All the rain we’ve had recently means the animals in Morningside Park are living the lush life.
And the sunshine brings out sunbathers.
Turtles are everywhere, on the rocks and in the water.
Today, mallards and turtles are the dominant species in the little pond.
Now that the excitement of breeding season is over, male mallards are molting into eclipse plumage. Drab feathers replace the brilliant iridescence of breeding plumage.
Not every bird is on the same schedule. The head and neck of the duck below glitters and shines, although he is well into his molt.
Each year during their molt, ducks lose their flight feathers, rendering them especially vulnerable to ground predators. What ground predators, you may wonder, do ducks have to worry about here in our urban park? Well, feral cats, dogs off the leash and, possibly, raccoons. Morningside Park’s feral cats have been more visible than ever this past winter and spring.
It’s no coincidence that someone is regularly feeding the cats.
The spot for the feedings is right by the great stone staircase, on the cliff behind the pond. The pond and its surrounding vegetation draw nesting ducks as well as sparrows, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, robins, night herons, egrets and many other species. The cats are beautiful animals, and I understand the impulse to care for them. I understand trapping, neutering, vaccinating, and releasing them. But feeding them? Given what we now know about the devastation to North American songbirds since cats were established in the New World, do we really want to be feeding them?
We know a lot about the negative impacts of feeding wildlife, and I was happy to see these signs in Morningside Park.
The signs address intentional feeding. But inadvertent feeding, in the form of trash and dropped food, is what keeps our rodent population so healthy – and I’m not just talking about squirrels, like the one below.
Our urban ecosystem works best without hand-outs. Let them forage for themselves.