My name’s Cal Vornberger, and I’m the author of “Birds of Central Park.” It’s a book about the birds that live and pass through Central Park [in New York City] year-round. Spring, summer, fall, winter--every season has different types of birds. There’s been about 280 different species of birds that have been counted in Central Park over the years.
Quite a few bird-watchers spend a lot of time in Central Park, and in fact Central Park has been called one of the top ten bird-watching locations in the United States. So if you’re interested in birds, that’s a good place to go--particularly in the spring and fall, because in the spring and fall we have migrants that are moving through.
We have a couple species of birds that travel from Argentina all the way up to northern Canada. A 10,000-mile round-trip, just to breed up here. And then they head back in the fall, to their wintering grounds, and we get them passing through again.
When they’re migrating, heading north, they migrate at night, flying up what we call the Atlantic Corridor, up along the coast of the Atlantic. When they get up to where the Hudson River hits the Atlantic--that’s where Central Park is--they see this big dark patch of land, and because it’s night and they’ve been flying for a long time, it’s a perfect place for them to stop and rest and relax. So they all come down, and we get literally thousands, on a good day, of migrants coming into the park to rest, relax, have a drink, get together with other birds. But they’re on their way further north, to their breeding grounds, so they don’t spend a lot of time there.
What makes Central Park such a great location for migrating birds is the fact that most of these birds—we call them neotropical songbirds because they spend part of their time in the tropics—are quite colorful in the spring. Because they are heading to their breeding grounds, [in the spring] they’re in what’s known as “breeding plumage,” very brightly colored: bright yellows, bright reds, bright blues, just an amazing array of colors.
It’s only the males that are colorful, by the way—not the females. There’s absolutely no reason for a female to be very colorful, because she has to sit on a nest and watch her eggs, and if she’s colorful like the male is, very likely she’ll be predated—she’ll be eaten by a larger bird or a mammal. The males, however, wear their bright plumage because they’re trying to impress a female and trying to find a female who finds them attractive.
In the fall it’s quite the opposite: they’ve spent their summer breeding and they’re on their way back south, and the males have lost their bright plumage (the females were never brightly plumaged to begin with).
The other interesting thing about these neotropical songbirds is that only the males sing, not the females. A lot of birders bird by ear—they can hear a song and can identify the bird—and it’ll only be the male, not the female.