New York City is host to a unique ecosystem of native and introduced species. While woodland species are confined to the city’s parks, there are a few exceptions that seem to thrive in our urban landscape. See who runs shit in the concrete jungle with this list of the most successful birds and their rankings, from most dominant to least.
BIRDS OF PREY
1. Bald Eagle
Vito Corleone, one of the Staten Island bald eagles
Currently, there is one known nesting pair of bald eagles in the city, but it seems the birds’ eggs never hatched this year. Be that as it may, it is only a matter of time before this pair is successful, or other eagles begin to colonize out-lying areas such as Riverdale, Pelham Bay and Jamaica Bay. Their main diet is fish, but they can eat a wide variety of prey from groundhogs and fawns to the occasional house cat. They are known predators of osprey, great-horned owls and red-tailed hawks and will kill these other birds if they stray onto their territory during nesting season.
2. Great Horned Owl
Palemale (right) flexes on a great horned owl (left)
The largest nocturnal raptor in the city at five pounds, the great horned owl is still only about half the weight of a bald eagle. These owls can be found in Forest Park, Greenwood Cemetery, Pelham Bay Park, Inwood Hill, Highbridge Park, Bronx Botanical Garden and any other city park with mature secondary forest. They will prey on hawks, young eaglets, other owls, skunk, squirrels, rats as well as house cats (from which they can catch feline herpes, proving fatal).
3. Red-tailed Hawk
Crows vs. a red-tailed hawk
Now a very common sight in NYC, the red-tailed hawk is an incredibly adaptable and resilient bird. It preys on rats, pigeons, starlings, American kestrels, house sparrows, squirrels, snakes, insects, bats and anything it can get its talons into. This popular hawk can be found in almost every neighborhood and there are quite few blogs devoted to it.
4. Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine falcon with prey
Billed as the fastest animal alive, peregrine falcons use their incredible speed to outrun and catch anything with wings, including birds much larger than themselves. Brought back from extinction, they now nest at every major water crossing in NYC, as well as on many tall buildings. This gives the city the distinction of having the greatest concentration of nesting peregrine falcons in the world.
Another success story, the osprey is a summer resident that nests on man-made platforms from Riverdale to the Kill van Kull. Efficient hunters, it feeds exclusively on fish, but this large bird is often bullied by other raptors for its catch. Ospreys migrate as far south as Brazil, a distance of over 3,600 miles each way.
6. American Kestrel
Jay vs. American kestrel
North America’s smallest falcon, the American Kestrel, weighs about as much as your mobile device — yet it is the most common raptor in the city. The birds nest in the rusted cornices of buildings where they nurse between two to five young falcons that sometimes pop out before they are fledged. Fed on a diet of baby pigeon, baby starling, house sparrow, dragonfly, mice and the occasional Italian wall lizard, the young eyass can in turn be preyed upon by red-tailed hawks, cooper’s hawks and peregrine falcons.
PASSERINES (PERCHING BIRDS)
1. American Crow
Seriously impacted by West Nile, the American crow’s numbers have steadily climbed to the point where large flocks of over 50 birds can be seen regularly harassing hawks or owls. Highly adaptable and highly social, they can dominate the aerial battlespace when they attack as a coordinated unit. They build medium-sized stick nests near the tops of evergreens throughout the city.
2. European Starling
Intelligent and highly social, European starlings are an invasive species that have gone on to become New York City’s most common bird. Huge flocks, called murmurations, can be seen coming home to roost at Broadway Bridge and Flushing Meadow where hawks and falcons wait to pick them off. Their numbers are so large the MTA has resorted to poisoning them.
3. Monk Parakeet (Quaker Parrot)
There are many legends about how monk parakeets came to be in NYC, but most likely, a few of the pets got loose. With many fruiting and seeding trees around, they found ample food in every borough around the city. They are preyed upon by falcons, hawks and humans, the latter who destroy their large stick nests when the birds take over a power transformer or spotlight.
4. Rock Dove (Pigeon)
Back in the day, this was the number one bird in the city. The availability of tons of habitat and food led to a population explosion and with that came a rise in disease — hence the term “fly rat.” With so many buildings being renovated and fewer and fewer people keeping pigeons, however, they are now in danger of disappearing from the landscape altogether. SAVE THE PIGEONS!
5. House Sparrow
Another invasive species that has wreaked havoc on the indigenous birds of North America, the English house sparrow is hated only slightly less than the starling. Diminutive but aggressive, it’s that damn chirping bird in the bushes outside your window at 6 AM. American Kestrels prey on them quite successfully, and watching them grab one out of the air is a sweet experience.
6. American Robin
A native to the east, this bird is a member of the thrush family. As such, it is often on the ground eating grubs, bugs and worms. It seems to be able to find them in even the smallest plot of grass and will build nests on window ledges and street lights.
1. Mute Swan
This huge bird is another non-native species that has flourished here. Introduced from Europe over 100 years ago, they bully all the other birds including Canada Geese. Mute Swans are only preyed upon by eagles and coyotes but even still they put up a hell of a fight and can drown both people and dogs.
2. Canada Geese
Band of geese
Native to North America but formerly uncommon, the Canada Goose can be found in great numbers throughout the city’s parks and golf courses. The geese are here for the abundant green grass which attracts them like a Shake Shack draws hipsters. Responsible for the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency, the Port Authority regularly gasses geese and other birds to try to keep the flight lines open.
Gulls eat fried chicken
Technically there is no such bird as the seagull. What people are usually referring to is the ring-billed gull but could also mean herring gull, greater-black backed gull and laughing gull. Of them, the the ubiquitous ring-billed gull is the most abundant and makes quite a living off the city’s garbage.
4. Mallard Duck
Chances are if you are looking at water anywhere in the five boroughs, you are looking at this duck. Noted for their iridescent green heads, these birds often hybridize with other ducks such as the black duck. They are hunted quite extensively throughout North America but not enough birds are taken to even dent their numbers.
5. Wild Turkey
Turkey with poults
Common on Staten Island, this large and sometimes aggressive bird was at one time found in Battery Park, Morningside Park, Forest Park and Van Cortlandt Park. I lumped them in with the water birds because they are about the size of geese, but really they are woodland birds and prefer parks with large trees and ground cover. With the case on Staten Island, some people feed the birds, which makes them dependent on us and unable to return to a truly wild lifestyle.