Aside from the pervasive pigeon, New York City, is home to a diverse array of birds! According to the New York City Audobon, more than 200 different species frequent the New York City metropolitan area every year, and over 400 species have been recorded here. New York City’s location along the Atlantic Flyway bird migration route and the various habitats the city offers make it a hospitable stop for all kinds of birds, from waterbirds and raptors to songbirds, and more. In anticipation of our next Wild City virtual talk with author Thomas Hynes, we’ve rounded up 5 of the most famous and rare birds spotted in New York City in recent years. You can discover even more celebrity birds of NYC and learn why New York City is such a great place for bird watching in our virtual talk with Hynes on Tuesday, April 27th!
Wild City: Celebrity Birds of NYC
Tickets to this talk are just $10. You can gain access to unlimited free virtual events per month and unlock a video archive of 100+ past events as an Untapped New York Insider starting at $10/month. Already an Insider? Register here! Can’t make it live? Register for this virtual talk and we’ll email you a recording of it after it ends.
1. The Monk Parrots of Brooklyn
In certain parts of Brooklyn, you may catch a flash of green against a tangled nest of twigs and branches. The brightly colored birds who make these massive communal homes are Monk Parrots. The grey hoods that color their foreheads inspired their name. Native to Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, they have been famously spotted in the spires of Green-Wood Cemetery and at Brooklyn College. New Yorkers have also seen the parrots in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Red Hook, Bay Ridge, Manhattan Beach, and Canarsie and in some parts of Queens and the Bronx.
According to Stephen Baldwin, an enthusiast who runs the site BrooklynParrots.com, tens of thousands of Monk Parrots were sent to the United States from Argentina in the 1960s. Argentina had an overabundance of these birds and they were ruining crops. It’s unclear however how exactly the parrots came to be “in the wild.” The most popular story is that they arrived in an unmarked crate at New York’s JFK Airport in 1967 and were accidentally released by a curious airport employee. Another theory states that the birds are released pets, set free by buyers who regretted their talkative purchases. A final version of the origin story is that they all flew away from a shuttered pet shop on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. As of 2020, Baldwin estimates there are about 40 birds at Brooklyn College, 60 at Green-Wood Cemetery, and perhaps another 50 in all of South Brooklyn (including Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Canarsie).
2. The Bridge Falcons
The high bridges and skyscrapers of New York City make the perfect home for a population of Peregrine Falcons. These predatory birds, native to the East Coast, can be found nesting on the Brooklyn Bridge, Verrazano Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge, George Washington Bridge, Metropolitan Life Building, Bank of New York, St. Regis Hotel, and Riverside Church. The high perches of New York City’s architecture and infrastructure offer the falcons a great vantage point for hunting their prey. From their lookouts, they can swoop down at speeds of 200 miles per hour!
New York City’s falcons were among the first animals to receive aid from the Endangered Species Act of 1973. According to the NYC Parks Department, over 145 falcons have been successfully hatched and banded by biologists since 1983. Now, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Protection, while Peregrine Falcons are listed as an endangered species in New York State, New York City has the largest urban population of them.
3. The Snowy Owl
The most recent celebrity bird sighting happened in February 2021 when a rare Snowy Owl took up residence in Central Park. The appearance of the majestic white bird was a welcomed bright spot in an otherwise gloomy second winter of the pandemic. With little else to do, crowds of New Yorkers flocked to the park to catch a glimpse of this visitor. Wild City author Thomas Hynes spent a snowy Saturday night with the Snowy Owl and counted a crowd of roughly 100 admirers, which included actor and comedian Steve Martin! The owl didn’t disappoint when it appeared atop one of the turrets on the 1864 pump house at the Reservoir.
Before the Snowy Owl appeared last winter, the last sighting of this species in Central Park was in 1890, more than 100 years ago! While these owls are usually found in the Arctic regions of North America, Europe or Asia, they pass New York in their normal winter migratory patterns. You can see a Snowy Owl specimen on display in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall of the American Museum of Natural History. This specific bird was shot by Theordore Roosevelt himself near his home on Long Island in 1876 and donated to the museum in 1911.
4. The Mandarin Duck
Few birds have thrown New Yorkers into such a frenzy as the mysterious Mandarin Duck did in 2018. The tiny bird made a big splash when he turned up at the Central Park Pond near the Hallett Sanctuary that fall. Mandarin Ducks are usually found in East Asia, so how this guy got to Central Park was quite puzzling. Although the bird had a band on its leg, no one claimed it. When the duck first appeared, the NYC Parks Department told Untapped New York, “It is likely that this duck escaped captivity or was released. Unfortunately, it’s not totally uncommon for people to release pets into a park when they can no longer care for them. This is both against Park rules, and bad for the animal. We have confirmed that it did not come from any of the local zoos.”
Before the Mandarin Duck disappeared as mysteriously as it emerged, there was Mandarin Duck fever in New York City. Dogs were dressed up as the duck, t-shirts were made, The Cut branded the bird “Hot Duck,” and the bird even made it to the pages of gossip website TMZ! The duck made trips to New Jersey and Brooklyn while he was in New York, and was last spotted in March 2019, right before the spring mating season.
5. Little Rockefeller
Little Rockefeller, a small Saw-Whet Owl brought some Christmas cheer to New York City in 2020 when he hitched a ride from Oneonta to Rockefeller Center inside the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Though her stay in New York City was brief, the tiny owl with big eyes captured the hearts of New Yorkers who followed her story of rehabilitation. After he was discovered by a crew member on the Christmas tree transport team, Little Rockefeller, as she was dubbed, was sent to the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in Saugerties to recover from his journey.
Though it looks like a baby, Rocky, as the owl was affectionately called, is a full-grown Saw-Whet Owl. Saw-whet Owls are the smallest owls in the northeast. At Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, Rocky was given fluids and fed “all the mice she would eat.” After receiving a clean bill of health from the vet, the owl was released back into the wild at dusk. If you ever get the chance to go see a rare bird in New York City, please keep in mind the Audubon’s guide for ethical bird photography, which reminds us to avoid causing birds any unnecessary stress or disruption.
Wild City: Celebrity Birds of NYC
Discover more famous birds of New York City in our next Wild City virtual talk with author Thomas Hynes! Tickets to this talk on Tuesday, April 27th are just $10. You can gain access to unlimited free virtual events per month and unlock a video archive of 100+ past events as an Untapped New York Insider starting at $10/month. Already an Insider? Register here! Can’t make it live? Register for this virtual talk and we’ll email you a recording of it after it ends
Next, check out 10 of NYC’S Most Famous Animals Throughout History