Morningside Park’s Turtle Army and Other NYC Wildlife

Morningside Park is in bloom, and its animals, many of them drawn by the little pond, are back in action.

On a sunny yet still cool April day, I spied fifty turtles basking on rocks (yes, that’s 50) as well as mallards, a goose, a cormorant, red-winged blackbirds, warblers, finches, rock doves and sparrows, a red-tailed hawk soaring east from the Cathedral, squirrels and a feral cat that delicately picked its way down the cliff to the water’s edge.

Let’s start with a unit of the turtle army:

Turtle army assembles

Five turtle species reside in Morningside Park: red-eared slider, common snapper, cooter, painted turtle, and mud (or musk) turtle.  I didn’t come up with the number five on my own.

I heard it from Tom.


Tom is a herpetologist/zoologist with the Bronx Botanical Garden. He grew up playing in and around Morningside Park, worked in the park for a time, and knows it inside and out.  He knows its flora, from trees to flowers to algae, and its fauna, from his beloved herps (reptiles and amphibians) to the songbirds, egrets, heron, falcons, hawks and kestrels that nest and hunt here to the bipedal primates that stroll, play, relax and cook in the park.

I met Tom last summer. He was gazing meditatively at a bullfrog that was lolling in the shallow northeast corner of the pond.

Summer day.

Tom still lives at the edge of Morningside park in a high-rise with a view over the treetops to Central Park. One evening from a window, he watched a pair of peregrine falcons chase a red-tailed hawk.

As for the turtles, Tom said they regularly nest in the area around the pond, but that the babies often don’t make it. Sometimes the ground becomes too “compacted,” and the hatchlings can’t dig their way out.  A woman I met in the park on a separate occasion said she had actually seen a turtle laying eggs under a very exposed tree near Morningside Avenue.

Well, some of those babies must be surviving, given the extraordinary size of the pond’s turtle army.

Another platoon of the turtle army

Also on last week’s stroll, a cormorant spent time drying one of its wings

One wing drying

Cormorants are voracious eaters that can make short work of a fish population.  Last summer, Tom was pointing out a school of tiny baby fish swimming near the shore, when a flash of gold leaped and plashed in the center of the pond. “Koi,”said Tom.” There’s a lot of fish in there: catfish, carp, crawfish.”

Watch out, fishies.

A red-winged blackbird waded in the shallows

What is this elegantly epauleted blackbird hunting?

A pigeon also waded,

and a solitary goose stood on a solitary leg.

Cantilevered goose

Until next time…

Explore posts in the same categories: 2011, April, Birds, In the City, Morningside Park, NYC Parks, reptiles/amphibians, Seasons, Spring, Wildlife/Natural History

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10 Comments on “Morningside Park’s Turtle Army and Other NYC Wildlife”

  1. […] here, by way of contrast, is an adult cormorant drying its wings in NYC’s Morningside Park in spring […]

  2. Wow! Here I am clear across the country in Oregon and we have the same critters in this beautiful part of the country as you do in NYC except here we see only an occasional turtle, not a whole pack! Beautiful pictures, by the way!

  3. mthew Says:

    Wow. Cooters and musk turtles, too? These guys, along with the snappers, aren’t basking turtles, so we’re unlikely to see them on the rocks, alas. I saw a big snapper in the water Prospect this week, it eyed a bunch of us birders on the Binnen Bridge and decided it wasn’t hungary enough, then dove like a submarine.

  4. I would love to see a turtle army… the very idea! are these indigenous turtles or are some the descendants of pets released into the park?

    • Louise, the turtles are a mix of indigenous and released pets. I haven’t researched enough on the subject, and haven’t run into Tom, my brilliant source, to ask more questions. I’ll find out, though… Oh, and when you come to NYC in May, I’ll take you to the pond to look for the turtle army.

  5. nyc edges Says:

    Amazing how much life you find in a relatively small park in Manhattan! Ahhh and Spring has finally sprung

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