This week I met up with a friend who shares a love for wildness, and who has also ranged and rangered in New York City. Though we live in opposite boroughs, we still manage to get together a few times a year, and this day’s excursion was a particular delight: after sampling a children’s class in Inwood Hill Park then lunching and cold-drinking at a nearby cafe, we hopped on a downtown A-train and cruised 55 streets to Harlem and Washington Heights, for some fine (and unlikely) birdwatching.
On the hottest day of the year we crossed the cement steambox of upper upper Manhattan with a meandering approach to a quest some take on more methodically. Our plan was to walk, talk, reconnect, swap news of our lives and of the wildlife refuge where we were once coworkers—and along the way, to spot birds.
See—the Audubon Society and collaborating art gallery Gitler&______, reacting lovingly and creatively to a 2014 report concluding that more than half of North American bird species are threatened by climate change—recently began commissioning artists to paint murals of said species-under-threat, in the former neighborhoods of seminal American ornithologist John James Audubon. To date 88 of the report’s 314 climate-threatened species have been honored, in paintings ranging from true-to-life portraits to stylized psychedelics.
As noted in a recent New York Times piece, the experience of trekking to find the murals, of tracking down the more hidden and ephemeral ones—those painted on storefront gates and thus only visible during business closures, or those otherwise tucked into out-of-the-way corners—becomes akin to the experience of actual birding. You can let the questing and checklisting get the better of you—or, as my friend and daughter and I found ourselves doing, you can simply wander, be the feathery flaneur, and enjoy the serendipity and whimsy of the moment.
Our conversation that day hit all points: high and low, from recent wildlife sightings at the refuge where she works, to lamentations about the seeming lack of ecological literacy and tenderness to the more-than-human, in our urban zeitgeist. But whenever the lamenting started to get the better of us, we’d come face to face with a larger-than-life warbler, hummingbird, or magpie.
There is love in this city for the more-than-human. We found it, again, in these Audubon murals. Here are a few more of our favorites. Enjoy—then, check them out for yourself!