Central Park in the Dark

Marie Winn

Central Park in the Dark.

“It was a few minutes after sunset on a mild day in early June and the park was bathed with that warm glow filmmakers and photographers call golden light. As I walked along the path between the Pinetum on the north side of the Great Lawn, I became aware of an odd din. I sounded vaguely familiar – I had probably gone by there hundreds of times before without paying attention to it. I might have passed right by it again that day. But I had just read Skutch's description of communal roosts and that might have made the familiar racket finally penetrate my conscious mind.”

So begins a section of the chapter called “Birds Asleep” in Marie Winn's surprising and wonderful book, Central Park in the Dark. Subtitled More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife, Ms. Winn's work takes the reader on an exploration of New York's fabled oasis after the sun sets; her pages are populated with moths and bats, screech owls and crickets, raccoons, and even slugs, in addition to nature lovers, amateur astronomers, tourists, and policemen. She continues here the saga of her search for sleeping avians:

“I stopped and looked around for a few moments to check out the sound. Nothing special going on, just a small group of robins feeding on the edge of the Great Lawn. Then I noticed more robins on the Pinetum side of the path and a few perched on low branches of nearby trees. A minute or two late I looked up. Holy mackerel, a huge stream of robins, like a plume of smoke, was funneling into a big linden tree on the south side of the path! Hundreds and hundreds of robins!

You can tell male robins from females by their breast color: the males' are a rich, deep red color, while the females' are paler and drabber. I scanned the breasts of those birds still feeding on the lawn and those coming in for a landing, and saw that they were all the same sex, not a washed-out breast among them. And suddenly everything fell into place. I had stumbled on the Robin Boys' Dormitory.”

Later in the same section, the author offers a few thoughts on the question of just what birds do as they're getting ready for the night:

“As in any boy's dormitory, there was considerable pushing, shoving, and roughhousing just before bedtime. In the rapidly fading light we could see little skirmishes breaking out as the birds jostled for position: That's my spot! No way, I was here first!... As the light fades at the Boys' Dormitory, the birds gradually settle down. The calls become intermittent. Fifteen minutes after the last stragglers have arrived, not a sound can be heard. Utter silence.”

Winn's lovely look at night life in the middle of one of the world's greatest cities is magical, lyrical, entertaining, and packed with a considerable amount of natural history. A tribute to her human friends and to all the creatures who inhabit the park, it's wondrous and not to be missed – be sure to read all about it!

Copyright 2008, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.