Strange Woodpecker Reported in Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

Last night I got an e-mail from Rob Jett alerting me to a belated report from William Murdoch, a west coast birder, of a possible Eurasian Green Woodpecker in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, just across the street from me. Local reaction was skeptical to say the least, for several reasons:

  1. The reporter only saw it with the naked eye. He did not have binoculars or a camera.
  2. There are no previous reports of this species in North America, ever.
  3. The bird is apparently not a long distance migrant, even in its normal range. Consequently it seems very unlikely that it could have made the trip across the Atlantic, even ship assisted.
  4. If it is present, it’s likely an escapee from a zoo aviary or private collection. Hmm, I should check if the Prospect Park Zoo has lost a woodpecker recently.
  5. It could be mistaken for a Lewis’s Woodpecker. That would still be a great sighting, but at least it’s not a state record. That species has shown up in New York four times previously, the closest record being in Westchester.

To top matters off, we didn’t get the report until eight days after the sighting on November 12th, so the first anybody could look for it was this morning. Thus I would conservatively rate the odds of finding this bird at about 1 in 100,000 (maybe slightly better if you allow for possible escapees); but it would be a really spectacular find if it were there, and it was a nice day anyway, so this morning at 7:00 A.M. I headed out to scan the edges of the garden and see what I could see.

I’ll save you the suspense. I didn’t find the bird. I did find quite a few Red-bellied Woodpeckers. These could perhaps be mistaken for a Green Woodpecker, especially a juvenile one; and especially if the birder didn’t have binoculars and was cursed with freakish light. It’s a big stretch though. The other possible local suspect is a Northern Flicker. I didn’t see any of those today, but there are probably some around. I also saw one Downy Woodpecker, but it’s hard to believe any moderately experienced birder could ever mistake a Downy for a European Green, but stranger things have happened. (I personally have mistaken almost anything for anything at one time or another, including such whoppers as mistaking Blue Jays for Warblers. Everybody does this when faced with quick glimpses and lightning calls, even professional field ornithologists. )

Red-bellied Woodpecker

There were quite a lot of nice birds out today, though, including several Red-tailed Hawks, one Great Blue Heron in the BBG Japanese Garden, numerous Dark-eyed Juncos and Hermit Thrushes, both Carolina and Winter Wrens, one Field Sparrow, and several American Goldfinches. No green woodpeckers though, not even a glimpse of one.

Carolina Wren, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, native flora garden

I suspect there’ll be several other people out today playing the long shot. If anyone turns up anything, I’ll let you know.

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