c. Radka Osickova

Spot the Park’s Newest Species: The Devil Bird

May 11, 2023

For the past few weeks, an unusual visitor has been perched in the treetops high above Prospect Park’s lake. The Anhinga, also known as the Devil Bird, is a large waterbird with a snake-like neck that is typically found in the swampy southeastern corner of the country. But, for the first time since 1992, the bird has been spotted in New York—right here in Brooklyn’s Backyard.

Located along the Atlantic Flyway, with more than 250 migratory and resident bird species spotted each year, Prospect Park is a long beloved birdwatching haven. “The park’s 585 acres are a critical life-saving space for birds. Prospect Park is a rest stop full of food and water thanks, in part, to Prospect Park’s lake and watercourse,” says Peter Dorosh, a Prospect Park Alliance Eco Zone Gardener and avid birder who recently spotted the Anhinga himself. “Prospect Park was the lucky beneficiary of such an awesome sighting: Brooklyn’s only lake  caught the Anhinga’s eye.”

For members of the birdwatching community, this is an exceptional spotting outside its usual migratory path (which for the Anhinga historically reaches as far north as the Carolinas). The bird’s arrival was so unexpected, it was even featured in The New York Times.

For Dorosh and Prospect Park Alliance’s crew of Eco Zone Gardeners and Forest Ecologist, which works to restore and sustain the park’s natural areas, the Anhinga’s arrival highlights an important aspect of their job: ensuring the park’s landscape is a healthy breeding and foraging habitat for birds and other wildlife—both expected and unexpected.

“Birds stop in, refuel, rest and then continue onward for the greater breeding territories in the northern United States and Canada,” explains Dorosh. To Dorosh and Prospect Park Alliance, the priority is ensuring the birds find what they need to thrive in the park. “It’s important to plant native trees and shrub species because these plants attract insects—particularly moths and caterpillars, as they are the soft food needed to feed baby birds and fledglings,” he says.

The Alliance also focuses largely on mitigating habitat loss. “We do our part to remove the invasive plants and replace them with native plants,” says Dorosh. “This greatly benefits natural habitats and restores food webs that include the pollinating wildflowers, grasses and fruiting shrubs that are essential for insects.”

The team strives to create and maintain habitats that send the right signals to any new bird species that may unexpectedly arrive due to the changing climate. “Birds know if a breeding territory will ensure the survival of their species,” Dorosh says. “If we have enough native trees, birds will coexist with other birds and become specialized in what they eat—that’s how evolution intended it.”

As anyone familiar with the variety and abundance of species in Prospect Park knows, there’s plenty to go around. “Warblers and flycatchers eat insects. Cardinals and Blue Jays eat berries and nuts. Sparrows eat grass seeds, and Hawks are carnivores who help keep the rodent population at bay,” explains Dorosh. “We have it all in Prospect Park, as long as we maintain the habitats to become and stay healthy and native.”

Interested in catching a glimpse of the Devil Bird? Learn about bird watching opportunities in Prospect Park.

Learn more about Prospect Park Alliance’s work to sustain the environment and how you can help support the plants, wildlife and community of Brooklyn’s Backyard.