Good morning. It’s Friday. We’ll take note of a rodent that lives in a zoo and a bird that also lived in one — until it fled into the wilds of Manhattan. We’ll also get details on negotiations for a plea deal for the former chief financial officer at Donald Trump’s family business.
It’s Groundhog Day. There’s a chance of rain, so when it comes to shadow-seeing, the groundhog Chuck at the Staten Island Zoo may be staring at wet, squishy ground when he waddles out of his burrow.
Let’s focus on a different creature — one that broke out of captivity a year ago and is still on the loose in Manhattan. Namely, Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl.
Flaco captured the city’s attention. But he is only one bird. Of 800 bird species in North America, more than 300 call New York home at some time during the year. What about them?
“Some things are going very well — some are not,” Dustin Partridge, the director of conservation and science for New York City Audubon, said when I asked how he would begin a State of the City address for birds.
That was not exactly “the state of our city is strong,” words that Mayor Eric Adams used in his State of the City speech last week.
“Birding is having a moment,” Partridge said. “It’s an amazing time.”
This is partly because of interest generated by Flaco, he said. For New Yorkers whose idea of birds ranged from pigeons to sparrows, Flaco was a consciousness-raiser. And as Freya McGregor, a birder who founded the nonprofit group Birdability, has noted, “There is no certification required to be a birder, and no one is going to check your credentials to ensure you’re ‘qualified.’”
But Flaco came a little late to the birding boom. In 2018, the Mandarin duck enthralled New Yorkers during his time in the Central Park Pond. Then, birding clubs and conservation organizations surged during the pandemic, when urbanites confined to apartments turned to parks and activities they could pursue there, Partridge said. “People noticed birds, and some were noticing them for the first time,” he said.
Central Park — where Flaco resided for a while — has been a favorite spot for bird-watching almost from its earliest days in the mid-19th century. On a good day during the spring migration, birders might see 100 species, Partridge said.
What’s not good: Winters in the north
Migratory bird populations are declining. Brooke Bateman, the director of climate science for the National Audubon Society, said that short- and medium-distance species that used to head south are wintering farther and farther north. As she put it: “They’re saying, ‘Why should I migrate south? Things are fine here.’”
She said that during the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count — a 23-day event that runs from mid-December to early January — she had heard of a sighting of 35 American oyster catchers, which have longish orange bills and feast on oysters, clams and little else. “There are usually only a few of them,” she said. But conditions have been so mild that such birds “are sticking around.”
So are warbler species that “should be gone” in time for the Christmas bird count, she said. Instead, “they’re sticking around because conditions cue them that it’s mild,” she said, “but if we get hit with a cold snap, it’s really hard for them to survive.”
The danger of buildings
New York is a stopover for birds migrating on the so-called Atlantic Flyway, which the American Bird Conservancy describes as an “avian superhighway” that runs from Greenland to Florida.
As stopovers go, New York is not the safest. It has glass-heavy buildings that birds can slam into.
Partridge said that collisions kill as many as 250,000 migrating birds in New York City every year. One of the most frequent collision victims is the white-throated sparrow, a plaintive-sounding songbird, according to data from Project Safe Flight, a program run by New York City Audubon that tracks deaths from birds hitting windows across the city.
“We find only the small proportion of birds that hit the glass and die immediately,” Partridge said. “A large number hit the glass, fly off and die in vegetation somewhere.”
Partridge said that most collisions occur in the lower 100 feet of buildings, at about the height of the tree canopy in nearby parks. The typical victim, he said, is “a bird that’s flying in from far away, lands in the morning and needs to find a place to sleep and rest after a meal of insects and seeds.”
“It sees a reflection, flies into it, thinking it’s that safe place to rest — and ends up dying,” he said.
There is hope among birders that collisions will decrease. The city now requires new buildings and major window-replacement projects to meet what the Buildings Department calls “bird-friendly design construction requirements” — basically glass that birds will recognize and avoid. The Buildings Department detailed the rules in a 23-page document.
As for making existing windows bird-friendly, New York City Audubon suggests small dot-shaped stickers. Partridge said they can reduce collisions by as much as 90 percent.
Prepare for a chance of rain early and then a partly sunny day, with temperatures in the mid-40s. At night, it will be partly cloudy, with temperatures in the low 30s.
In effect until Feb. 9 (Lunar New Year’s Eve).
Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer in Donald Trump’s family business, is in negotiations for a deal to plead guilty to perjury, people with knowledge of the matter said. Under the potential agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Weisselberg would admit that he lied on the witness stand in Trump’s recent civil fraud trial.
Weisselberg would also have to say that he lied under oath during in an interview with the state attorney general’s office, which brought the case against Trump.
The situation arises from the web of cases brought by prosecutors from the two offices. A plea deal would serve as the culmination of a lengthy pressure campaign by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. His prosecutors had sought Weisselberg’s cooperation as they investigated whether Trump had committed electoral and financial crimes.
Weisselberg — a fiercely loyal lieutenant who oversaw the finances of the Trump Organization for decades — did not cooperate. But prosecutors obtained an indictment of Trump in the election-related case anyway.
The deal being negotiated would probably not require Weisselberg to turn on his former boss, even though he was involved in the action at the heart of that case — a $130,000 hush-money payment intended to quell a potential sex scandal just before the 2016 election. He is not expected to be called as a witness at the trial, scheduled for late March.
And the investigation that most required Weisselberg’s help, the district attorney’s inquiry into Trump’s finances, may no longer be a priority for prosecutors.
The potential agreement with Weisselberg could strengthen Bragg’s position going into the trial next month by discouraging other witnesses in Trump’s circle from lying on the stand. Perjury charges could also discredit Weisselberg, who has disputed details of the prosecution’s evidence in the case involving the 2016 election.
But Weisselberg already had a credibility problem: This would be his second guilty plea in Manhattan in two years.
I saw him cut a purple lilac
Right off a bush
At Sheep Meadow
At the end of a spring rain,
In the ’60s
When the grass was still green,
And maybe he worked there,
Or was just a tourist
Who pulled a small red vase
Out of his jacket,
So I asked him what it was for,
But he just smiled,
An old man who said nothing,
He must have known
That the contrast
Of purple lilacs
And red glass
Was like music
In Central Park
— Kathryn Anne Sweeney-James