Friday, November 07, 2008

Chipmunks in Central Park and a PS

When I was the local weekly"expert" on the New York Times's City Room blog last July, someone wrote in to ask about the absence of chipmunks in Central Park I began to make inquiries and someone came up with a very convincing answer. Below is the question and answer as it appeared on City Room -- [ -- on Friday, July 25, 2008:

Q. Why are there no chipmunks in Central Park?

Posted by BRendan

I’ve been looking for an answer to that question for a long time. Since there are plenty of chipmunks in Prospect Park, I thought I’d see if Rob Jett, a great birder and naturalist who lives in Brooklyn, might come up with an answer. His City Birder blog has been a source of information about urban wildlife and natural history for many years.

In fact he came up with a fascinating theory, the first good one I’ve heard. I’m ready to buy it. Here’s what he wrote:

That's a very good question. I've asked a lot rangers, biologists and naturalists, but nobody ever had a good answer. My guess is that it has something to do with the relatively high percentage of remnant forests versus open habitats. Much of Prospect Park, as we now know it, was already forested. It's not unreasonable to assume that the present chipmunk populations descended from ones that were in the forests when urban designers arrived with bulldozers and axes. I don't think Central Park had the same extent of Northeastern hardwood forests as Prospect Park. If it ever did, it was removed and replanted by city planners. You can find the whole story of the park’s creation in The Park and the People by Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar, and also on the website

If Eastern Chipmunks populations ever existed within the area that is now Central Park, they would certainly have been displaced by all the construction. They need woodlands, but now they have them - Reintroduction program, anyone? ;-)

PS I'll be in San Francisco from tomorrow through Wednesday, 11/12. See you here on Thursday.