Actually, by “it” we don’t mean what you might be thinking. We’re talking about Leslie Day writing on natural life in New York City, which, admittedly, includes plenty of “it.” Last week, the birds and bees stuff dwelled mainly on birds. Leslie was at the New Leaf Restaurant in Fort Tryon Park signing her third and latest book, Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City.
Leslie was accompanied by two other fabulous New York women: Trudy Smoke, who provided the book’s wonderful illustrations, and Beth Bergman, whose fabulous photos are a joy. They pooled their talents for a field guide that runs from Double-crested cormorants to Woodpeckers, revealing the richness of diversity in the natural life of our urban world.
Where Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City differs from other books is that Dr. Day and her collaborators have chosen to devote their efforts to information about birds in the five boroughs only. New York City offers some of the best birding sites in the northeastern United States. These three fabulous New York women have been to every park in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx, seeking out their feathered material. Offers Dr. Day: “There are so many birds in New York because of where we sit geographically. We are nestled between the Atlantic Ocean, Hudson River and Long Island Sound. As they pass over the city, birds see an abundance of parks and coastline.”
Some of the species are New Yorkers with their own coterie of admirers. New York City Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), include the famous Pale Male, the Fifth Avenue Hawk, who even has his own web page. But city living can be dangerous. Pale Male is raising young with his fifth mate, after the previous four died from rat poisoning after ingesting poisoned pigeons and rats. Other birds die during migrations from wintering to breeding grounds and back, crashing into windows or confused by the city skyline that lights up the night sky, they fly in circles eventually dropping from fatigue.
Each bird entry in the book includes city-specific information on Where and When to Find, Behavior, Nest & Eggs, and Ecological Role. And these birds certainly do seem to have a New York City Frame of Mind, or least a New York City Attitude. For example, Dr. Day writes:
House Sparrow: One hundred house sparrows were introduced from Europe into Brooklyn, Manhattan and Chicago in the early 1850s, and the species expanded throughout North America. It is the most commonly seen bird throughout the five boroughs and lives here year-round. Nest and Eggs: I have seen them emerge from places that are surprising, like the nostrils of Teddy Roosevelt’s bronze horse on Central Park West in front of the American Museum of Natural History.”
Double crested cormorants: … use sticks and material like “rope, old balloons, fishing net and plastic, which they weave into the flat nest. U Thant Island, which lies in the East River across from the United Nations, has many cormorant nests.”
The back of the guide includes New York birding organizations and resources for New York City birders such as a list of Birdwatching Organizations and Rehabilitators for hurt, orphaned and sick wildlife. There is also a detailed list of Birding Hotspots by borough and a surprisingly long list of Photographers’ Blogs that Dr. Day describes as “a great gift to our city.” Concludes Dr. Day: “Once you start to notice birds, New York city will never look the same.”
The New Leaf Restaurant, a fieldstone cottage designed by the Olmsted Brothers as a park administration building, hosted Dr. Day’s book signing. Fabulous New York woman, Bette Midler, restored the cottage as part of the work of the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), a non-profit that works to restore New York’s parks and community gardens. Fort Tryon Park is known as Manhattan’s most tranquil spot.