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Outlook for birds in New York City in 2014

Canada geese over Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx
Canada geese over Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx

The data from the Christmas Bird Count are still being processed and the Great Backyard Bird Count is weeks away. Nevertheless, because in 2013 some of the worst conditions faced by birds living in or migrating through New York were politically, not biologically or environmentally, determined, we can already make conjectures about the coming year.

The city proved to be an inhospitable environment for birds last year. Besides the usual dangers -- skyscraper windows, predators, harsh weather -- snowy owls, wild turkeys, and Canada geese became the target of what one can only call roving bands of hit squads.

In Dec. 2013, having migrated down in greater numbers than usual, several snowy owls were shot at JFK International Airport at the request of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Fortunately, the hunt was quickly curtailed when the number of signatures on a petition posted on encouraged the authorities to consider a peaceful solution. In the future, snowy owls landing near NYC airports will be humanely trapped and removed to safer locations.

In late summer and fall, wild turkeys in Staten Island were rounded up by USDA Wildlife Services and taken to slaughterhouses. The turkeys were no danger to aircraft but their presence seems to have annoyed some local residents (people with, one suspects, poor coping skills and too much time on their hands). Protests against the round-up followed and a number of turkeys were moved to sanctuary in upstate New York. But the fate of the remaining Staten Island turkeys is still uncertain.

And as everyone knows, earlier in the summer again there was a mass round-up and killing of Canada geese living in the city's parks. Many communities have sought and found humane methods of dealing with the geese who've come to stay year-round where there are manicured lawns and lakes that rarely freeze. Will New York City follow suit?

There is hope that 2014 will be a better year for birds in New York. The election in November was, in a sense, a referendum on animal rights. Those who speak up for animals were heard. Several new City Council members have indicated a commitment to humane issues, as has Mayor de Blasio.

This is an encouraging development. But there's many a slip between campaign promises and political action. Let's stay alert and keep informed.

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