The Birds of Albany County: Part I

In 1907 a man by the name of Wilbur Webster Judd (whom a google search revealed nothing about) started an ambitious project to write a book about the birds of Albany County, more specifically the birds of the City of Albany, New York.

Over the next several Fridays, I will look at the birds Judd describes in his book and how they have changed 100 years later.

*Note I will follow his order

Eastern Bluebird: 

Judd:  Very Common Summer Resident.  Judd didn’t elaborate much about the Eastern Bluebird, saying it had already been described to death.  He spends a considerable amount of time discussing the winter habits of the Bluebirds, citing that as far as he knew, no Bluebirds spent the winter as far north as Albany.  He claims to have seen them in Central Connecticut, but not in New York.  He cites mid-March as an arrival date, and notes their nest preference of a hollow tree and also notes competition with Great-Crested Flycatcher and House Wren.  He also notes that “they are as common now as when our Grandfathers were boys.” (Judd, 1907: 25) But he also states that they were no longer common in the City, because they were being driven out by the English (House) Sparrow.  But he also states, that one would only have to walk a mile or two away from the City and Bluebirds would be as plentiful as ever.

Raup:  Common Resident.  Not a whole lot to argue with Judd about here.  Eastern Bluebird is still very much common over much of the County, although one likely has to travel further now than a mile to find them.  One difference is that Eastern Bluebirds are rather common in winter, especially in the Southern Part of the County, where Judd didn’t spend a lot time.  Eastern Bluebird is almost completely absent from the City of Albany, although a few still breed in areas such as the Pine Bush, which really wasn’t considered part of the City of Albany then.  With human support with the erection of nest boxes (the Bluebird trail), Eastern Bluebirds populations seem stable.

American Robin:

Judd:  Very Common Summer Resident.  Judd has much flowery praise for the species.

Raup:  Very Common Resident.  The American Robin is common most of the year, with perhaps numbers dipping to quite low in poor berry years and harsh winters, but they are often one of the first species back arriving in force by late February.  They nest in all parts of the County, in almost every habitat.  They are one of the most common and recognized birds in the area.

Hermit Thrush:

Judd:  Spring and Fall Migrant, a number remain through the summer and breed.  Judd notes several interesting observations of the possibility of occasional breeding in Washington Park in Albany, he also notes a male Hermit Thrush singing well into June near the Albany County Club.  He then goes on to describe his own sighting in his yard (near the present day Albany Institute of History and Art) in April. 

RaupCommon Migrant, Breeds outside of the City of Albany.  Hermit Thrush is one of the most common Thrush migrants in our area, often arriving as early as March, but more common in April to May.  It is a common breeder in cool, moist woods and in higher elevations through out the County, although nearly absent from the immediate river valley and City.  Fall migrants arrive in September, normally peaking in Early to mid October.  A few hang on through December and a few more even spend the winter, often in the company of large flocks of American Robins.

Wilson’s Thrush (AKA Veery):

Judd:  Common Summer Resident.  Judd claims that this is the most common Thrush in summer in the county.  He says this bird is most common in the woodlands on the land south of Schenectady Turnpike near Wolf Road.

RaupCommon Summer Resident.  Veery’s arrive in the county in late April or early May. the inhabit moist woodlands and are easily found in most areas of the County, except in the higher elevations, where Hermit Thrush is more common.  As for that area south of Schenectady Turnpike (Rt. 5)… It’s a Target Shopping Plaza and behind that is the intersection of I-87 and I-90 and the New York State Thruway Exit 24 Toll Barriers.  While a few Veerys may nest nearby in the Pine Bush or the Rensselaer water-works, they are neither reliable or abundant.

Wood Thrush:

Judd:  Summer Resident, Not Common.  Judd was taken by the birds vocal qualities, but seemed ill informed about the bird.  He claims it is the rarest of the three species which breed in the County and doesn’t describe its breeding areas.

Raup:  Common Summer Resident.  Judd didn’t get out much I guess later in the summer.  Wood Thrush tends to be a later migrant, but even in my urban setting during mid May I can often hear a Wood Thrush singing at both dawn and dusk, in fact it is the only Thrush (other than Robin) that regularly uses my back yard in migration.  In early June I find it nearly impossible to ride around and not here a Wood Thrush, it seems every wood lots has one, although some have raised concerns that as wood lots get smaller, problems from Blue Jay’s, Crows, Cowbirds and mammals will seriously impact the Wood Thrush population.

Olive-Backed (Swainson’s) Thrush, Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Bicknell’s Thrush:

Judd:  “So far as I have been able to learn, these three Thrushes are never seen in Albany County save as Spring or Fall migrants, though it seems quite probable that the Olive-backed (Swainson’s) may occasionally breed in the higher parts of the Helderbergs.” (Judd, 1907: 32)

Raup:  Not much has changed, although his paragraph on describing the difference between Bicknell’s and Gray-Cheeked, in entertaining.  Swainson’s Thrush may very rarely breed in the Helderbergs, although they are more common above 3000′ in elevation, which is above even the highest peaks of the County.  Gray-Cheeked Thrush it has been discovered is common nocturnal migrant, but does not seem to land in the same frequency it does on the coast.  Bicknell’s Thrush nests above 3500′ generally in The Catskills and Adirondacks, though these two species are very difficult to tell apart in the field, meaning that both are seriously under-reported, but especially Bicknell’s.


2 responses to “The Birds of Albany County: Part I

  1. Pingback: Birds of Albany County Part II « The Nightjar

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