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Thursday, February 05, 2009


Last week I spent some time biking around Brooklyn. When pedaling up McDonald Avenue towards Prospect Park West I spotted a large bird wing in the road. I had just read a report on the NYSBirds list about two dead owls found on the road in Cedar Beach, so was concerned what I found might be the remains of an owl.

McDonald Avenue is a pretty busy road just outside the fence that surrounds Green-Wood Cemetery. My first thought was, "Oh no, one of our Brooklyn owls had been killed." I couldn't find any other remains of the dead bird. It could have been under a parked car and it was too cold for me to start crawling around on the ground. I'm not usually in the habit of collecting roadkill, but the unusually large wing seemed worth the stop.

When I got home I flipped through the pages of several field guides and ruled out any owl species. After a sigh of relief, I put it aside, but kept thinking that it looked familiar. Over lunch it hit me; juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron. I sent a note with a photo of the specimen to a few people I know who have worked closely with birds. Shai Mitra agreed with the night-heron identification and sent a link to the University of Puget Sound online bird wing database.

The ill-fated bird was probably flying back and forth between the small ponds at Green-Wood Cemetery and the lake in Prospect Park when he flew too close to the road. With the subject of bird/aircraft strikes prominent in the news and annual efforts to prevent migrating birds from striking the glass windows of office buildings, it seems that motor vehicle strikes have gone unrecognized as a problem. Sadly, it drives home the point that human technologies have created a tangled gauntlet for birds every day.

Apparently, it is not that unusual for owls to be killed by cars along the roadway at Jones Beach. I read somewhere that a contributing factor for the extirpation of screech owls in urban parks, such as Central Park, is paved roads. Screech Owls learn that they can perch at the side of a road, patiently wait for any prey crossing the pavement, then pounce. Unfortunately, if a car is approaching, they don't seem to have the sense to move out of the way.

Recently I've received a few emails from friends regarding a newly completed building at Grand Army Plaza, the north end of Prospect Park. The modern, glass structure designed by Richard Meier appears to be a trap for birds and several people are finding dead starlings, pigeons and House Sparrows that have unwittingly slammed into the windows. This Spring will be the first migration season with a completed, scaffold-free apartment building. Judging by its transparent appearance, I expect I'll be spending many early mornings at Grand Army Plaza during migration, picking up dead or injured songbirds. The Audubon Society's Project Safe Flight has made some important inroads in helping to prevent building strikes, but I'm not sure what they can do about this new building adjacent to Prospect Park.


Carrie said...

My parents had a breeding pair of Screech Owls in their backyard until one of them (the owls, not my parents) fell victim to a car. This was in a relatively rural area of western NY. It's a problem everywhere.

Rob Jett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BirdingMaine said...

What a waste, such a beautiful bird.

Thanks for the Project Safe Flight link.

Pamela said...

makes me so sad.

last week I went for a walk and found a Varied Thrush beside the road. I'm sure it was car struck.

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