Why, yes, you can go birdwatching in New York City, and we’re not talking about pigeons. Thanks to a unique combination of natural features and resources, the NYC area welcomes a variety of birds both seasonally and year-round. Celebrate the Summer Solstice by becoming one with the birds and the rest of nature at some of the city’s most scenic spots. By Jessica Allen.
Probably the most famous hawk in the city, Pale Male has lived at 927 Fifth Avenue since the early 1990s. He has his own website, as well as legions of fans who watch him, his mates, and his offspring like, well, hawks from Central Park across the street. But there are roughly 235 other species of birds to observe in the park, including egrets, red-winged blackbirds, black-and-white warblers, among other songbirds, blue jays, and American goldfinches, from such spots as Azalea Pond and Bank Rock Bay. Once we even saw a wild turkey charge out of the wild Ramble.
With more than 9,000 acres, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge has plenty of trees, shrubs, woods, fields, ponds, inlets, salt marsh, and open water to make any bird happy. In fact, this park is probably the best place in New York City to go birding. Over the past few decades, approximately 330 species of land, water, and shorebirds have been spotted here, from snow geese to American redstarts to barn owls to osprey. You can also see upwards of 60 species of butterflies, several varieties of horseshoe crab, and other insects, reptiles, and mammals.
Like so many immigrants, Quaker parrots arrived in New York City somewhat by chance, enjoyed what they found, and have gone on to stay for generations. According to Steve Baldwin, who leads free monthly wild parrot safaris to visit their colonies, the birds probably escaped from Kennedy airport in the late 1960s—originally from Argentina, they were destined for pet stores. But nobody truly knows for sure. Regardless of their origin, you can see these bright green beauties for yourself on and near the campus of Brooklyn College.
A few years ago, New York City Audubon designated Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx an “IBA”: Important Bird Area. More than three times the size of Central Park, Pelham Bay offers birds (and bird watchers) lots and lots of room to roam. In addition to several types of owl, this park hosts red-throated loons, blue-gray gnatcatchers, red-tailed hawks, yellow-crowned night-herons, scarlet tanagers, and red-necked grebes as well as several other birds whose plumage is as colorful as their names.
On most Saturdays, an enthusiastic group of birders meets at the Van Cortlandt Nature Center. Walks are led by experts from the Urban Park Rangers or NYC Audubon, often in Spanish and English. Among the 230 species of birds that might be hanging out on a given day in this park’s scrubland, ridges, lake, deciduous forests, wetlands, brooks, and meadows are indigo bunting, warbling vireo, great horned owl, hawks, and double-crested cormorants. If you’re a birder and a runner, then this park is especially for you: its trails are frequently used as a (punishing) cross-country race course.