . Pishing is most effective when you are somewhat concealed within vegetation. The birds need to be able to get close to you without leaving their cover, and ideally there should be an open spot for them to sit when they do reach you. Curiosity will bring the birds in and then draw them to a perch where they can take a clear look at you. "

Clearly the guy and his group were not concealed and clearly the birds have never read Sibley. The minute Mr. Pisher started "pishing" most the birds started to flee. A couple (notably the Towhee) flew up so his birders got views but most just skedaddled. I think the strategy employed by Mr. Pisher is to "scare-up" as many birds as possible for his paying customers, never mind the birds are fleeing.

To my mind Central Park should be shared by everyone who enjoys the outdoors. Sometimes it can get a little crowded (which is why I prefer the North End) but other than that it mostly works. When some comes through with twenty people in tow making loud noises and scaring off the birds I have been patiently waiting for (in this case over an hour) then I get pissed.

The Towhee never did come back so I guess you can say I was pished...