Morningside Park: Sunbathing Turtles, Molting Mallards, Feral Cats

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All the rain we’ve had recently means the animals in Morningside Park are living the lush life.


Green, green and greener.

And the sunshine brings out sunbathers.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtles are everywhere, on the rocks and in the water.

Female mallard and turtles.

Female mallard and turtles.

Today, mallards and turtles are the dominant species in the little pond.

Cooling off.

Cooling off.

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.

Molting mallard.

Molting mallard.

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.


Still breaking out the bling.

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.

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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.

Please Don't Feed Waterfowl.

Please Don’t Feed Waterfowl.

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.


Squirrels don’t need bakery rolls.

Our urban ecosystem works best without hand-outs. Let them forage for themselves.


Explore posts in the same categories: 2013, Birds, cats, Domestic animals, In the City, Morningside Park, NYC Parks, Squirrels, turtles, Wildlife/Natural History

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6 Comments on “Morningside Park: Sunbathing Turtles, Molting Mallards, Feral Cats”

  1. theresagreen Says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about feral cats; we have enough problems here with domestic ones, they kill hundreds of wild birds every year in the UK.

  2. Mr. Mantooth Says:

    Far away from the city now so it is particularly poignant to get this unorthodox update on all that most people don’t notice about our park companions. Quite lovely and, as Charlotte say, wonderful writing. Enjoyed the pics too.

  3. Andre Says:

    That first turtle looks like he was posing – LOL.

    As to ppl feeding the feral cats… there should be an ordinance and they should be ticketed. Feeding them only encourages their population… and makes them not hunt the mice and rats (yet they will still kill birds). It’s totally misguided.

    • We also need to keep educating people about why feeding feral cats – and feeding most wildlife – is generally misguided. It’s an emotional issue, and many feral cat-protectors really don’t yet comprehend the damage cats cause to wild birds.

  4. Charlotte Says:

    wonderful writing! thank you, outwalkingthedog!

  5. p hoey Says:

    Wonderful pictures! Thank you, Melissa.

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