With a population of about 9 million people, New York City is the most populous and the most densely populated city in the United States. Despite its huge number of human residents, this giant city is also a haven for birds and wildlife.
Over the last few years, and because of the COVID pandemic, interest in birding has taken off (figuratively!) and, according to a 2021 survey by the National Survey of Birdwatchers, New York State is the second most active birding state in the whole of the US.
So with the growing popularity of birdwatching in New York City, Birda has put together a list of the top places to get out with some binoculars around the city, some tips on how to get involved and some local clubs and organisations you might want to explore.
The Top Places to go birding in New York City
Van Cortlandt Park’s vast 1,146 acres of land hosts a variety of common birds as well as some more elusive and exotic species. There are about 230 species which can be found around this park; from Great White Egrets and Wood Ducks around the lake, to Hawks and Owls on Vault Hill and around the Parade Ground.
There is also a lesser known spot along Tibbets Brook with an eclectic mixture of birds along the waterway and hiding in the trees.
Pelham Bay Park is New York City’s largest park and is a major draw for birdwatchers. Because it’s a coastal park, there’s a huge variety of animals which can be seen along the shoreline. The park is a favourite hangout for Ospreys and Owls – the best views of these birds are from Orchard Beach, following the Kazimiroff Trail.
Prospect Park is a 526 acre park within New York City with more than 200 bird species living in it. This is a great location for new birders with some really exciting regular visitors like the Red-tailed Hawk, Green Heron and plenty of duck species! There are some rarer birds which have been spotted there too including the American Bittern and Pied-billed Grebe.
Marine Park is a fantastic spot in New York City to get involved with birding; with a whole host of habitats and species to try and see. The park is massive (798 acres) and has marshes and coastlines which provide homes to Ospreys in the summer and a variety of waterfowl throughout the year. Gerritsen Creek is home for an eclectic mix of species like the Grasshopper Sparrows, Canvasbacks and Myrtle Warblers.
If you’re looking for National Parks perfect for birdwatching in the USA, read more about them here.
Well we couldn’t cover iconic birding spots of New York City without mentioning Central Park. The Ramble is probably the best known birding spot in the whole city – a favourite for songbirds although it does occasionally host more exotic passers-by. The North Woods of the park is a great location to try and see a wide variety of Owls; Great-horned, Barred and Saw-whets have all been spotted there regularly.
Northern Manhattan Parks displays a variety of viewing locations across the city but the biggest draw for many is Manhattan’s last true forest and only salt marsh – making is a crucial home for Belted Kingfishers and Screech Owls. During winter, events are run by the Park Rangers which can help you identify Bald Eagles high in the sky along the Hudson River.
Highland Park is a perfect spot in New York City to look out for Birds of Prey. During the fall, the reservoir is haven for all kinds of eagles and falcons but away from the hotspots there is also a hidden area between basin one and basin two. In the spring, this location is teaming with activity from songbirds and other breeding birds.
If you visit Forest Park you’ll discover Queens’ largest oak forest which is also home to a large number of raptor species. Strack Pond is another favourite for birdwatchers in New York City and it can offer unrivalled views of warblers during the spring.
If looking for endangered species is more your thing then you could do worse than checking out Rockaway Beach. This is the habitat of the rare Piping Plover as well as a vast array of shorebirds and migratory birds. During the colder months you may even spot Snowy Owls around the beach area!
There is a group of parks in the heart of Staten Island known as the Greenbelt and each has its own selection of trails and birding hotspots. Walker Pond and Loosestrife Swamp look out over the water and can offer great views of Kingfisher, Egrets, Herons and migratory birds. North of Rockland Avenue you could visit Moses Mountain and check out the locals which can include a variety of Raptors including Ospreys and Bald Eagles.
How to get into Birdwatching
- Keep your distance from birds – many of the local birds are nervous and it can be a criminal offence to stress some species.
- Stay on the trails and paths so that you don’t damage native plants and animals in your quest for the perfect photograph.
- Follow local rules and guidelines for each park you visit.
Birding is a fantastic activity for families and individuals but if you want to join other like-minded folk then it’s a great idea to link in with local groups and communities…
Birding Organisations and Clubs in New York City
New York City being what it is, there are plenty of small local clubs to choose from but here are a few of our favourites.
Well we couldn’t leave this one out could we? Birda is the best place to connect with likeminded birders in your local area. Offering state of the art bird ID, competitions, challenges and rewards, the app is the place to start in your birding adventure! Find out more about Birda’s Features here.
Linnaean Society of New York:
Founded in 1878, it is one of the oldest ornithological societies in the US. It has its roots in the natural world in general but has a profound interest in birding in the United States. Its connection to the Museum of Natural History runs deep and it’s a great place to start.
Brooklyn Bird Club:
No surprises where this particular club is based – Brooklyn Bird Club hosts regular trips and guided walks for both its members and the general public. There’s also a regular magazine (the Clapper Rail) which members gain access to.
Queens County Bird Club:
Based in Queens, this club also runs regular walks and field trips around New York City. Members help with valuable community research projects like the Christmas Bird Count and Waterfowl Count.
Femminist Bird Club:
Initially founded as a safe space to go bird watching in a challenging and potentially unsafe environment, the FBC now offers an inclusive club for many members in New York City. Founded in 2016, the group invites participation from anyone who feels they are socially or politically marginalised.
New York City offers a diverse and exciting collection of birding opportunities for the beginners and the seasoned professionals. The city’s vast array of parks and habitats means that no matter where you’re based, you’re bound to find something new and exciting if you’re willing to dust off the binoculars and look around. Don’t forget to log your sightings in the Birda app and join others in the community of birdwatching!