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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rare Crow on Staten Island

A Hooded Crow has recently appeared on Staten Island. If it is determined to be a "legitimate" bird, that is, one that wasn't an escaped zoo bird, or had hitched a ride on a ship, it will be the first record of this Eurasian species in North America.

I've seen Hooded Crows while vacationing in Italy and posted a photo of one here spotted at the Villa Borghese. This bird has an interesting range that stretches from Scotland in the West and across Asia to the East. They are also rare in Greenland. It may be an exercise in futility, but I can't help speculating on how this bird might have arrived in New York City. The range map to the right shows that they do stray across open water and into Greenland periodically. In addition, some populations do actually migrate for fairly long distances. It's not inconceivable that this individual made its way down the coast of North America after tiring of the accommodations in Greenland. There are some people who will assume that this bird just hitched a ride on a ship, which is also believable, especially considering the amount of shipping traffic that goes in and out of New York and New Jersey ports. I think it has been ruled out that it is an escaped captive bird. It doesn't have any bands on its legs, plus, his feathers aren't worn in a pattern that would be consistent with a caged bird.

When Shane called me in the morning to see if I was interested in running over to Staten Island to look for the bird, I jumped at the opportunity.

It was only observed by a birder within the last few days, however, runners and other regulars to Great Kills Park claim to have noticed it a couple of weeks ago. Unlike our "boring" single colored crows, only the Hooded Crow's head, throat, wings, tail and thigh feathers are black, the rest of the bird is pale gray. On young birds the gray is more buff. It's a hard bird to overlook. The bird has been hanging around a gravel parking lot near the southern-most end of Great Kills Park. It seems an appropriate location for this bird as it is a stone's throw from the beach. According to the website

"The nominate subspecies breeds on Isle of Man, Ireland, Scottish Hebridean islands, Scotland mainland and disjunctively across northern Denmark and Scandinavia; for example, the subspecies is often seen along coastal areas of Islay where rocky and sandy coves alternate. Historically it is an autumnal visitor to the coast of eastern England, particularly Lincolnshire.(Beddard. 1906) where it feeds on shellfish in the mudflats."

Parking at the gravel parking lot requires a fishing permit, so Shane parked at the next closest lot and we walked south along the beach. Within about five minutes we spotted the crow standing near the shoreline. Two other birders were watching it from the edge of the dunes ahead of us. After a few minutes the bird returned to the area next to the parking lot where we got really good, close views. Here's a video of it perched in a dead pine tree being harassed by a mockingbird:

While we were present he returned to the beach a couple of times and foraged along the shore. He perched on a small rock jetty for quite a while, but also jumped down between the rocks occasionally, returning with some small bits of food.

We probably won't know for a year or more whether this bird is deemed a new species for North America, but it was still kind of neat getting to see one for only the second time in my life ... and on another continent. The American Birding Association has an interesting posting about it on their blog here.

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