Date: 3/17/17 7:05 pm
From: Ardith Bondi <ardbon...>
Subject: [nysbirds-l] NY Times: An Early Bird Gets Caught in the Snowstorm

Say what you will about the could-have-been-worse winter storm on
Tuesday: it still made for difficult traveling. Flights were canceled,
buses rerouted, subway and train lines shut down.

But it was much worse for many American woodcocks, one of the
Northeast’s most peculiar migratory bird species, whose yearly spring
commute through the city en route to destinations up north was rudely
and disastrously interrupted by the snow.

Reports of woodcock sightings from around the city started piling in
after the snowstorm, according to people who track the bird populations
in the city. And a large number of the birds were injured or dead.

“All day long,” Susan Elbin, the director of conservation and science at
New York City Audubon, said of the calls that began pouring into her
office about birds in distress. “It’s an unprecedented amount of birds.”

The woodcock, a short, rotund bird with a long beak that can be quite
accurately described as “cute,” is known for its elaborate courtship
routine, which begins with a song, continues with an ascent into the air
and finishes with a spiraling return back to the ground and perhaps a
mate. It is not a rare bird, but it is shy and it is uncommon for the
casual bird-watcher to spy one in New York, experts said.

The birds spend the colder months as far south as Florida. During the
rest of the year, they are found across the Northeast and into Canada.
They migrate early in the spring season, and as falls turns into winter,
they are some of the latest birds to migrate back down south.

The late-winter snowstorm, which likely caused masses of the bird to
break, or in birding terms “fallout,” from their migration, seems to
have grounded many in New York, at least temporarily. Some may have been
planning to stay here already.

Rita McMahon the director of the Wild Bird Fund, a nonprofit
organization that treats sick wildlife in New York, said that the group
had received about 55 woodcocks after the storm — and that it had
treated about 75 during all of 2016. Ms. McMahon said the storm had done
more than simply obstruct the birds’ progress — it had left them
starved, unable to find or forage for food in the snow-covered city.

“If the ground is frozen, then they can’t get bugs or insects,” she
said. “We’re seeing a lot of emaciated birds.”

When it is not covered in snow, New York, with its wetlands and open
spaces, usually presents a decent place for woodcocks to stop over
during the migration or mate. With eyes set far back on their heads, the
birds are built to stay aware of predators while they root in the ground
for foods.

But the rest of the city can be challenging to navigate, and some of the
injured birds had flown into building windows, Ms. McMahon said. Many
take the reflections they see in windows for the sky, leading them to
crash into buildings and fall — sometimes dozens of stories.

The Wild Bird Fund has been nursing the flock back to strength through
force feeding. Some had to be euthanized, Ms. McMahon said. So that they
do not try to leap or fly away, the birds are housed in small shelters
with soft sides, which prevent them from injuring themselves. The Wild
Bird Fund had flirted with the idea of taking them back to a warmer
state, like Virginia, but it has been taking the healthy birds to Long
Island, where there are some marshy areas free of snow and ice.

“It’s an amazing bird,” said Ms. Elbin, noting that a birder who went to
Central Park on Thursday said he saw or heard 50 woodcocks that were
alive and, he hoped, well.


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