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Birding By New York Subway

I’ve used my time in New York for some odd birding. I love all the artwork that can be found around the city and I had a few things on my list to find: a Bansky, an Edvard Munch.  Like birding, I had to follow a series of directions and when I finally got to the Munch:some dude was standing in front of it…3 inches in front of it (and was he too close, stressing the Munch out?).  The Banksy was covered, not unlike a blackburnian warbler in the top of the fully leafed out tree canopy.  The city had painted over it, but there were a few places with loose chips and you could see miniscule pieces of it underneath.

But the subway has all kinds of art and a surprising amount with identifiable birds. This is a mosaic at the Jay Street station by Ben Snead called “Departures and Arrivals.”

The birds depicted in it are all non native and invasive species. Above is a starling and house sparrows.  But I love how the artist used the tiles to capture the irridescence of the starling feathers.

The other bird is the monk parakeet which have quite the strong hold in Brooklyn.  We’ve rented an apartment there that has a view of the Statue of Liberty.  It’s an odd sensation to be standing there in the morning, clutching a cup of coffee and taking in that symbol of American freedom and promise…and then have noisy streaks of green fly between you and statue.  Then I have to think about these released cage birds establishing a colony like so many people who have passed by Lady Liberty (though, I’m not sure the parakeets had too much choice to choose to live here).  All the brown stones on a cloudy winter day in Brooklyn broken up by noisy, flashy green parrots is so strange tho.

I’m not sure about the insect and fish depicted in the mosaic but I wonder if they are non natives too?  What is that, a lion fish?  It’s a colorful mural and worth a peak if you are ever in New York.  A real treat can be found at the Museum of Natural History Station:

Check out the whooping crane!  Actually, when we hit this stop, I grabbed my camera and said aloud but to myself, “I need photo of that crane and dodo.”  Non Birding Bill immediately walked over.  I said, “I didn’t mean you, there’s a dodo outline behind the crane!”  But he does make a good representation for the scale of the mosaics.

There are all sorts of animals all over the station and it’s worth taking the time to explore and see what’s there.  It’s an evolutionary chain from the Big Bang to the plethora of fauna seen on this planet.  I love the random birds on there. It’s not all cardinals and eagles, it’s cool birds that perhaps the average person may not be aware are out there like the above black-bellied whistling ducks.

I think this was my favorite–a pileated woodpecker in the subway!  Who knew?

Here’s a break down of all that can be found at that station.  The large work is called “For Want Of A Nail.” It’s interesting to note that some species have a tiny question mark made of really tiny tiles mixed in them.  I think it’s supposed to represent a question of whether or not these species will remain with us in the future.  But there didn’t appear to be one on the whooping crane so NBB wondered if there was some street artist inserting mosaic tags.

Here are some of the other birds:

Laughing gull.



Okay, not birds but still cool–monarchs!

Love that monarch caterpillar!

Ruby-throated hummingbird.



14 comments to Birding By New York Subway

  • Wow! New Yorkers! Who Knew?
    Somehow I envision a scene in the year 20–gazillion; when humanoids come back to this planet after the zombie apocolypse– They will travel underground to see the wonders that can be seen above ground. What will they think of us then? I agree, the monarch caterpillar is so striking!
    Thank you for sharing these lovely creations!

  • Wow, the subway looks a lot different from the last time I was there in 2000. Thanks for all the beautiful shots. I’m eager to get back to my favorite city and see them myself. How about a shot from said-window with Lady Liberty in the background?

  • Abrahm

    Yeah, that’s definitely a lion fish. An invasive species in the Carribean that’s causing quite a bit of havok. A few fancy locavore places are actually putting it on the menu to help eliminate these interlopers.

    The insect looks like some sort of tiger beetle, but maybe it’s supposed to be an Asian long-horned beetle?

  • Brian

    I think that is actually an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, which if true may be the only legitimate sighting since 1967.

  • Joanna

    Thanks, yet another reason to go to New York!

  • A S Woody

    Very cool. Thanks.

  • Those mosaics are great! Did you get a chance to see the rufous hummingbird that’s been hanging around the museum?

  • Judy

    Thank you! This is wonderful.

  • joan schnabel

    nice post hope you are having a great time in NY.

  • Great pictures! Hehe, I thought this was going to be about going to birding sites by subway!

  • Regina

    I think the insect is the Asian Longhorned Beetle, definitely an invasive, first discovered in Brooklyn in 1996.

  • Evan Cutler

    I saw a Wild Turkey in the subway a few years ago (at 96th st and broadway). But best wild bird I ever saw in the subway system was an American Woodcock at the subway stop by the Museum of Natural History. He was on the floor, very early in the morning, hoping no one would notice. Surprised more birds don’t make wrong turns and end up below.

  • SL Heitz

    I love the subway mosaics, especially the quakers/monks! So beautiful, and what an interesting statement about invasive species covering over native ones. Thanks for posting these!