Monday, October 25, 2010

Prothonotary Warbler impersonates House Sparrow

No, these aren't Photoshop composites, that really is a Prothonotary Warbler scavenging for food underneath and on top of trash cans and tables in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. This bird was discovered by Matthew Rymkiewicz on October 21st but conversations with locals suggest that it's been around for at least 2 weeks prior to that. It's feeding on crumbs and other bits of food just like a House Sparrow and will often follow the flocks around for just that purpose.

This is the eastern edge of Bryant Park along 5th Avenue and right in front of the NY Public Library. There are some trees, a few bushes and a fine display of chrysanthemums but otherwise is totally urban and about the last thing that resembles a southern swamp.

Based on feather shape the bird is a first fall immature, and by coloration and extent of white on the tail it's a male. There are pretty much never any fall records of Prothonotary Warbler in NYC for one good reason: there's no breeding population north of us. It seems likely that this immature bird is has a confused sense of direction. Unfortunately this also means that it might not reset and head south when the weather turns colder. But at least for the next week the weather looks good for its survival.

Context really alters bird behavior - not only is this Prothonotary very tame indeed, so are the White-throated Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes and in particular the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers that were spending time in this small space. There were 4 sapsuckers working the trees along the two city blocks (40th-42nd) along 5th avenue, often at eye level and extremely approachable. There was also one Black-capped Chickadee, reflecting the invasion year that we're having. The Prothonotary hasn't started using the sapsucker holes yet, a behavior we've seen with other birds that have stayed into the winter (Cape May Warbler in Riverside Park, Western Tanager in Central Park, and possibly the Scott's Oriole).

This bird last seen on Thursday, Oct 28th.

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