5-Boro Birding

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Shirley Wu, 11, catching a glimpse of a red-tailed hawk perched above the camp ground in Central Park. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Despite its urban landscape, New York City has many opportunities for bird-watching. Paul Sweet, collection manager in the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, talks about some of the best spots and what to look for during the spring migration.

NYC is on a major flyway of birds on the eastern seaboard for birds heading north for Spring.  Over the past 100 years there has been a transformation of bird migrations. Rare sightings like Swallow-tailed Kites have been seen in Prospect Park due to their range expansion.

How to become a birder:

  • LOOK UP! Put away your cell phone, take out your headphones and let your eyes and ears take note of NYC’s often overlooked area: above our heads.
  • Jesse from Queens works for Jetblue and sees all types of birds from the tower. How does he identify them?: Shape, size, speed and behavior.  There are lots of birding apps out there to help you with identification.
  • You’ll need a pair of binoculars, just not the compact kind.
  • Dawn is the best time. Birds will be ‘dropping out of the sky’ after their overnight ‘red-eye’ flight. 

    Where to go?

    • Central Park is a great birding spot because it is accessible to people and birds. It acts as a ‘migrant trap’ offering a concentrated area for birds to rest from their nocturnal migration. Once dawn breaks, they make their descent into green space.
    • Anywhere with woodland is a good bet. Pelham Bay Park, Van Cortlandt Park and The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx are great. Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn (where you can spot urban parrots!) are frequented by birders as well.
    • Jamaica Wildlife Refuge is a special place with diverse habitats ranging from wetlands, salt marshes and beaches. Unfortunately, the fresh water pond was breached by sea water during hurricane Sandy.
    • Rockefeller State Park Preserve:  Reachable by public transit and a short cab ride, a caller reported seeing Pileated Woodpeckers and Eastern Bluebirds.
    • A caller, Robert  from the Bronx, suggests The Empire State Building at night.  According to him, you can see 1 bird every 5 seconds including Peregrine Falcons.  He also reported seeing Great Horned Owls which have expanded their range into Manhattan and Brooklyn from the Bronx. 

    Be warned: Birding can cause spousal jealousy. Our caller, Cecelia, spotted a pair of Bald Eagles and despite regular drive-bys to the same location, has been unable to replicate the experience for her jealous husband. 

    Check out these organizations for more information about birding and guided tours:

    NYC Audubon

    Brooklyn Bird Club



    Paul Sweet

    Comments [8]

    MFan from Staten Island

    You say: "You’ll need a pair of binoculars, just not the compact kind."

    Balderdash. There's absolutely nothing wrong with compact/"travel" binoculars. In fact, despite now owning a pair of beautiful, expensive Swarovisions, travel bins are what I learned on and used exclusively for years. I still keep a pair of travel binocs in my bag, another in my car, and so on. Like anything else, there are both good and bad ones, and you get what you pay for.

    REI has excellent 8x compacts for around $100, and Olympus makes a similar pair for a bit more that I'd recommend highly. Yes, the field of view is a bit narrower than a full-sized pair, but the most important thing? You can throw them in your bag, carry them with you, leave them in your desk, etc. They weigh nothing. This means you'll actually have them with you. And then hopefully, use them.

    Also, quite honestly, Brooklyn has nothing on Staten Island when it comes to bird habitat and, thus, the watching thereof. The tricky part is getting here.

    Apr. 16 2014 04:09 PM
    Hugh from New York


    It's "borough." "Boro" isn't hip, cool or trendy. Please don't let interns write the headlines until they grow up.

    Apr. 16 2014 01:58 PM
    Brooke-Lynne from NYC

    It's so disappointing to hear this "bird aficionado expert from the American Museum of Natural History" discard with great disregard The Bronx/Staten Island/Queens birding community.

    GUEST: "I'm a Brooklyn Birder I'm loyal to my Brooklyn patches"

    WNYC PLEASE understand that not everyone lives in Brooklyn and bows to the Brooklyn b.s. halo of "cool."
    You are serving the entire NYC and Tri-State area your guest sounds like he wants to be on "Brooklyn Public Radio" not New York Public Radio.

    Now Brooklyn birds are cooler than outer borough birds???? Really?
    A true birder would love bird watching anywhere, regardless of a borough's geographic lines or cool factor.

    Apr. 16 2014 12:21 PM
    Paul from Glen Cove

    The caller that 'saw' a bald eagle on Long Island probably saw an osprey or other similar group bird.

    Apr. 16 2014 12:03 PM
    mr nyc

    Ditto on Alley Pond Park, right off Little Neck Bay. Tons of birds

    Apr. 16 2014 11:52 AM
    dante from Bronx

    I love birds, except when they wake me up at 5am with loud chirping. how can persuade them to sing somewhere else?

    Apr. 16 2014 11:44 AM
    Seth from Staten Island

    with its many varied habitats, Staten Island offers many great birding locations and chances to a great day list. Some locations include Clove Lakes Park, Conference House Park, Mount Loretto unique area, Great Kills Park, Wolfe's Pond Park, and many others.

    Apr. 16 2014 11:09 AM
    antonio from baySIde

    I've never seen the variety of birds which i've seen in 'alley pond park'! It's located in queens...

    Apr. 16 2014 10:03 AM

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