© Parks Dept. Pinckney
Nesting** Spring Migration*** Fall Migration*** Winter**
(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
In 1865, several years after landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux completed Central Park in Manhattan, they were commissioned to design Prospect Park. They created a 526-acre public park, considered to be one of their finest works, with rolling meadows, rugged woodlands, and an artificial system of waterways. In 1980, the New York City Landmarks Commission granted Prospect Park scenic landmark status, and in 1998 National Audubon designated it an Important Bird Area in New York State.
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The City of New York/Parks and Recreation manages Prospect Park in partnership with the Prospect Park Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy and preservation organization. They launched a long-term reforestation project to revitalize and stabilize the extensive woodlands which, combined with Prospect Lake, cover half the Park. Thousands of cubic yards of new topsoil have been added, and thousands of native species of herbs, shrubs, and trees have been planted. The Alliance also restored the Boathouse, a land marked terra-cotta clad pavilion, where Audubon New York, the state office of National Audubon, and the Alliance operate an environmental education center.
© D. Speiser
Prospect Park is a migration hot spot. In spring the number of bird species on a peak day can approach 100, including five species of vireo, eastern bluebird, numerous warblers (possibly 35 species yearly), vesper sparrow, Lincoln’s sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, bobolink, orchard oriole, and Baltimore oriole. Early in migration, look for yellow-bellied sapsucker, and, later in migration, look for black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos.
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The Park also offers good birding during winter. Sightings are enhanced when feeders are up on Breeze Hill and when open water occurs in Prospect Lake. Raptors occasionally come through and sometimes stay; rare owls may roost some seasons. The Christmas Bird Count, conducted by the Brooklyn Bird Club, has occasionally recorded more than 60 species in Prospect Park, almost half of the number counted in the entire borough! (The Christmas Bird Count is a long-time tradition in New York City. It has been held in Brooklyn since 1903, in the Bronx since 1902, and in Manhattan since 1900.)
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Nesting season offers rewards as well. Nesting species in Prospect Park include green heron, wood duck, red-tailed hawk (for the past decade), white-eyed vireo, red-eyed vireo, warbling vireo, Carolina wren, house wren, wood thrush, brown thrasher, yellow warbler, orchard oriole, and Baltimore oriole. Periodically The Brooklyn Bird Club collects nesting data during the month of June.
Some of the Park’s best birding locations are found in the woodland areas: The Vale of Cashmere, the Midwood, the Ravine, and Lookout Hill. Other prime sites include the Peninsula, which overlooks Prospect Lake, the Lullwater, and Long Meadow. These habitats attract a wide diversity of birds. A total of 275 species has been recorded in Prospect Park since 1905.
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People visit Prospect Park for recreation and cultural events as well as for birding. There are tennis courts, ball fields, bridle paths, a wildlife center/zoo(entrance fee), a soon-to-be new ice skating rink (opening in summer 2013), the 9th Street bandshell, carousel and parade grounds. In addition to the Boathouse, notable buildings and architectural structures in Prospect Park include the Grecian Shelter, the Tennis House (currently off limits, used for Parks Department operations), the Picnic House, Litchfield Villa (Prospect Park Alliance’s location and meeting place for the Brooklyn Bird Club), and Lefferts Homestead.
Click here for a very detailed map of Prospect Park.
Start Your Birding Walk Here -
The Vale of Cashmere, The Midwood, Long Meadow, and Lookout Hill
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Your birding adventure starts at the Park’s main entrance (at its northernmost tip), which is at Grand Army Plaza, opposite the Memorial Arch. (There is a farmer’s market here every Saturday morning--even in winter.) Follow the footpath on the left toward the Park’s eastern side and go south past the Rose Garden to the Vale of Cashmere. Dense ornamental shrubbery in this area provides excellent bird habitat. Continue south across Nellie’s Lawn, checking for ground-feeding birds as you go, to the East Drive. Walk south and down the hill alongside East Drive through Battle Pass, where, in 1776, the Americans vainly tried to hold off the advancing British troops in the Battle of Long Island. At the bottom of the hill, you will arrive at the rear of the Wildlife Center/Zoo and near a large compost mulch area at the zoo's north end. Turn right (west) and cross East Drive and enter the Midwood. This is a particularly rich area for thrushes and warblers in the spring. First work the trail at the bottom of the ridge (part of the Harbor Hill terminal moraine that stretches along northern Long Island), and then work back toward the north. Climb the ridge, cross over Boulder Bridge, walk into the Ravine and turn right. Follow the footpath westward to Long Meadow. Turn left and walk past the Pools (also known as Upper and Lower Pools), checking it for great egret, yellowed-crowned night-heron, and an occasional wood duck. Continue southwest, checking the ball fields for ground-feeding birds, such as killdeer (rare), northern flicker, American robin, and various sparrows, and scanning the sky for raptors. Go past the rear of the Friends (Quaker) Cemetery and walk southeast along the bridle path to Center Drive. In spring and fall these areas can be rich warbler habitats.
by Francois Portmann
Cross Center Drive and ascend Lookout Hill, the highest point in the Park. Its prominence serves as a beacon for spring and fall migrants. On a good spring “wave day,” 25 species of warbler have been seen here. Covering Lookout Hill takes time. It is best to start from the top, then circle the hill along the lower paths several times, and return to the top. This can take a whole morning if there is a “fallout” of migrants. An alternative approach leads to the base of Lookout Hill from the Park entrance at 16th Street and Prospect Park Southwest.
The Peninsula and the Lullwater
Proceed down the south side of Lookout Hill, investigating its wooded slope, particularly the dense thickets above the Well House, for Carolina Wren and various warblers, including late fall orange-crowned warbler (infrequent). Also check the forest immediately to the south of the Maryland Monument (commemorating the Maryland Four Hundred who faced the British Army and protected George Washington’s retreat). Then proceed down the hill and cross the road and meadow onto the Peninsula. Bird this area thoroughly and proceed to the “Thumb.” From the rustic, log-braced shelter check the water and Duck Island, directly across from the shelter, for roosting herons or raptors and interesting ducks, such as wood duck, American wigeon, ring-necked duck, and bufflehead. (The other islands--Three Sisters and West Island--are also important roosting and nesting areas.) Work back along the north edge of the Peninsula, past the Phragmites thickets, to a footpath that leads under the Terrace Bridge. black-crowned night-heron often roost in this area.
© Parks Dept. Pinckney
Proceed along the footpath under the bridge and along the Lullwater, a stretch of stream that widens and narrows. Green heron often nest here, and a variety of waterfowl, such as wood duck, pied-billed grebe, common moorhen (rare), and American coot, may be found here. In winter, there are feeding stations along the trails on both sides of the Lullwater that attract yellow-bellied sapsucker, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, dark-eyed junco, fox sparrow, white-throated sparrow, house finch, and American goldfinch. Proceed along the Lullwater trail to the Lullwater Bridge at the Boathouse. Cross the bridge, checking the surrounding trees as well as the water. Baltimore and orchard orioles have nested in the trees above the bridge; barn swallows in crevices beneath; and green herons in trees closeby. From here, walk behind the Boathouse and bear right to return to East Drive. Walk past the Zoo and retrace your steps to Grand Army Plaza. Or, cross Flatbush Avenue and walk up Eastern Parkway past the public library to the main entrance of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. (To enter the Botanic Garden at Empire Boulevard and Flatbush Avenue, exit the Park just past Lefferts Homestead and the Carousel and cross Flatbush Avenue.)
by D. Speiser
An alternate route, particularly recommended in the fall, starts at the south end of Prospect Park at the Wollman Memorial Rink parking lot (under construction). Facing Prospect Lake, bear left around the south side of the Lake, keeping it on your right. When you reach the northeast side, go to the Peninsula, and then work the watercourse northward along the Lullwater. Instead of crossing the Lullwater Bridge, follow the edge of the Lullwater to Lily Pond (formerly known as Pagoda Pond), and on to Center Drive at the Nethermead Arches. Bear right along Center Drive to a footpath that takes you into the Midwood. Follow this trail north, through the Midwood, back to Park Drive East at the Zoo. Walk the drive south back to the parking lot at the skating rink.
In fall, check the Long Meadow from the west side of the ridge, particularly for migrating hawks. For large fallouts of flickers and robins, check the Long Meadow, the ballfields, and Nethermead (the smaller meadow on the other side of Quaker Hill) in early morning. Killdeer, common snipe, and eastern meadowlark have also been seen in these areas very early, before the influx of dog walkers and their exuberant charges.
© Parks Dept. Pinckney
Because of the reforestation project, some areas along the glacial ridge are fenced off, limiting ability to cross the Park and the ridge. A walkway, known as “Rocky Pass,” allows access through the restoration area. It starts at the beginning of the ravine and ends at the Nethermead Arches. The fencing became permanent in 2000 to protect native plantings, but it does not obstruct birders from reaching the important sites.
The Prospect Park Alliance has published A Guide to Nature in Prospect Park and a map of the Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that can be purchased at the Litchfield Villa, 95 Prospect Park West (in the Park at 5th Street), Brooklyn, NY 11215, at Lefferts Homestead, or at Wollman Memorial Rink.
The Brooklyn Bird Club, a private non-profit organization founded in 1909, publishes a checklist and Map for Birdwatchers for Prospect Park. It provides a number of other resources for birders as well, including a newsletter, The Clapper Rail. There is an active blog posting the latest news and bird reports.
When to Go
In spring, April 15 to May 31 is good for songbirds, the peak for warblers being May 5-20. Sunrise until 10am and then again from 3pm until sunset are the best times of the day.
In summer, breeding and non-breeding species can be seen from July 1 to August 15. Dragonflies (15+ species) and butterflies (25+ species, especially prevalent at the buddleia bushes in Butterfly Meadow atop Lookout Hill) can be seen from July 1 to August 31. In addition to the birds and insects, mammals take to the air as well. At the Lake, Nethermead, The Pools, Lookout Hill, and Long Meadow, there are several species of bats, including little brown, big brown, red, hoary (rare), and silver-haired, that are present and can sometimes be seen at dusk from July 1 to September 30.
In fall, warblers can be seen August 15-September 30, peaking August 31-September 10; other songbirds September 1-30, peaking around September 15; sparrows September 15-October 30, peaking October 7-15; and raptors October 1-November 30. Any time of day is fine for fall birding.
In winter, waterfowl can be expected between September 1 and April 30 and raptors (sharp-shinned, cooper’s, and red-shouldered hawks, American kestrel, and merlin) from November 1 to March 31, at any time of day.
Optimal Weather Conditions
Large fallouts of spring migrants occur on a clear day with west or southwest winds, when the mornings are cool (high 50s to low 60s) and midday temperatures rise to 65-75, after a period of rain.
In fall, birding is best on a day with northwest winds, especially at the beginning of a cold snap.
© Parks Dept. Avila
It is advisable to bird in Prospect Park with a companion, particularly in secluded wooded areas.
Click here for a google map to the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park. Once on the map, click directions and type in your starting point. Also select your choice of driving directions or public transpotation.
Subway: From Manhattan, take the Brooklyn-bound #2 or 3 subway train to the Grand Army Plaza stop. From the subway exit, walk 300 yards to the Park’s Main Entrance and follow the suggested route above.
Or take the Brooklyn-bound F subway train to the 15th Street/Prospect Park or 7th Avenue stops (the latter is one block west of the park).
Or take the Brooklyn-bound D or Q subway train to the Seventh Avenue stop (near Grand Army Plaza) or the Prospect Park stop (near the Zoo) or the Parkside Avenue stop (near the Lake).
Or take the C subway train to the Franklin Avenue stop, transfer to the Shuttle (S) and take it to the end at Prospect Park.
Resource Persons for Prospect Park Birding:
2012- Peter Dorosh, President, Brooklyn Bird Club and editor of Brooklyn Bird Club’s The Clapper Rail; Peter Joost, NYC Audubon Board of Directors, and teacher, St. Bernard’s School
2001- Robert Gochfeld, editor of Brooklyn Bird Club’s The Clapper Rail; Paul Keim, President, Brooklyn Bird Club; and John C. and Mary Yrizarry, Sterling Forest League of Naturalists