200 Bird Thursday – Week 1

long-tailed duck

I’ve wanted to see one of these for ages. This week, I finally did. (Many thanks to Rob Jett at citybirder.blogspot.com for permission to use this image.)

Thursday is now “Bird Day” around here. That’s when I’ll report on new birds seen in the previous seven days, my total count for the year, and any particularly noteworthy birding adventures (or misadventures). As a special bonus feature, I’ll also profile a “bird of the week.”

This week’s tally (which is also of course the tally for the year-to-date) follows. Starting with a blank slate, as I did, many of the birds on it are the avian equivalent of low-hanging fruit. A few are rare vagrants (painted bunting, black-headed gull) or birds that would normally have headed to southern parts by now (catbird). Species with a double asterisk are “life” birds; those with a single asterisk are first-time NY sightings:

  1. Common loon
  2. Red-throated loon
  3. Horned grebe
  4. Double-crested cormorant
  5. Mute swan
  6. Canada goose
  7. Brant
  8. Mallard
  9. Shoveler
  10. Black duck
  11. Gadwall
  12. American wigeon
  13. Ruddy duck
  14. Bufflehead
  15. Ring-necked duck
  16. Lesser scaup
  17. Greater scaup
  18. Common goldeneye*
  19. Long-tailed duck**
  20. Red-breasted merganser
  21. Hooded merganser
  22. American coot
  23. Northern gannet*
  24. Ring-billed gull
  25. Herring gull
  26. Great black-backed gull
  27. Black-headed gull
  28. Great blue heron
  29. Purple sandpiper
  30. Red-tailed hawk
  31. American kestrel
  32. Great horned owl
  33. Rock dove/feral pigeon
  34. Mourning dove
  35. Monk parakeet (escapees whose origins are shrouded in myth, but who are now well-established with several breeding colonies in Brooklyn)
  36. Red-bellied woodpecker
  37. Downy woodpecker
  38. Blue jay
  39. American crow
  40. Black-capped chickadee
  41. Tufted titmouse
  42. Brown creeper
  43. White-breasted nuthatch
  44. Northern mockingbird
  45. Gray catbird
  46. Hermit thrush
  47. American robin
  48. Cedar waxwing
  49. Starling
  50. Red-winged blackbird
  51. House sparrow
  52. Cardinal
  53. Painted bunting
  54. American goldfinch
  55. European goldfinch (these are escaped cage birds that have established several flocks in Brooklyn; they seem pretty wild to me, but including them on official lists is controversial)
  56. House finch
  57. Dark-eyed junco
  58. Song sparrow
  59. White-throated sparrow
  60. Fox sparrow

*New York first
**”Life” bird

Just 140 to go!

All of these birds were seen within the confines of New York City, without need of a car. I saw great birds in Prospect and Central Parks and during Saturday’s South Brooklyn beach walk, of course, but I also saw great birds on neighborhood streets and at Bush Terminal. The last is a newish park tucked away in an industrial area of Sunset Park, with a Sanitation Department depot to the south and a fleet of Van Gogh moving trucks (the logo, an ear; the slogan, “A Cut Above the Rest”) to the north. The fondness many birds show for industrial areas and unmanicured landscapes has me convinced they lean small-d-democratic, even socialist.

Now, for my bird of the week.

I’ve wanted to see a long-tailed duck since before it was called a “long-tailed duck” (more on that in a bit). As a bird-crazy kid, I’d thumb through field guides and linger over pictures of birds that struck me as particularly interesting or beautiful. “I really want to see one of those,” I’d sigh.

This was one of those birds. Back then – until 2000, in fact – the duck’s American name was “oldsquaw.” By most accounts, they were so called because the distinctive, yammering call of the (male) birds reminded some (presumably male) observers of elderly Native American women.


When the American Ornithologists’ Union changed the name to “long-tailed duck,” they did so awkwardly, with a big dollop of defensiveness. No, they were not motivated by (gasp) “political correctness.” The new name, they assured concerned birdwatchers, was “to conform with English usage in other parts of the world.”

I wish they’d been more forthright (especially now, with certain presidential candidates asserting that “political correctness” threatens the moral fabric of our nation). Avoiding insults, addressing people by the names they choose to be addressed by, listening with respect, apologizing gracefully for unintended slights: you can demonize all that as political correctness, or you can call it . . . common courtesy.

But back to long-tailed ducks. Some especially sharp readers may be wondering how it is I’d never seen one until last Saturday. Although long-tailed ducks nest in the Arctic and are considered a vulnerable species, they migrate in large numbers to the Great Lakes and both coasts for the winter. Seeing as how I’ve confessed to looking a bird porn as a kid, I’ve obviously been at this a while. If I wanted to see one so much, why didn’t I grab a pair of binoculars, beg, buy or borrow a scope, and head for the beach?

To which I plead – life. Sometimes it gets in the way of our childhood loves. You get busy with other stuff, one season goes by, then two, then twenty, and your binoculars (or colored pencils or guitar or dancing shoes or whatever) get lost or just gather dust.

I feel very lucky that life has allowed me to start the new year standing on Plumb Beach with some very nice people, a new pair of binoculars, and a borrowed scope, watching a pair of long-tailed ducks bob on the water.

(If I’m really lucky, life will some day allow me to get as good a look at these spectacular birds as City Birder did in the picture at the top of this post.)


1 thought on “200 Bird Thursday – Week 1

  1. Pingback: 200 Bird Thursday – week 9 (beach fortresses) | Not another Brooklyn blog

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