Bryant Park

© Bryant Park Corporation

Nesting    Spring Migration**    Fall Migration**    Winter*

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

Bryant Park is the quintessential “postage-stamp” park: a 9.603-acre square of land located in midtown Manhattan between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets. Although the main branch of the New York Public Library is technically located within the park, the library building forms the park's functional eastern boundary, making Sixth Avenue the park's primary entrance. During its long history, the park’s land has served as a potter’s field (a burial ground for unknown or indigent people); as “Reservoir Square” (adjacent to the elevated Croton Reservoir, which was itself situated on the land now occupied by the Public Library); the site of the “Crystal Palace” and Latting Observatory; and an encampment site for Union troops during the Civil War. In 1884, the land was renamed Bryant Park to honor recently deceased Romantic poet, longtime editor of the New York Evening Post, and civic reformer William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878). The park’s current classical design only dates to 1934 however, when it reopened following years of closure due to construction of the IRT subway line. (A contemporary article in The New Yorker remarked that in the previous fourteen years "Bryant Park has been closed to the public for half of that time on account they were digging in it..." also calling it one of the most "badgered and turned-up lots in the world"). A design by Queens architect Lusby Simpson was executed under the leadership of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses with the aid of consulting architect Aymar Embury II and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, and the park reopened to the public on September 14, 1934.

Prothonotary Warbler

by L. Spitalnik

Bryant Park is managed by the private not-for-profit corporation Bryant Park Corporation, which oversaw a major renovation in the 1980s. During this renovation, which followed a period of deterioration and disuse, the Public Library’s stacks were constructed underneath the park itself as the Park was restored above. Bryant Park has since become a popular lunchtime spot and hosts a range of programming from concerts to tours to film screenings. During the winter months, the park is home to a holiday market and ice skating rink.

Birding Tours of Bryant Park
One might not expect a small and busy park surrounded by skyscrapers in the middle of midtown Manhattan to be a productive birding spot. But like many green spots in New York City, Bryant Park draws an eye-opening variety of bird species during migration. After a long night’s flight, nighttime migrants flying over Manhattan must seek a place to rest and feed among the City’s landscape of cement and glass. The results can be almost surreal. In a partnership between NYC Audubon and Bryant Park Corporation, NYC Audubon guide and naturalist Gabriel Willow leads biweekly walks both spring and fall. These popular walks have turned up a wide variety of species ranging from unexpected visitors such as a green heron and Chuck-Will’s-widow roosting in branches of the London Plane trees lining the park, to regular sightings of normally shy woodland birds such as American woodcock and ovenbird, sometimes walking within inches of observers’ feet, or under the tables of oblivious lunchers.

American Woodcock

by L. Spitalnik

In the last fifteen or so years that birders have been regularly visiting the park and keeping accessible records, 121 species of birds have been seen in or around the midtown hotspot, including an impressive 32 species of warbler and 15 species of sparrow. Compare this to the 255 species recorded in Central Park—slightly fewer than half as many species, in a park that is just over 1/100 the size! Highlights not already mentioned above have included a startling variety of species for such a small park: sora, great egret, red-shouldered and broad-winged hawk, northern harrier, least and yellow-bellied flycatcher, and Nelson’s Sparrow—not to mention coveted cerulean, mourning, Blackburnian, prothonotary, and Connecticut warblers.To see current schedules of Birding Tours of Bryant Park, click here.

The Best Birding Spots of Bryant Park
You can enter the park most easily from the southern, western, or northern sides. (NYC Audubon’s birding tours meet at the Birding Tour sign at the 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue entrance to the park. Don’t fret if you miss the start, however. The park is small enough that a quick walk around the park should allow you to spot the group.)

Chuck-Will's-Widow

by L. Spitalnik

The most productive areas for birding tend to be the perennial borders surrounding the lawn. A surprising number of birds can hide in this limited habitat, and careful searching may reveal American woodcock feeding or sleeping under shrubs, and sparrows and warblers in the undergrowth. It is also worth scanning the canopy of the London Plane trees for warblers, orioles, tanagers, and flycatchers gleaning insects in the treetops. The trees are uniformly tall, and it can be a challenge to find birds hidden in the foliage.

One particularly productive spot is a little maintenance area at the southeast corner of the park, in front of the Bryant Park Grill. You’ll find a small stone building, and a fenced-off area where the park stores tools, extra chairs, and other supplies. You can peek (but not venture) over the hedges surrounding this area and often find birds gathered in this relatively protected spot, bathing in rainwater that collects in flower pots and on tarps.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

by L. Spitalnik

The front of the library (along Fifth Avenue) can be productive as well. On either side of the library entrance, there are two stands of honey locust trees (a native species, although these are thorn-less cultivars). These locust trees attract yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a species of migratory woodpecker that drills shallow holes in tree trunks and laps up the sap that trickles out. Their sap-wells in turn attract warblers, kinglets, and occasionally hummingbirds. On one memorable bird walk, 13 species of warbler were found in these trees at once.

When To Go
The best time to visit Bryant Park is during spring and fall migration (mid-April to late May and early September into November). NYC Audubon’s birding tours are held twice weekly, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Spring tours usually commence around the second week of April and end around the third week of May. Fall tours typically begin in mid-September and conclude in late October. Click here to see current schedules for Birding Tours of Bryant Park.

During summer and winter, Bryant Park is somewhat quieter, birding-wise, as only the trifecta of ubiquitous nonnative urban birds nest here: rock pigeons, European starlings, and house sparrows. A pair of Peregrine Falcons does nest on a nearby skyscraper, however. And every year a few native birds find their way to the park and spend part of the winter here, joining flocks of wintering white-throated sparrows and offering close-up views: unusual past winter visitors have included yellow-breasted chat, Lincoln’s sparrow, and ovenbird.

Yellow-Breasted Chat

by L. Spitalnik

Working Together to Protect Our Migrating Birds
Bryant Park participates in NYC Audubon’s Project Safe Flight program. The park’s sanitation crew reports dead or injured birds in the park to NYC Audubon conservation staff, who then enter the findings into D-bird, our online database of dead or injured birds found by the public. (To learn more about about D-Bird, click here.)

Bryant Park also participates in NYC Audubon’s Lights Out New York program. During the spring and fall migration, Bryant Park turns out the spotlights illuminating the park at night so that birds may fly safely.

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.

Personal Safety
Bryant Park can be a busy park, particularly during the peak hours of lunchtime and after work. Birders should be sure to stay alert to pedestrian flow throughout the park, especially when using binoculars.

The park has retained many of its historic architectural features such as the balustrades. Park-goers should not sit or stand on these for their own personal safety and for the preservation of the park. Birders should feel free to use the available seating throughout the tour if needed.

Getting There
Bryant Park is situated behind the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan, between 40th and 42nd Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues. By subway: Take the B, D, F, or M train to 42nd Street/Bryant Park, the 7 to 5th Avenue, or the 1,2,3, S, N, Q, or R trains to Times Square-42nd Street. Click here for more information including park hours.

For Additional Information on Birding in Bryant Park
Bryant Park Blog, Birding Tours of Bryant Park, eBird

Resource Persons For Riverside Park Birding:

2015 – Gabriel Willow, NYC Audubon Staff

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