© NYC Parks Pinckney
Nesting* Spring Migration** Fall Migration** Winter*
(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
Riverside Park, only one eighth of a mile wide, follows the western side of Manhattan along the Hudson River for four miles. In the 1870s Frederick Law Olmsted prepared the park’s conceptual plan, which was implemented over two decades by designer Calvert Vaux and others. In the 1930s, under Robert Moses and landscape architect Gilmore Clarke, the railroad tracks (now used by Amtrak) were covered over south of 124th Street to make a promenade, and landfill was added along the river for recreational facilities. In 1980, the 324-acre park was designated a scenic landmark (up to 125th Street) by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Riverside Park is owned by the City of New York/Parks and Recreation. Riverside Park Fund, established in 1986, organizes activities, coordinates volunteers, and raises money towards maintenance and improvements in the park.
by D. Speiser
Riverside Park Bird Sanctuary
The forested and meadow areas between 116th and 124th Streets have been designated the Riverside Park Bird Sanctuary. This is the place to bird. (An annotated checklist of birds of the Sanctuary can be obtained, free of charge, from Riverside Park Fund.) Since 1997, the approximately 10 acres of the Sanctuary have been undergoing reforestation, which has included the removal of invasive species, such as Japanese knotweed, Norway maple, and ailanthus, and the addition of bird-friendly native plants, such as hackberry trees, elderberry, and several species of viburnum and sumac. Over 3,000 plants--trees, shrubs, groundcovers-have been added, but there is still much to be done. The forest is primarily a monoculture of black cherry, and a former wildflower meadow is now a field that tends to fluctuate between being a grass lawn and a weed jungle, depending on an erratic mowing schedule.
by D. Speiser
In the last thirty years 177 species of birds have been seen in or around the Sanctuary, including all the eastern warblers except Swainson’s and such rarities as white-winged dove, Chuck-will’s-widow and snowy owl. Compared to ten years ago, fewer birds are being seen, but the yearly average remains about 120 species, which almost always includes blue grosbeak, summer tanager, hooded warbler, mourning warbler and nine species of sparrows, including Lincoln’s, white-crowned, and Savannah.
Nesters are the usual park species like robin, jay, and catbird, though fewer in number than years ago. However, recent first-time nesters are eastern kingbird, Carolina wren, Baltimore oriole, common grackle, yellow warbler, American goldfinch, and indigo bunting.
Start at 116th Street and Riverside Drive
Enter the park at 116th Street and scan the pin oaks just south of the Sanctuary for orioles, warblers, tanagers and buntings. Descend the hill and take the dirt path through the Women’s Grove, looking especially for woodpeckers and warblers. At the north end of the grove, continue on the narrower path into the North Woods. You will first pass through habitat that can be productive high up in the trees for warblers and vireos and on the ground for thrushes, towhees, and ovenbirds. Where the trail branches off into an upper and lower trail is one of the best places in Manhattan for worm-eating warbler.
by D. Speiser
Stay on the lower trail and look and listen for both species of waterthrush. Check the field for sparrows, the occasional meadowlark and the very occasional American pipit. Check the edge of the field and woods for orioles, tanagers and the occasional yellow-billed cuckoo.
The Hudson River here is almost always a disappointment, with few or no waterbirds except in very cold winters that can bring red-throated loons mid-river and bald eagles fishing from ice floes.
The upper trail through the North Woods is once again passable but difficult and probably best avoided, though it does offer views into the canopy below.
The outstanding feature of the Sanctuary is the Bird Drip, a man-made water source where birds come to drink and bathe. On the hillside in a fenced-in area just south of the 120th Street tennis house, water drips from between two large rocks into a shallow pool which overflows down the hillside into depressions dug in the ground that serve as bathtubs for the smaller birds. The Drip can be active anytime from mid-April (the time it is turned on for the season) through mid-May and from September through mid-October (the time it is turned off for fear of a freeze) but tends to be most active from about 10 AM to about 1PM and then again from about 3:30 PM to about 6 PM on warm, sunny days, when there has been no rain since the previous afternoon and therefore no nearby competing source of fresh water.
by D. Speiser
More than 80 species of birds have been seen in the Drip from wild turkeys to yellow-bellied flycatchers and both cuckoos, but more commonly seen are tanagers, orioles, buntings and especially warblers (33 species so far-18 species seen one May day a few years ago), and they can be seen at eye-level from 25 feet away.
The Drip area is safe because there are always tennis players on the nearby courts and almost always an attendant at the tennis house, where there is an emergency phone, a drinking fountain, and bathrooms.
South of the Bird Sanctuary
South of the Bird Sanctuary, pockets of bird habitat can be found all the way down to 90th Street along the path hugging the wall that separates Riverside Park from Riverside Drive. These habitat islands are worth investigating. And, during migration, it can be productive to scan the trees in the park from the height of Riverside Drive from 120th Street to about 108th Street.
by D. Speiser
Across the street from the Sanctuary, peregrine falcons have nested for decades about three-quarters of the way up Riverside Church's bell tower. The nest is behind a gargoyle head with boards for perching on either side of it. The adults can be seen (and heard) in the area year round, and usually two to four chicks appear in early June on the ledge just below the nesting area and flap their wings for a few days to strengthen them for their first flight.
When To Go
If you are looking for quantity, mid-April through mid-May is the best time for birding in Riverside Park. If you are looking for rarities, visit the park early September through mid-November. In the fall, red-headed woodpecker, eastern bluebird, rusty blackbird, Connecticut warbler and orange-crowned warbler have been sighted.
There is no need to arrive early. Between 8:00 and 10:30am or 3:00-5:00pm are perfect times.
Optimal Weather Conditions
Riverside Park is a good place to bird, even in snow and rain, as long as the wind stays in the single digits in m.p.h.
The forested area north of the Bird Sanctuary is little traveled, so go with a friend. The rest of the park, especially in good weather, is filled with people. In the Bird Sanctuary, beware of poison ivy trailside.
Click here for directions to 116th Street and Riverside Drive (next, click on directions and type in your starting point).
Resource Persons For Riverside Park Birding:
2012 - Geoffrey Nulle, Vice President, The Linnaean Society Of New York
2001 - Christopher Nadareski, Wildlife Biologist, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and New York City Peregrine Project Manager; Geoffrey Nulle, Volunteer, Riverside Park Fund, and Park Tender, Riverside Park Bird Sanctuary; and Norman I. Stotz, Former President of NYC Audubon Board of Directors