Migrants in New York City

On May 15, 1921, Madison Square [20-23rd streets between Madison Ave and 5th 
Ave, Manhattan], a small park in the very heart of Manhattan, was the scene of 
an astonishing migratory bird exhibit. Bewildered in the thick weather of the 
preceding night, large numbers of small birds had dropped into this haven of 
refuge and through the kindness of Mr. George Gladden who telephoned me of this 
remarkable event, I was able to make a rough census on two successive days, and 
to investigate the cause of such an unusual happening.

Arriving about 1 p.m., I was surprised to find the birds swarming over the 
lawns, but relatively few of them up in the trees. It was a novel sight to 
watch Redstarts and a Chestnut-sided Warbler flitting about on the close 
cropped sod, and the birds seemed so ravenously hungry that even Maryland 
[Common] Yellowthroats were to be seen pecking at the pieces of bread thrown in 
by passers-by. Grasshopper Sparrows appeared more at home, as they crouched low 
in the short grass, where they probably found more natural food.

The total number of birds, on the 15th, I estimated at about 525, exclusive of 
House Sparrows. Ovenbirds were decidedly in the majority, scattered everywhere 
through the park, while the next most abundant birds, White-throated Sparrows, 
were gathered in more or less of a flock in the center of the Square. 
Twenty-three species of native birds were seen alive, and one more, the 
Magnolia Warbler, was represented among the birds picked up dead.

By the following day more than three-fourths of the birds had left. Among those 
remaining, of course, were some that had suffered injuries, but others seemed 
quite unhurt. Of the larger and stronger species, such as the Catbird, Towhee, 
and White-throated Sparrow, even a smaller proportion was left. The species and 
the estimated numbers of individuals present on these first two days are as 
follows, but Ovenbirds and a few others remained for many days thereafter.

May 15 - 16 [1921]

Lincoln's Sparrow 1 - 0
Chipping Sparrow 8 - 2
Field Sparrow 4 - 1
White-throated Sparrow 100 - 15
White-crowned Sparrow 2 - 0
Swamp Sparrow 4 - 0
Grasshopper Sparrow 8 - 1
Towhee 50 - 8
Northern Water-Thrush 2  - 2
Ovenbird 200 - 60
Maryland Yellow-throat 80 - 30
Yellow-breasted Chat 1 - 0
Redstart 4 - 2
Chestnut-sided Warbler 1 - 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 2 -  0
Myrtle Warbler 1 - 0
Parula Warbler 2  - 1
Black-and-white Warbler 7  - 1
House Wren 3 - 0
Brown Thrasher 3 - 0
Catbird 35 - 4
Wilson's Thrush 3 - 0
Gray-cheeked Thrush 2 - 0

Many birds of the species enumerated above were found dead in the vicinity of 
Madison Square, and the cause of the disaster is not far to seek. The night had 
been very foggy, and it was against the tower of the Metropolitan Life 
Building, to the east of the Square, that the birds had hurled themselves. The 
brilliant electric lights at its apex, and the illuminated clock-dials lower 
down doubtless played a part. So many of the dead birds had been carried off 
before my arrival that it was impossible to estimate accurately the number that 
had succumbed. The superintendent of the Metropolitan Life-Building tells me 
that about one hundred were found on the building, but two or three times that 
number probably fell in the park and on nearby streets. We noted that few 
Towhees or Sparrows had been killed; most of the casualties were among the 
weaker Warblers. James P. Chapin, American Museum of Natural History, New York 
24 May 1921. Mr. Chapin told of his experiences in Madison Square Park on May 
15th, when numbers of migrating birds, that had been bewildered in the fog and 
rain of that morning, were to be seen on the grass and in the bushes of the 
Park. There were many species of Warblers - among them the Ovenbird (Seiurus 
aurocapillus) was the most numerous. He also saw a Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza 
l. lincolni) and 8 Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savammrum australis). He 
estimated that over 100 birds had been killed by striking the light of the 
Metropolitan Building.

Mr. Johnston reported for Central Park a Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora 
chrysoptera) on May 14th, a Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis), Bobolink 
(Dolichonyx oryzivomis) and Lincoln Sparrow on the 15th, and a Kentucky Warbler 
(Oporornis formosus) on the 16th.

The following, whose names had been proposed at the last meeting, were elected 
to Resident Membership: Miss Blanche Samek of 511 West 113th Street, Miss 
Gertrude Litchfield, Mrs. Alice F. Mapes and Miss Mary K. Ruby, all of 56 West 
75th Street, New York.

Abstract of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of New York for the Four 
Years Ending March 11, 1924. Pages 21-22.


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