Category Archives: Wildlife

Central Park is wilder than you think

As a New Yorker I’ve always prided myself on the disposition of the people who live in “the city”.
New Yorkers come from 188 different nations, they are strong-willed, exotic, and most importantly they are survivors.

It is only fitting that the Park (Central Park) is a reflection of the temperament of the city that surrounds this 800 plus acres. If I had to use only one word to describe Central Park it would be wild.

Wild might seem like an odd choice of words considering that Central Park is a man-made park in which almost all of the trees , rocks and ponds were all placed there in the 1860’s. So considering its artificial nature one wouldn’t expect that much wildlife to be happening within its borders.

Central Park is a bird watchers paradise as there are approximately 275 species of birds that stop through this large oasis of green and ponds. Apparently Central Park is a migratory funnel for birds flying north and south during the spring and fall.
The regular birders that tramp in the center of the park are often as colorful and interesting as the species they stalk.

Central Park also includes the most famous red tailed hawk in the world called Pale Male. It seems like this red tailed hawk has roosted with his family on the upper floors of a posh Fifth Avenue co-op .
Apparently the residents of this building do not appreciate the majesty of Pale Male or the fact that he drops parts of rat remains (which he feeds upon) on the sidewalk below Some of its tony residents have lobbied for the removal of his nest.

Photo courtesy of

I always figured that if I were lucky enough to be chosen from millions of windowsills in Manhattan to have such a magnificent creature build a nest that I would be truly blessed and certainly could put up with a few undesirable gifts from above.
As you can imagine the regular birders that tramp in the center of the park are often as colorful as interesting as the species they stalk.

Other birds that happens the park include Herron’s wild pheasant’s, owls falcons and egrets.
A bird that is most closely associated with Central Park and New York City is the pigeon. We New Yorkers affectionately call pigeons “sky rats” which is not so bad considering we call squirrels rats with bushy tails.

Most of the human residents in NYC have learned to adapt to a fast paced cramped lifestyle. And in turn its wildlife have learned to live with humans. In Central Park the animals tend to be very opportunist and in some cases very clever.

Hals cousin Hank

One of the more interesting non-native animals that have passed through “New York’s backyard” was a 35 pound coyote named Hal who escaped capture for almost a week. I have to admit during his brief habitation I was actually rooting for Hal as the idea of a carnivore roaming the park was quite appealing. I have often thought that a wolf might be even more fun for a few weeks.

Perhaps the most famous urban legend not only for Central Park but for New York City is the tale of alligators living in its sewer system. Believe it or not there is merit to this myth especially during the 20s – 60s when tourists could actually buy alligators in Florida.
What most alligator owners found is that as alligators grow they lose their cuteness. Many either had a “Viking funeral” in the toilet or were released in the New York version of Born Free in one of its many waterways. The largest reported alligator to ever have been caught in New York was 135 pound creature in the 1930s which incidentally was found in a sewer in New York City. As recently as last summer a small alligator was found in the Harlem Meer.

Other New York animal moments in Central Park were as follows, reportedly a French tourist was bitten by a snake in Central Park by a 7 foot Colombian boa constrictor, a woman was bitten by a bat in a taxi cab, and even a small deer was found running through the park.

One of the more interesting experiences that I have had in Central Park was many years ago while I was jogging on the great lawn during a light snowfall. As I was running I heard something peculiar (which is not unusual for New York) and I looked up and saw several parrots sitting in a tree. I thought I had made some extraordinary discovery but after speaking with a park ranger I found out that these Quaker Parrots, sturdy little escapees from Argentina have been nesting there for decades. They survive the winter by sitting on steam vents and warm electrical box’s.

A bit of a quirky fact about Central Park is that the small pond by Belvedere Castle is the only dragonfly preserve in North America. Beneath the waters of this pond are giant snapping turtles which are capable of removing a few fingers or hands if someone were to try to befriend this creature.

In 2004 while I was president of the Explorers club we organized a Bioblitz in Central Park (which is a biological survey done in 24 hours) in which we had 500 student and scientists scouring the park for every possible form of life from grass to ants to the birds that live in trees.
My task was to scuba dive in the Harlem Meer which has a visibility of about 2 inches and who’s bottom is muck of the worst degree .
As you can imagine the spectacle of scuba divers in those algae choked waters would draw a crowd including some of the local media.
Just before I was about to dive one of the local park officials came up to me and whispered in my year if you find any bodies don’t bring them up just note their location.

We did not find any bodies but after we analyzed our muck samples we found that we had discovered 202 new forms of life never identified to science.

And finally I leave you with a story of perhaps the two animals who represent the temperament and quirkiness of this city and its park , Silo and Roy two chinstrap penguins that live in the Central Park zoo who are completely devoted to each other and are considered gay. They exhibit what in zoology parlance is called “ecstatic behavior”: Only in New York!


Leave a comment

Filed under Born to Explore, Central Park, Central Park Wildlife, Richard Wiese, Wildlife