The City Naturalist

City Naturalist

Observing Birds

by Leslie Day


In April and May, birds such as the Baltimore oriole, wood thrush and eastern phoebe migrate north along the Atlantic Coast Flyway and land in Central Park to feed. Many birds use Central Park as their summer breeding grounds such as the pair of Mute swans that raise their baby swans or cygnets on the Lake.


April through August birds nest and raise their young. Look for song birds such as the baby American robin, northern cardinal and European starlings who follow their parents "peeping" and lowering their wings in begging postures.

Look for baby waterfowl such as mute swan cygnets, and mallard ducklings who follow their parents single file across the meer, the lake or the ponds in Central Park.

A pair of Red-tailed hawks built their nest and raised their young on a Fifth Avenue building. Other red-tails hunt and soar over Riverside Park.

When the honeysuckle and other flowering plants bloom look for ruby throated hummingbirds sipping nectar from the wildflowers.


In September many of our songbirds that feed on insects, such as American redstarts, scarlet tanagers and red breasted grosbeaks, migrate to warmer areas, where food is plentiful. Waterfowl, such as the belted kingfisher , that depend on aquatic insects, fish, amphibians or aquatic vegetation also migrate south looking for open water on which to feed.


A number of songbirds such as white-throated sparrows, tufted titmice, juncos, house sparrows, starlings, blue jays, and cardinals either come down from more northern climes to feed on tree seeds in the park, or live in our parks year-round. In Central Park, the bird feeders at Azalea Pond in the Ramble are stocked with bird seed throughout the winter. People who love birds will often put seed out for them under street trees or in back yards throughout this season of ice and snow. If the winter isn't too cold and the park ponds, lakes and rivers don't freeze you can find a number of waterfowl like Canada geese and mallard ducklings.

How to observe birds

  1. It’s hard to see birds when the trees are covered with leaves
  2. Use your ears to detect where birds are
  3. Follow the sound with your eyes
  4. Walk quietly up to tree or ground where bird song or sound is coming from. Don’t go too close or the bird will fly away.
  5. First use your eyes, then use binoculars to have a good look at bird

Good Birding Spots In Central Park

The Harlem Meer

The Harlem Meer, especially during the winters that it does not freeze, attracts waterfowl year round. When this body of fresh water was rebuilt in l993, it was stocked with thousands of fish. The fishing and diving birds such as Cormorants, Great White Egret, Black-Crowned Night Heron and numerous ducks, geese and swans come to the Harlem Meer to feed, nest and raise their young during the different seasons.

The Pool and The Ravine

Few people know about or have been to this idyllic body of water that stretches from l00th Street to l03rd Street along Central Park West. The pool drains eastward, through a series of waterfalls, and then it turns into the Ravine, a creek that meanders into the Harlem Meer. The Pool has numerous fish and attracts all kinds of waterfowl during the warm months. The Ravine is quite shallow in places, and songbirds enjoy bathing in it during the spring and summer. There are also fish, tadpoles and crayfish for the fishing birds to feed on.

The Ramble and Azalea Pond

Azalea Pond in The Ramble has numerous bird feeders which are stocked throughout the year, so that the birds always have food-- even in the seasons of ice and snow. The Ramble itself, which has diverse habitats: woods, meadows and water (Azalea Pond and The Lake), attracts many birds year round.

Good Birding Spots In Riverside Park

79th Street Boat Basin, The Hudson River

Many residents of the 79th Street Boat Basin feed the birds year round. There are several people who live or work on the Upper West Side that come down to the river on a daily basis to feed the birds. During the severe winters of l994 and l996 when the river iced up, waterfowl congregated at the marina by the hundreds in response to winter feeding and protection. Because of the numbers of birds that live in or around the marina, one can frequently see birds of prey such as the Red-Tailed Hawk and the American Kestrel.

Where to Look

Bird Habitats What Birds to Look For
In the trees perched on branches you will find song birds eating seeds and insects. American goldfinch
black capped chickadee
song sparrow
On tree trunks, climbing up, down or scurrying around the bark, you will find birds searching for insects in bark crevices or drilling holes in the trees as they look for insects. downy woodpecker
white breasted nuthatch
brown creeper
Soaring high in the sky, you will see birds of prey. You may also see flocks of birds or birds singly or in family groups flying from one feeding spot to another, or migrating over Central Park. Look up! Red-tailed hawks
On the ground under trees, you will find song birds scratching in the soil and turning over leaves looking for insects and worms. Robins
Wood thrushes
In the meadow you will find song birds such as the singing from the tops of fence posts and trees. Rose-breasted grosbeak
Song sparrow
On the edges where habitats come together, for example: where the woods meat the lake shore, you will find many species of birds. Red wing blackbird
Cedar waxwing
Skimming over the water you will find birds catching insects that hover over ponds, lakes and streams. Barn swallows
Paddling on the lake, pond or stream you will find waterfowl. Mallard ducks
Mute Swans.
Some birds dabble, or go upside down with their tails in the air and their webbed feet paddling to keep them upended, and use their bills to catch snails, tadpoles, small fish and underwater vegetation. It’s fun to watch them dabble, and dive completely underwater in search of fish. You might see a cormorant with a fish in its mouth as it surfaces. Cormorants
Canvasback Ducks
Bufflehead ducks
Standing on the shore, you will find the wading birds such as the holding still as a statue looking for fish, tadpoles and frogs. Watch them as they slowly stalk their prey and lunge forward to catch a fish in their long sharp beaks. Black crowned night heron
Great white heron

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