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Inhabitants of Earth for more than 100 million years, predating mammals and following reptiles in the fossil record, birds form the most diverse and conspicuous group of vertebrates in New York State. They are unique among all living organisms in having a body covering of feathers, which provide protection from weather and injury and make another distinctive ability, powered flight, possible. Flight allows almost complete freedom of movement and enables birds to make annual migrations over great distances. The bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), a small songbird that nests in hayfields and pastures across New York State, for example, spans two hemispheres in traveling to Argentina in winter and back to New York in spring. Of the nearly 250 different kinds of birds that nest in the state, approximately 72% are migratory, leaving each fall to spend the winter in warmer climates and returning to nest in spring.
New York State boasts a rich store of information on its birds. The ease with which they may be observed and a 150-year tradition of contributions by volunteer and professional observers have made birds one of the best-documented groups of animals in the state. Significant publications, beginning with James E. DeKay's pioneering Zoology of New York State (1844) and continuing through works of the early 21st century, chronicle the natural history of New York State's birds. Volumes by Elon H. Eaton (1910, 1914), John Bull (1974), Robert Andrle and Janet Carroll (1988), and Emanuel Levine (1998) are part of this continuum, and, in addition, contain extensive bibliographies. The quarterly journal of the New York State Ornithological Association (known from 1947 through 2003 as the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs), the Kingbird (1950-), periodically updates the bibliography of New York State ornithology and publishes in each issue details of recent and seasonal observations of birds throughout the state. Since 1989 the association has maintained and occasionally published separately the official checklist of the birds of New York State.
The variety of birds observable in the state reflects the return to the region, over the past 10,000-12,000 years, of species forced southward during the last glaciation. None of the birds in New York State are endemic (limited only) to the state. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) maintains a list of the species of fish and wildlife that are extirpated (no longer occurring or exhibiting traditional patterns of use in the state), endangered (in imminent danger of extirpation or extinction), threatened (likely to be endangered in the near future), or of special concern (documented risk of endangerment). Species formerly occurring in New York State but now extinct include the Labrador duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius), by 1875, and the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), by 1899. The latter became extinct most likely because of unregulated hunting and loss of forested habitat. John Bull's 1974 review of historical reports of the Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) concluded that the species likely never occurred in New York State. A distinct eastern subspecies of greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido), the heath hen (Tympanuchus cupido cupido), disappeared from New York State ca 1835, however, with conversion of the native prairies of Long Island's Hempstead Plains to villages and farmland. The Eskimo curlew (Numenius borealis) was last reported as a migrant species in the state in the early 1890s. Although still seen during migration, the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) are extirpated from the state as breeding species, with the last known successful eagle nesting reported in 1970 and the last known shrike nesting reported in 1988.
As of 1999, 455 species of resident and migratory birds, representing 19 orders and 62 families, had been documented within the state. By the same date, 6 of the 455 were either extirpated or extinct. As of 2002, among the 449 extant species, 39 (9%) receive special consideration through identification as endangered, threatened, or of special concern by the DEC. In addition, 244 of the 449 extant species were known as breeding birds, and 118 (26%) were of such rarity that the Avian Records Committee of the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs requested written documentation of sightings. Although much sought after by bird watchers, these rare or "accidental" species contribute modestly to the functional avian diversity.
In addition to recognized species, at least three hybrid forms are listed among the breeding birds of the state: those resulting from the interbreeding of mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) with American black duck (A rubripes), and the morphologically distinctive hybrids of blue-winged warblers (Vermivora pinus) and golden-winged warblers (V chrysoptera), identified for more than 100 years as Brewster's and Lawrence's warblers.
At the beginning of the 21st century, perhaps the greatest threat is habitat conversion and degradation. Of those New York breeding birds showing significant declining population trends, 45% are affected by losses of open land and shrub-land habitats through human activities and natural ecological "succession" of those habitats to forested lands. Of forest and woodland species, most of which are long-distance migrants to Central and South America, 32% are in decline. Unlike exploitation via unregulated hunting and trapping for food at the beginning of the 20th century, habitat conversion and degradation are diffuse threats, affecting species on both breeding and wintering ranges. Trends in habitat change caused by ecological succession are challenging and expensive to reverse or stabilize across a land area the size of New York State. Monitoring of bird populations and the habitats necessary for bird survival and reproduction remains critical to conservation of New York State's rich and varied bird resources.
Andrle, Robert F., and Janet R. Carroll, eds. The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State (Ithaca: Cornell Univ Press, 1988)
Bull, John. Birds of New York State (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Natural History Press, 1974)
DeKay, James E. "Birds"In Zoology of New York; or, The New York Fauna, vol 2 of Natural History of New York (New York: D. Appleton; Wiley & Putnam, 1844)
Levine, Emanuel, ed. Bulls Birds of New York State (Ithaca: Cornell Univ Press, 1998)
Smith, Charles R. "birds.(B)." Encyclopedia of New York State. Syracuse University Press, 2005. 180. Academic OneFile. Web. 31 Dec. 2009.
Gale Document Number:A194195264
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Syracuse University Press