The Hudson River Parks

Blue-headed Vireo

by D. Speiser

Nesting**    Spring Migration***    Fall Migration***    Winter**

(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)

Spuyten Duyvil is an early Dutch name for the steeply sloped area where the Harlem and Hudson Rivers meet. Spuyten Duyvil Shorefront Park, owned by City of New York/Parks and Recreation, is a small hillside (0.187 acres) overlooking the two rivers on the southwestern tip of the Bronx. The Park is a natural stopover for songbirds migrating near the Hudson River and offers open views of ducks on the rivers. Just a few blocks north is Riverdale Park, a narrow strip of land (97 acres) running parallel to the Hudson River for 1 ¼ miles, also owned by City of New York/Parks and Recreation. Its deciduous woodlands, brushy clearings, and freshwater wetland attract woodpeckers, vireos, swallows, thrushes, and warblers.

A former estate (Raoul Wallenberg) across the street (east) of Riverdale Park was acquired by NYC Parks a few years ago. This park has several large oaks that attract migrant warblers and other songbirds. Further north and inland from Riverdale Park sits the Wave Hill estate and grounds. The formal gardens and lawns also attract migrating birds. The three waterfront sites offer spectacular views of the Hudson River and New Jersey’s Palisades, though the active passenger rail tracks along the river block direct waterfront access.

Spuyten Duyvil Shorefront Park
Click here for a google map where you can get directions to this park.

Starting from the intersection of Johnson Avenue and Kappock Street (near bus stop), walk toward the high-rise apartment building with a blue façade. Make a right at the building and proceed downhill on Palisade Avenue to Edsall Avenue to the beginning of a woodchip path. Take this path to the end (only a few hundred feet) where there is a good view of the river and across to Manhattan’s Inwood Hill Park. Scan the trees along the path and the river for migrants. Walk west on Edsall Avenue and check the pond under the Henry Hudson Bridge for ducks.

You can also start from the Spuyten Duyvil Metro North Railroad Station and walk along Edsall Avenue, or take stairs up to Palisade Ave, birding the same areas as above.

Return to Johnson Avenue (which shortly becomes Palisade Avenue) and turn left (west) and walk past private residences to the tiny gated overlook on the left. Check for birds in the trees lining the street and in the bushes on the hillside below. Stop to take in the wonderful view of the river.

Go back to Palisade Avenue and continue north until you reach West 232 Street. In the section between Kappock st and 232 st. there is fair birding in the former estate trees and bushes on both sides of the avenue. The private homes and the grounds of the Shervier Nursing home along this section of Palisade Avenue. host several noteworthy trees, including a tulip tree that is among the largest known. The large oaks in this section host good numbers of fall and spring migrant songbirds.

Riverdale Park
Click here for NYC Park map showing the boundaries of Riverdale and Raoul Wallenberg Parks.

232 Street to 254 Street, Hudson River to Palisade Avenue This section can also be reached by taking local or express busses to Henry Hudson Parkway and 232nd st, then walking three blocks west on 232nd to Palisade Ave. There are no sidewalks on the westernmost portion of this walk, but there is not too much car traffic. Be careful.

Look for the entrance to the southern section of Riverdale Park near the northwest corner of 232 Street and Palisade Avenue. Enter the southern section of the park through an opening in a chainlink fence, take the main trail closest to the river, and walk north checking the treetops and shrubs as you go. At the beginning of this walk the woods are largely composed of native species, these are much more attractive to most migrant and resident birds than the Norway maples and other invasive species in the next section of the walk. Continue north along the main trail and pass by a small brown brick building that is a power substation of the rail road. The tangled vegetation here can be surprisingly attractive to such fall migrants as mourning and chestnut-sided warbler.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

by D. Speiser

Walking north for a few minutes one goes up and down some hills before coming to one of the most intact native forests in the city. Though vines of Eurasian origin are starting to invade, this section is still full of regionally declining plants, including spring wildflowers, pinxter (native azalea), maple-leaved viburnum, and blueberry. The canopy is a mixture of oak, hickory, and other bird-friendly species. This is an excellent area for migrant and resident birds. Eastern Screech-Owls usually breed here annually, as do forest interior species like Great-crested Flycatcher and Red-eyed Vireo. Good numbers of Baltimore Orioles and even Orchard Orioles breed here. At the end of this section take the path uphill and back to the street. Walk north on Palisade Avenue. In a short distance, after passing a group of private residences, you can re-enter the park. This northern section of Riverdale Park has more invasive-dominated woods, and is rarely as productive for birds as the southern section of the park. There are some clearings and a freshwater wetland. Explore any of the trails and check the trees and brushy areas for migrants. The park ends at West 254 Street, half a mile from the start of the northern section.


[b]Orchard Oriole[/b][br]by D. SpeiserOrchard Oriole
by D. Speiser


 A breeding bird census conducted in 1988 identified 34 breeders in Riverdale Park including Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Orchard Oriole. A new species that has become regular in Riverdale Park since 2009 is the Northern Raven. These magnificent birds appear almost daily, playing in the updrafts along the river. They cover a lot of ground and are not always easy to see, but their unmistakable croaking and aerobatic flight make them unmistakable.

 If one chooses to explore Raoul Wallenberg Forest Preserve, it is best to leave Riverdale park at any of several trails just north of the brown brick substation and cross Palisade Ave. Wallenberg is a small property between Riverdale and Seton Parks and can be birded quickly, unless one meets a migrant wave.

The Urban Park Rangers conduct nature walks in Riverdale Park.

Wave Hill
At this point, you can either continue walking north to 255 Street and the Hudson River to Metro North’s Riverdale Station and return to Manhattan or visit Wave Hill’s lovely gardens, wooded trails, and scenic views overlooking the Hudson River.

To reach Wave Hill from the north end of Riverdale Park go past the Riverdale Country School and continue uphill, taking a left on Palisade Ave. The entrance is shortly on the left (east). If visiting from the Riverdale Metro-North Riverdale station, check the shuttle bus schedule or walk uphill away from the river on West 254 Street and then take a right on Sycamore Avenue. Check in the large pines on the right and the orchard on the left for birds. Continue to the intersection of 252 Street and Independence Avenue and turn right on Independence. In a short distance, Wave Hill’s main entrance (249 Street) appears on the right. Wave Hill is a city-owned cultural and environmental institution, operated by a private, nonprofit Board of Directors. The 28-acre Park and Wave Hill House (with cafe and restrooms) are open regularly from 9am-5:30pm every day except Mondays. There is an entrance fee. Investigate the garden in front of the greenhouse to the right of the entrance as well as the stately oaks and beeches in the lawn area.

Northern Harrier

by D. Speiser

The lawn offers an unrestricted view overlooking the Hudson River and, in the fall, is an opportune place to hawk watch. This bank of the river is a major fall corridor for hawks and other migrants. When the winds are northwesterly birds take advantage of the updraft created when the wind is pressed upwards by the hill that forms this bank of the river. From September to November there is a steady procession of birds when conditions are right.

A hawk watch here had good numbers of accipiters, falcons, and Red-tailed Hawks, but almost no Broad-winged Hawks. The most easily observed songbirds flying this river of air are Blue Jay, Northern Flicker, American Robin, and Cedar Waxwing, but many other species are visible as well. One November an irruption year brought thousands of chickadee, titmice, and other semi-resident birds. For several days flocks streamed past this bank of the Hudson, sometimes at a rate of 300 birds an hour.

Bald Eagle

by D. Speiser

Winter Eagle Watching
For at least the last decade numbers of bald eagles are again wintering along the lower Hudson. Though the best viewing areas are from Westchester County to Bear Mountain, these majestic birds are now seen daily from December to March from upper Manhattan on north. Eagles are most easily seen here when the Hudson freezes, usually for a few weeks in mid-February. At such times bald eagles ride ice flows south with the tide; often groups of adult and immature birds will squabble over dead fish.

When to Go
Spring and fall are both good for migrating songbirds; the spring peak is April 25 to May 15, the fall peak is mid-September to mid-October. Go to Spuyten Duyvil Shorefront Park and Riverdale Park between dawn and 11:30am and to Wave Hill starting at 9am, when it opens. At Wave Hill fall hawk migration is best September 15-October 15. The peak of the Red-tailed Hawk migration is October 25-November 10. The best hours are 10am-3pm. On strong west and northwest winds, some hawks fly at eye level using the updrafts along the steep westward facing hills overlooking the Hudson River.

At Spuyten Duyvil Shorefront Park, mid-November to mid-March, mid-morning to mid-afternoon, is good for wintering ducks, including Red-breasted Merganser. The abundance and variety of ducks depends upon freezing conditions further north--in short, the colder the winter up north, the better the chance for variety and numbers of ducks on open water in the New York City area.

Optimal Weather Conditions
Bright, sunny, warm days are best for spring birding. Hawk watching is good on partly sunny autumn days with northwesterly winds. In winter, go out on clear, windless days.

Personal Safety
The suggested tour runs through relatively safe, but remote, residential areas. All the same, it is best to bird in small groups of two to four. Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale parks have dog ticks and poison ivy. Watch for joggers and unleashed dogs along Palisade Avenue and in Riverdale Park.

Directions  Please refer to each park listed above.
Resource Person for Hudson River Parks Birding:

David Burg, founder and president of WildMetro, a member of the New York City Audubon's Conservation Committee since 1986 and former president of the NYC Audubon's Board of Directors

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