We here in New York City (and in much of the northeastern United States) are dealing with a pretty major cold snap for late May, with temperatures last night falling down to 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius). Strong wind and lots of rain has only added to the misery. As bad as a cold, wet, and windy Memorial Day Weekend is for people it is even worse for birds, especially species that rely upon flying insects for sustenance.
Yesterday evening I made a quick pass through Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in central Queens and was surprised to spot a Cliff Swallow when I put glass on the swirling flocks of swallows feeding low over the grassy fields.
It’s a horrible picture of a Cliff Swallow, but this one of two that were foraging with the flock.
In addition to the hordes of Barn Swallows, which are only to be expected at Flushing Meadows, where they breed, there were several Tree Swallows, two Cliff Swallows, and a trio of Bank Swallows (Sand Martins to you folks across the Atlantic). The Cliff Swallows and Bank Swallows were a pretty nice pickup this late in the season.
Overnight last night, as I mentioned mentioned above, temperatures got cold, the rain picked up, and the wind got stronger. So while the rest of my family slept in I nipped out to the park this morning to see how the swallows were doing. They are struggling in the nasty weather.
This Barn Swallow was one of many resting on roads, sidewalks, and fields.
The amount of swallows seemed even greater this morning than last night, and many of them were spending lots of time on the ground. Some just sat, looking miserable, while others actively foraged on the ground, picking at creatures in the grass that were too small for me to spot.
The video, shot from the driver seat of my car, shows swallows foraging and sitting on the road, a dangerous thing for tired birds to do.
Eventually I noticed a large flock of swallows feeding from the ground by the edge of Meadow Lake. I walked out there, braving the wind and rain, and soon felt as bedraggled as the swallows looked. It was odd seeing birds so superbly adapted to feeding on the wing reduced to pecking through the grass looking for food and occasionally making short flights to different turf. This strategy was also fraught with danger, as several Ring-billed Gulls patrolled, constantly checking to see if any swallows had become weak or indifferent enough for a gull to get a quick meal.
If I get a chance I’ll stop back tomorrow, which is forecast to be a bit warmer and with less precipitation, to see how the birds are doing, and I’ll report back in the comments.
Here’s hoping you’re having better weather wherever you are…
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has spent the last five years in Queens. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their two indoor cats, Hunter and B.B. His bird photographs have appeared in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications.
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