Boreal Owl in Central Park NYC, 2004/5

All photos and text copyright © Phil Jeffrey, 2001-2009. I don't have an issue with personal use the images, but for all other uses please contact me first.

This small owl was found on the Christmas Bird Count on Sunday Dec 19th 2004 by Jim Demes in a most unlikely location - adjacent to the entrance to Tavern On The Green. Peter Post subsequently went to take another look at this owl and realised that it was a Boreal Owl, the first sighting of this bird in NYC.

Much excitement ensued. I was instructed in no uncertain terms to get myself down to the park, and I saw this Boreal Owl in the late afternoon of December 19th.

On the morning of Monday December 20th the owl was particularly cooperative in its roosting location in a Norway Spruce and I was able to take a few pictures of the bird:

Boreal Owl Boreal Owl
Boreal Owl Boreal Owl

It was less cooperative on subsequent days, but was in the same tree and seen by many. It was especially instructive finding a Northern Saw-whet Owl after watching the Boreal Owl for a while - clearly smaller and with different structure and an entirely different facial pattern.

It was still present as of Wednesday January 12th, although in a different location closer to Tavern On The Green. It's been seen consuming cached food during the daytime, although it spends most of it's time sleeping and generally acting oblivious to the fact that it's most recent roost puts it above a trash and maintenance area for Tavern On The Green.

This is a boreal owl invasion year, especially so in northern Minnesota which is experiencing a remarkable number of Great Gray Owls and many Northern Hawk Owls. The invasion is a result of a population crash of their favored prey species (small rodents) and bad weather in the Canadian Arctic over the summer. What drives these Arctic owls south, especially as far south as NYC, is starvation. (This includes the Snowy Owls at Jones Beach, etc). What is good for us birders is bad for these owls, and many will die before returning to their breeding grounds. ~300 Boreal Owls were caught in nets in Minnesota in late Oct - early Nov, as evidence that Boreal Owls were also on the move earlier in the winter. A couple of the much larger boreal Great Gray Owls made it to northern NY state in February/March 2005.