2014-06-13 / Columnists

Go Parks!

Go Birding!
By Sarah Aucoin

A yellow warbler brightens the view in Van Cortlandt Park. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks and Recreation. A yellow warbler brightens the view in Van Cortlandt Park. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks and Recreation. Florida snowbirds aren’t the only ones to return to New York City this time of year!

In springtime, New York City parks offer some of the best bird watching in the world, as many thousands of birds migrate north along the eastern migratory flyway. In the New York metropolitan area, green spaces stand out in contrast to the sea of concrete, and New York City’s parks serve as green oases where birds can spend the night and restore their energy. As a result, parks are great places to spot more than 200 bird species, including cerulean warblers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and many others that pass through the city each spring and fall.

Many of these birds have traveled thousands of miles from their winter homes in Central and South America, and will travel hundreds or thousands more to locations in New England and Canada. For others, New York City will become their summer home. One particularly exciting species is the piping plover, a small, sand-colored shorebird that the US Fish & Wildlife Service has listed as an endangered species. Piping plovers nest right here on Rockaway beach throughout the summer!

Spring is also an interesting time to watch New York City’s year-round aviary residents. From March through June, you can see red-tailed hawks make their nests, court one another with dazzling aerial displays, and raise their fledglings. We estimate that there are 30-35 pairs of red-tailed hawks nesting across the city, including in Inwood Hill Park, Central Park, Prospect Park, and Van Cortlandt Park. One pair lives just off of Washington Square Park in lower Manhattan!

If you’re looking for ways to learn about the fantastic birds in your neighborhood, look no further than the NYC Parks Urban Park Rangers. The Rangers lead guided bird watching tours in parks across the city throughout the year. These tours are great for beginning and intermediate birdwatchers – no experience necessary! On bird watching tours, Rangers will explain how to use a field guide and look for key identifying markers like beak size to identify the birds you spot. It is not unusual to see 75 or 100 different species of birds in one day! Bird watching is an easy thing to enjoy – it’s like a scavenger hunt, but your prize is a breathtaking glimpse of a rare, beautiful bird such as a Baltimore oriole or a scarlet tanager!

The Urban Park Rangers are part of a vibrant birding community in New York City. Many of our partner organizations, including the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy, Prospect Park Alliance, Freshkills Park Alliance, and Central Park Conservancy offer their own bird watching programs; I’m on the advisory board of NYC Audubon, which leads numerous bird walks across the city, and has a wealth of information on their website about birding programs, birds and the best places in New York City to look for them.

Each bird watching season is different, depending on weather patterns. Storms, long winters, and other conditions change migration and mating patterns. Sometimes, storms bring birds that typically don’t live in New York City – after previous storms, our Rangers have spotted frigate birds and hummingbirds in our parks! This year, piping plovers are arriving later to our beaches, which may be a result of our exceedingly cold winter. Our Rangers began noticing migratory birds in our parks in late April, and we expect that New York City will have great birding through June. So lace up your shoes, get outdoors, and start bird watching!

For more information on bird watching and other activities led by the Urban Park Rangers, visit nyc.gov/parks and search for “Urban Park Rangers.”

Go birding! Go Park!

Sarah Aucoin is the Director of Urban Park Rangers for NYC Parks.

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