These handsome little birds pass through our area in spring and fall, traveling between winter quarters in Central America and breeding territories to the north and west of us. They can occasionally be seen in gardens busily foraging for insects on the leaves of trees and shrubs.
Ovenbirds are common summer residents here, but they prefer forest habitats, so aren’t often seen in city gardens. They’re named for the dome-shaped nests they build on the ground, which are said to look like ovens. The orange streak on their crowns makes them easily identifiable.
These tiny zebra-striped birds pass through our area in the spring and fall, as they travel between their winter quarters in the tropics and their breeding grounds in northern forests. Perky, active, and not at all shy, they often creep busily along tree trunks and branches, foraging for insects.
This tiny, active bird is a much-loved visitor to feeders, where it greatly enjoys sun-
flower seeds. They also hang upside down on twigs, hunting for insects. They often travel in groups with other small birds, giving their excitable chick-a-dee-dee-dee call as greeting, conversation, or scolding.
Crows are big, noisy, sociable, highly intelligent birds. They live throughout the US, they’ve adapted especially well to life in cities, and they’ll eat almost anything, animal or vegetable, they can find. Their population is only now recovering from devastation by West Nile disease.
This is the only species of hummingbird that inhabits the Northeast. The brilliant iridescence of the male’s throat doesn’t show in all lights, and the female is much plainer. When these minute creatures hover at a flower to sip nectar, their wings can beat up to 80 times per second.
These spunky little immigrants arrived in New York in 1871 and have made their homes in close association with humans all across the country. They thrive on city sidewalks but also appreciate our lawns, gardens, feeders, and bird- baths. Only the males wear black bibs.
Pointy on both ends, nuthatches are most often seen traveling up, down (headfirst!), and around
tree trunks, prying tasty morsels out of crevices in the bark. Fairly inconspicuous little birds, they’re often noticed first by their soft erk-erk-erk calls. They nest in holes and mate for life.
Its small head, hesitant gait, erratic takeoff, and repetitive mournful cooing can make this dove seem uncertain of where it is and what it’s doing there. They’re quite successful birds, though: They can raise as many as six broods a year. In flight, their wings make a whistling sound.
Robins regularly patrol our lawns, looking for tasty earthworms and insects. In winter, they feed mainly on berries. Males’ red breasts are slightly brighter than females’. Very vocal birds, they can produce anything from liquid melodious songs to what seems like maniacal laughter.
This large, bold member of the woodpecker family is often seen on the ground, indulging its unusual taste for ants. Both sexes have the black bib, but only males sport the red mustache. They enjoy making frequent announcements of their presence with loud, far-carrying calls.
With its brilliant red coat and perky crest, the male cardinal is hard to miss. The female, light brown with red touches, is usually somewhere nearby. Their thick red bills identify them as seed eaters. Both sexes sing, most often in spring, with a variety of musical trills and whistles.
The mockingbird likes to spread its wings to display big white patches. Each individual can imitate any sound it has heard that it likes: other birds’ songs, snatches of music, barking dogs, ringing telephones—in cities, even car alarms and the clashing of garbage cans.
This mini-bird has a maxi- voice. You’ll hear it more often than see it, because it likes to sing its rich bubbling song from deep within bushes. When it pops up to see what’s going on outside, it often holds its tail straight up in the air. It weighs about as much as two 25-cent pieces.
Starlings are tough, chunky birds. An introduced species, like many immigrants they’ve adapted well to US life. Glossy purple-black in spring and summer, they put on a coat of white speckles in winter and look like a whole different bird. They sing a variety of songs, some quite musical.
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Great Blue Heron
Blue jays are bold, brash, noisy, and intelligent. A little band of them might spend time among our garden’s trees, screeching at each other as they soar from branch to branch. They often act as lookouts, warning other birds of predators like hawks, owls, or cats.
This acrobatic relative of the chickadee shares its cousin’s taste for sun-
flower seeds at feeders. Their wide-open boot- button-black eyes make titmice seem constantly alert and inquisitive. A piercing peter-peter-peter song lets the world know exactly where they are.
Conspicuous, hyperactive little warblers, redstarts like to fan their wings and tails to display their bright color patches as they zoom around chasing insects. While adult males are flashily dressed in black and orange, females and youngsters are gray-brown with yellow patches.
This bright, buttercup-yellow bird isn’t a canary, but it’s just as cheerful and persistent a singer. After wintering in the tropics, these warblers spread out and breed in most of the US. They particularly like to be in wooded areas near water, but they also frequent our yards and gardens.
This is the smallest North American woodpecker and the most familiar member of the family. It can easily be seen and heard drumming loudly on tree trunks, and it comes readily to feeders, especially when suet is offered. Only the males have the little red spot at the back of the head.
Another widespread member of the warbler family, this busy little fellow wears a bold black bandit mask and often shouts his witchity-witchity-witchety call while concealed in low bushes. His wife is much plainer, with an olive back and a paler yellow throat. They nest in marshes.
Catbirds seem to have a lot of curiosity about the world around them, which they indulge while peering out from low shrubbery or boldly perching in the open. They are great vocalizers, with a variety of songs and calls, including the sharp catlike mew that gives them their name.
Thrushes are a family of shy birds that like woodland areas, where they forage on the ground among leaf litter, weeds, and grasses. All have lovely songs. The hermit, a bit smaller than an American robin, is recognizable by the color of its tail, which is redder than its brown back.
Ubiquitous in cities the world over and frequently considered a nuisance, this big gray pigeon is a successful urban dweller. In almost any season, hopeful males give courtship displays – puffing chests, spreading tails, burbling gently, and strutting in circles around often-uninterested females.
This bird is a hard-working member of the wood-
pecker family. Instead of noisily drumming on tree bark to expose insects, the sapsucker drills into the tree trunk to drink the sap that oozes from the holes. Circles of its holes are visible around several of our garden’s large trees.
Typically sparrow-brown bodies, bold black-and-white-striped heads, and pure white bibs make these gregarious little birds unmistakable. They winter with us, and their frequent whistling calls cut through the cold air in a rhythm that sounds like “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”
Looking like a piece of
bark come to life,” the tiny brown creeper quietly works its way up and around large tree trunks, seeking insects and other bits of food. After wintering in the southern US, it migrates through our area in spring on the way to its forest nesting grounds.
Males of this species are among the handsomest of the wood-warblers. Females are much plainer, mostly greenish-gray but with the same white wing spot and a white eyebrow. Not at all shy, they’re often seen in yards and gardens during spring and fall migration seasons.
Cold-weather visitors, juncos make themselves at home in city gardens, as well as woodlands and fields. They especially enjoy patronizing feeders. These small birds are neatly dressed in smooth slate-gray plumage, with contrasting white bills, bellies, and outer tail feathers.
Great Blue Heron
Standing up to four feet tall and with a six-foot wingspan, this majestic bird is the largest heron in North America. Unfortunately, the individual that once made a stop at our garden was not a welcome visitor. It was seen, early one morning, breakfasting on the fish in our pond.
These tiny, hyperactive birds are mostly plain looking: greenish-gray, with a white eye ring and a white wing bar. But when a male gets excited – whether by an attractive female, a challenging rival, or a potential predator – he can raise his head feathers to reveal a brilliant red crown patch.
These large raptors are familiar sights in the sky over our neighborhood, as pairs of red-tails have nested on a building ledge facing Washington Square Park for several years. Other pairs have made their homes elsewhere around Manhattan. Only adult birds have the “trademark” reddish tails.
In their summer plumage – bright butter yellow with touches of black and white – male American goldfinches are unmistakable. Come winter, both sexes wear more sober, grayish brown tones, but they’re always lively, active little birds, busily flocking around feeders.
The full white “spectacles” on this small bird give it an inquisitive look. Its grey-blue head gray contrasts with its gray-green back and white-streaked wings. Vireos are common in our area in summer, though often hard to see within foliage.
Summer residents in our area, their size, shape, and behavior are like house sparrows, but a closer look reveals the bright chestnut-colored cap, white eyebrow, and black eye line. They’re named for their call: a frequent sharp chip.
A parakeet, evidently an escaped pet, enjoyed our Garden for a few days this Spring. Apparently tame, it came to the hand of a visitor who had parakeets of his own. Man and bird went home together.
Looking a bit like smallish, brightly colored robins, towhees are actually members of the sparrow family. They forage on the ground, jump-kicking at leaves to unearth tasty morsels, and generally visit our Garden in migration. Males have black backs, females rich brown.
Carolina wrens are very small, like house wrens. Chunky and lively, they perch conspicuously and sing a song that sounds like “victory, victory, victory.” Both sexes have a distinctive bold white eye stripe.
The tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet is more colorfully marked than the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but similarly active, excitable, and curious about its surroundings. Both frequent our area in winter, then migrate up to high northern forests to breed.
A black-and-chestnut-colored throat band marks the male of this tiny member of the family of New World warblers. Many species visit our Garden for a day or so during their migration season.
If you see a tiny bird creeping head-first down one of our Garden’s tree trunks, it will be either the Red-breasted Nuthatch or its cousin the White-breasted Nuthatch.
These brilliant red birds with coal-black wings and tail migrate between their winter homes in the tropics of South America and their breeding grounds in Northeastern US forests. They’re distantly related to our familiar Cardinal, but they don’t have a crest.