With its 1.6 million population and sky-high skyscrapers, “wild animals” are not the first thing you think when you hear Manhattan. However, that doesn’t go for Central Park. The 840-acres acres of green meadows, thick forests, and blue lakes are the home for a quite rich and divers wildlife population in the heart of the island.
Many of the animals take permanent residue in the park, while a large enough portion uses it as a holiday home for the summer. Some of them even managed to gain mainstream media popularity.
In the sky
Birds are amongst the most common inhabitants of the park. The best place for bird spotting is in the Ramble. Throughout the park’s history there have been sightings of more than 303 bird species. You are most likely to spot some red-tail hawks, owls, chickadees, woodpeckers, and lots and lots of ducks. A common question asked by visitors is where the ducks go in winter. Don’t worry about them, they just move to bigger water sources that don’t freeze in winter.
Central Park is located on the Western Atlantic Flyway and is a common stop for birds, migrating south. So, in the right month, you will have the opportunity to see some sparrows, goldfinches, Blue Crossbeak and Blue Jay, amongst the rest.
On the ground
Central Park is the home of ten species of mammals. The most common? Squirrels! A lot of them, too. The most common is the American grey. Raccoons are very common, too, and their population is considered to be on the rise. They are considered the most dangerous animal to encounter in Central Park, because they are a common rabies carrier. You are likely to encounter bats (at night), as well as some possums, and if you’re lucky – chipmunks.
In 2014 park authorities reported that they’ve found a dead bear cub. Don’t worry, bears are not invading Central Park! This is probably due to the fact that they Black Bear population in the Hudson Valley has been growing, and many of them are moving towards New Jersey. Their trail is just several miles from Manhattan.
There are reports as early of 2019 that there were several sights of coyotes in Central Park. Park authorities state that there is at least one coyote that has made home in Central Park, which is pretty bad news for pet owners. Luckily we still cannot speak about a population.
Both the air and the ground are home to a huge number of invertebrate (223 to be precise). A notable species is the Nannarrup hoffmani, a centipede that was discovered IN Central Park in 2002. It is only 0.4 inches long.
In the water
Fishing is permitted in the waters of Central Park, but only if you release your catch afterwards.
Turtles are the most common inhabitant of the waters of Central Park. And it is no surprise that you can find them mostly in the turtle pond. Most of them used to be pets, released in the waters of the lakes and ponds of the park. The most common fish is the Snakehead fish – an invasive species, native to Asia.
Several animals made the headlines of the local and national press through the years.
- Pale Male – a marvelous red-tailed hawk. Hatching in 1990, used to reside 927 Fifth Avenue. Author Marie Winn gave him this name because of his very light head. There is some controversy on if he is still alive. Some consider him deceased since 2015, yet some claim that he’s still around, which would make him 30-years old and one of the oldest in the record of the species. Pale Male is a pop culture icon. He has his own documentary, had appeared in several children books, he was a guest to Conan O'Brien, and is even a high school mascot.
- Mandarin Patinkin – a colorful mandarin duck, who was seen at the Pond in late 2018 and early 2019 and named after the famous Broadway actor. He instantly gained the media’s attention, with the likes of BBC, The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN, as well as the People's Daily in China and LA Times giving him some fame. NY Magazine even called him "New York's Most Eligible Bachelor". He disappeared somewhere in the early 2019, and was never seen in Central Park since. Some claim that he has flied north, away from all the attention. Many were concerned with his survival, but experts assured that his natural habitat in China has climate that is very close to the one of New York.
- In 2001 a couple of reptile wrestlers from Seminole Tribe's reservation captured a two-foot-long baby caiman in the waters of the Harlem Meer.
- The sheep from Sheep Meadow. Yes, they were real, and were used to give our beloved meadow a more realistic look. They were moved away when their home became the Tavern on the Green.
If you thought that New York City is a concrete jungle. Central Park is an oasis of green and fresh air amidst the hustle of Manhattan. The wildlife of the park is only a part of its charm, making it a favorite destination for relax and recreation of natives and guests alike!