As many of you know, I love watching owls in Central Park, but I avoid reporting about them during the breeding season in order to help protect them for having crowds descend upon them. I seems that with owls, people end up loving them to death.
Eastern Screech-Owls, which were re-introduced to Central Park in the last eight years, have been breeding especially early with fledge dates in late-March. This means the owls have been laying eggs in January.
I observed three pairs of Eastern Screech-Owls copulating in late December 2007 and early January 2008, so I would suspect we are in the breeding season now.
Over the last few nights, I have been watching an owl in the northern section of the park. It has been flying off into a wooded area each night. Tonight, I quietly followed it without success into the woods with a fellow owl watcher.
I then heard repeated owl calls. Walking along the path, we found two men playing owl tapes with a boom box. They had come from upstate New York to see the Scott's Oriole, and had come uptown from Union Square to see the Yellow-breasted Chat that has been at the Conservatory Garden. Having missed the Chat, they thought it would be a good idea to play Screech-Owl tapes.
They did so without knowing any of the territory limits of the owls, didn't know if the owls were breeding, or know the condition of the owls. They just thought it would be fun to see some owls by playing tapes which make a male owl believe an intruder is near.
While playing tapes may or may not stress a bird, during breeding season it will distract a male from his primary task of hunting for his mate while she sits on eggs.
My friend and I asked them to turn the tape off, explained the early breeding situation of the park and cautioned them against using tapes in Central Park this time of year. They were polite and apologetic but I couldn't help wonder why anyone would play tapes without first studying an area.
Is the need to check a box more important than a bird's welfare?