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Birds of New York State

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New York Species

Birds are the most diverse and conspicuous group of vertebrates in New York State. The official checklist of the birds of New York State is maintained and published periodically by the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs, which makes copies available to the public for a modest fee. As of 1999, 455 species of resident and migratory birds, representing 19 orders and 62 families, had been documented from within the state over the past 100 years, with 244 of those species known as breeding birds (Federation of New York State Bird Clubs 1999). Among the 449 extant species from New York, 118 species (26.3%) are considered of sufficient rarity to merit submission of written documentation of their occurrences to the New York State Avian Records Committee (Federation of New York State Bird Clubs 1999). Though much sought after by bird watchers, these rare or "accidental" species contribute modestly to the functional avian diversity of the state. In addition to recognized species, at least three hybrid forms are listed among the breeding birds of the state. Hybrids resulting from interbreeding of Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) with American Black Duck (A. rubripes) and Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus) with Golden-winged Warbler (V. chrysoptera) have been described. The two morphologically distinctive hybrids of Blue-winged and Golden-winged warblers have been identified as "Brewster's" and "Lawrence's" warblers for more than 100 years (Andrle and Carroll 1988, Griscom and Sprunt 1979), with Lawrence's being the rarer form. None of the avian species that occur in New York are endemic to the state.

Species formerly occurring in New York but now extinct include Labrador Duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius) and Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). Bull (1974) reviewed historical reports of Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) and concluded that it was unlikely the species ever occurred in New York in historic times, though it had been reported from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Steadman (1988, 1998) reports no prehistoric evidence of Carolina Parakeet from New York. A distinct eastern subspecies of Greater Prairie-Chicken, the Heath Hen (Tympanuchus cupido cupido), disappeared from New York with conversion of the native prairies of the Hempstead Plains on Long Island around 1835 (Lincoln 1998a). The Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis) was last reported as a migrant species in New York in the early 1890s. Though still seen during migration, Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) are extirpated from the state as breeding species, with the last known successful eagle nesting reported in 1970, and the last known shrike nesting reported in 1988 (Novak 1998, Nye 1998).

Introductions of bird species not considered native to New York have included Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), Trumpeter Swan (C. buccinator, but see below), Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix), Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), Rock Dove (Columba livia), Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus), Sky Lark (Alauda arvensis), European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), and House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). The latter two species were introduced to North America by way of New York City in 1890 and 1853, respectively (Andrle and Carroll 1988, Levine 1998). The Sky Lark was introduced in Brooklyn in 1887, but had disappeared by 1913 (Lincoln 1998b). Ring-necked Pheasant introductions began in the 1890s. Though Gray Partridge numbers are small and its geographic distribution limited largely to parts of the upper St. Lawrence River Valley, some 28,000 were introduced into the state, mostly from Czechoslovakia, from 1927 to 1932 (Chamberlaine 1998). One species native to western North America, the House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), was introduced to eastern North America by a release of birds on western Long Island in 1940 (Elliott and Arbib 1953). The Monk Parakeet has been a breeding species, in small numbers, in the New York City and western Long Island areas since at least 1968 (Salzman 1998). Among the introduced species, there is evidence of competition with other cavity-nesting species (e.g., Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus, and Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis) for nest sites by the European Starling. The possibility of competition with the Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus) and House Sparrow from the House Finch also is raised by Wootton (1987). In addition, House Sparrows compete with Eastern Bluebirds for nest boxes. Apparently, the most recently introduced species is the Trumpeter Swan, with a small breeding group established at Perch River State Wildlife Management Area in St. Lawrence County. Successful breeding of Trumpeter Swan at Perch River has been reported in "Highlights of the Summer Season" in The Kingbird from 1995 through 2000, with two to seven young fledged each year. The highest number reported so far is 11 birds in 1999 (five adults, six young). The original Trumpeter Swans at Perch River probably originated from birds propagated in captivity, then released in either New York or Ontario. An active Trumpeter Swan introduction program has existed in Ontario since 1988. There also is evidence for prehistoric occurrences of Trumpeter Swan in New York (Steadman 1998).

Because of the ease with which they may be observed and a rich tradition of contributions by volunteer and professional observers that spans more than 150 years, birds are one of the best documented groups of animals in New York. Hardly any region of the state has escaped the attentions of amateur and professional ornithologists. The standardization of both English and scientific names of North American birds by the American Ornithologists' Union (1998) for more than 100 years no doubt has contributed to the ease with which amateurs can study birds and use a growing number of field guides. The first atlas of breeding birds of New York, (Andrle and Carroll 1988) documented the distributions of breeding birds for each of 5,335, 5x5-kilometer survey blocks for all of the state. To date, the New York breeding bird atlas is the most detailed account of its kind for any region of comparable size in the world. Since the publication of the breeding bird atlas, two species have been added to the list of breeding birds for New York, Merlin (Falco columbarius) and Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor). The second New York Breeding Bird Atlas began in 2000, making New York the first state or province in North America to launch its second breeding bird atlas (New York State Breeding Bird Atlas Project 2000). With completion of the second breeding bird atlas, New York will be in a unique position to assess patterns of change in the geographic distributions of the breeding birds of the state. General patterns of change already can be determined after review of only one season's data from the second atlas. For example, the Common Raven (Corvus corax) has already been detected in a larger number of breeding bird atlas blocks during 2000 than in all six field seasons of the first breeding bird atlas.

Recent studies of the diversity of terrestrial vertebrates of New York, using gap analysis methods (Smith et al. 2001; National Gap Analysis Program), identify several regions of the state where high diversity of breeding birds can be expected. In particular, some parts of central Long Island, the Catskills and Lower Hudson Valley, and a transition zone encircling the Central Adirondacks that corresponds roughly to the Adirondack Foothills (Figure 1) have especially high expected breeding bird species diversity, based upon the diversity of habitats represented in those regions.

Map of expected species variety (richness)
(Click to enlarge)
Figure 1. A depiction of the expected species variety (richness) of breeding birds across New York State. This illustration was prepared by mapping the expected relationships of breeding birds to different habitats, using gap analysis procedures (Smith et al. 2001). Figure prepared by Elizabeth Hill.

The relatively high accuracy of these predictions (89.5% at the ecoregion level), when compared to known occurrences from the first breeding bird atlas, supports the validity of these patterns. While New York is not positioned geographically to include substantial parts of any major North American migratory flyways, the Champlain and Hudson River valleys and coastal Long Island offer exceptional diversities of migratory species during spring and fall migrations. At the western end of Long Island, migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds moving south along the Atlantic coast from eastern Canada converge with those funneled down the Champlain and Hudson River valleys to contribute significantly to the numbers of migratory species using the Atlantic Flyway. The south shore of Lake Ontario also offers noteworthy diversity and numbers of migrating birds of prey during spring at Braddock Bay and Derby Hill.

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This web site was developed by the New York State Biodiversity Project
and is maintained by the New York State Biodiversity Research Institute


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