5-Boro Birding

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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