Other Migrants at Jamaica Bay

While Coley settles in at his winter home, we thought we’d periodically check back in on his summer nest site: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. The bay is rich in wildlife; one of many reasons Coley and his mate may have chosen it in the first place; here, Ranger Colleen Sorbera discusses the bay’s many other avian migrants.

Coley isn’t the only bird for which Jamaica Bay is a seasonal home. In the weeks after Coley’s departure, the southbound flights of birds of prey increased in momentum. Visitors spotted American kestrels, merlins, peregrine falcons, Northern harriers, and red-tailed, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks here at the Refuge, as well as other Ospreys on their way to their wintering grounds. On some days, especially when there was a wind out of the northwest, one could easily encounter 20 or more birds of prey while walking the West Pond Trail.

Bird migration can be thought of as a series of waves, or maybe musical chairs is a fair analogy. For example, American robins who summered farther north may come to stay in Jamaica Bay for the winter, or they may be passing through. Robins who summered here may move farther south. Among raptors, some peregrine falcons pass through on their way to the southernmost tip of South America, while other peregrines settle here for the winter. Adults and juveniles of the same species may have different migration patterns.

As a side note, the American robin is a good example of how birds’ ranges have changed due to human activity (global warming is one cause, so is the way humans have changed food and habitat availability). Robins were once considered the definitive migrant – the poster child for the return of spring, but now some can be seen here throughout the winter. Range shifts have also taken place in raptors such as the Mississippi kite, black vulture, and barred owl, to name a few,

A resting Cooper’s Hawk.

On what seemed to be the busiest migration day of the season so far, I was lucky enough to come upon a Cooper’s Hawk bathing in a puddle not 15 feet in front of me. We both froze in place and stared at each other for half a minute, till the hawk gave a short grunt and flew off into the trees. Cooper’s Hawks are agile, medium-size raptors that hunt smaller birds – sometimes people who have bird feeders up to attract songbirds end up also attracting Cooper’s Hawks that are stopping by for a different meal! In the winter of 2011, the Refuge bird feeders were staked out by a Cooper’s Hawk and a sharp-shinned hawk this way for several weeks.

Last week I was watching a peregrine falcon and Northern harrier over the North Marsh, when the peregrine chased a flock of smaller birds directly into the harrier’s path. The two raptors took a break from hunting to swoop around and check each other out. Although it seemed like they would collide, they were so agile at full speed that they were not in any danger.

If you’re in the area, stop by the Refuge to check out the fall raptor migration yourself!