My trip to Central Park to look for Common Redpolls was called on account of rain (I’ve now officially run through my whole stock of baseball metaphors, by the way. Stephen Jay Gould I will never be.) So instead, here’s a link to a 2005 article on the history of Screech Owls in New York City, including an account of the reintroduction efforts in Central Park, from the online journal Urban Habitats.

I first heard about the Central Park Screech Owl reintroduction on a Brooklyn Bird Club trip in 2006. I had only just moved to the city in fall of 2005, and in my rural-nurtured naivety I was shocked that Central Park was ever lacking Screech Owls to begin with.

My experience up until then had led me to regard Screech Owls as rather hardy and people-tolerant birds. One regularly roosted in the hay loft of my family’s barn from about 2000 until the barn burned down in summer 2007; this being a space that was used daily by people, dogs, and cats, and often sheltered motor vehicles in inclement weather. When I was in Ithaca, another bird turned a lot of heads by spending several days sleeping in the ivy on one of Cornell’s administrative buildings, in plain view of the road. The sheer difference in magnitude of human disturbance that Manhattan represented was a bit difficult to grasp even when I looked straight at it, like one of those presentations on the size of interstellar space where the Earth is the the size of a dog louse.

Happily, the owls still persist in Central Park. Less happily, they are still fairly precarious – they don’t even rate the “expected species” list for Central Park from NYCBirdReport.com.

One of the big tensions is between publicizing the owls – in order to educate the public, get them into the recovery effort, and facilitate getting data from “citizen scientists” (aka people who see stuff) – and keeping their location undisclosed – in order to protect them from evil-doers, but also from people who might get too into them, and pull stunts like this. I’ve heard tales of people hassling rarely-seen owls like Great Grey, but Screech Owls? Really?

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