Central Park, Looking South
Nesting** Spring Migration*** Fall Migration*** Winter**
(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
Central Park, an 843-acre rectangle that stretches north-south 2 ½ miles and east-west ½ mile, was designed in 1858 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. In 1965, it was designated a National Historic Landmark and in 1974, became New York City’s first Scenic Landmark. The Central Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, manages the park under contract with the City of New York/Parks and Recreation. The Conservancy provides the bulk of the Park’s annual operating budget, funds major capital improvements, supports horticultural care and management, and offers programs for volunteers and visitors.
by D. Speiser
Central Park is one of the best birding spots in the United States, attracting birders from all over the world. Birds migrating, spring and fall, along the East Coast find Central Park a welcoming place to rest and stoke up energy for the next leg of their journey. On a single “wave” or “fallout” day as many as 30 warbler species may be seen, establishing the Park as one of the most famous warbler “traps” on this coastal migration path. For some spring migrants, the Park is their breeding destination. And in fall, hawks migrating along the flyway soar directly above this city park.
by D. Speiser
Since the creation of Central Park, more than 280 bird species have been recorded; 192 are regular visitors or year-round residents and over 88 are infrequent or rare visitors.
Click here for a Central Park bird checklist.
Click here to view a park map.
Central Park also attracts a goodly number of birders. On a warm Sunday in May, over 500 birders have been counted birding in the Ramble. Birding enthusiasts include visiting bird groups from other parts of New York State and neighboring states as well as visitors from distant states and abroad. On a spring weekday morning, you will see the business-suited folk catching a little birding on their way to work. During fall migration, hawk watchers, eyes trained aloft, congregate at Belvedere Castle.
Looking for Warblers
by L. Hertzog
Birders team up on their own or join bird walks sponsored by NYC Audubon, Central Park Conservancy, the Linnaean Society of New York, The American Museum of Natural History, The Nature Conservancy, and the Urban Park Rangers. They also join walks led by independent naturalists. Any of these walks, which are scheduled year-round, but are most frequent during migration, provide top-notch experiences for novices and experts alike.
In 1998, Central Park was designated an Important Bird Area in New York State by National Audubon for the significance of its man-made avian habitats, which include meadows, grassy hillocks, rocky crags, woodlands, ravines, streams, ponds, lakes, and a reservoir. The best and most popular birding areas are the Ramble, Cherry Hill, Belvedere Castle, the Upper and Lower Lobes, Summit Rock, Sparrow Rock, Turtle Pond, the Locust Grove, the Pinetum, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and the North Woods and surroundings.
by D. Speiser
This 37-acre jumble of hills (Olmsted’s “wilderness”) in the center of the Park runs from 72 Street to 79 Street. You can approach this world-famous birding area at 72 Street, just west of Bethesda Fountain. Walk along the rising sidewalk past pine trees. You come to a gathering of beech trees at the edge of Cherry Hill. The beeches produce a banquet of insects just in time for arriving spring warblers. Birders stand on an ancient rocky outcrop and identify chestnut-sided, magnolia, black-throated blue, and black-throated green warblers, American redstart, and Canada warbler, among others.
The grassy crown of Cherry Hill is adorned with two rows of pin oaks planted at right angles that attract flocks of birds when insects hatch in spring. Nearby, leaning like the Tower of Pisa, is a tulip tree. In its mighty branches you may see Swainson’s thrush, scarlet tanager, Baltimore oriole, and even summer tanagers (rare). The orioles find mates, disperse to nearby elms and begin building nests. Red-eyed vireo look the trees over and sometimes nest here.
Downhill toward Bow Bridge stands a young swamp white oak, a singing perch for generations of song sparrow. Beneath it, barberry bushes defend summer nests of gray catbird and brown thrasher.
From the curve of Bow Bridge you look out on Rowboat Lake and may see double-crested cormorant, egrets, green heron, black-crowned night-heron, Canada geese, mute swan (which nest here), ducks, gulls, and belted kingfisher. Cross the bridge and you are in the heart of the Ramble. An intricate system of trails leads to the Summer House, the Gill, Willow Rock, the Oven, the Point, the Azalea Pond, the Tupelo field, the feeding station at the Evodia field and the Maintenance Meadow, where spring and fall birds rest and feed. On the meadows and fields are found yellow-rumped and palm warblers, chipping, field, and white-throated
by D. Speiser
sparrows, dark-eyed junco, and indigo bunting, all gobbling seeds and chasing bugs. The Point, Gill, Willow Rock, Oven, Azalea Pond, and Summer House all host migrating warblers of many species, as well as orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, flycatchers, and vireos. In fall, fruiting trees are crowded with feeding yellow-bellied sapsucker, northern flicker, thrushes, Cedar Waxwing, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. If they are joined by a Sharp-shinned or Copper’s hawk, escaping birds explode in all directions.
To leave the Ramble, walk to the Maintenance Building (with restrooms), turn right (east), and walk to the edge of East Drive. Continue north and up the winding sidewalk to a rise where you will see Turtle Pond. Take the left path along the shady side of the Pond and scan the Pond for, depending on the season, Mallards, possible Wood or American Black Ducks, or Gadwalls or Buffleheads. Depending on the season, the trees lining the sidewalk and shore attract passing Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Kingbirds, Tufted Titmouse, kinglets, warblers, and orioles. As you walk forward, you will see Belvedere Castle above you.
Belvedere Castle and the Fall Hawk watch
From the vantage of Belvedere Castle’s viewing deck you can watch treetop songbirds without incurring “warbler neck,” a muscle strain caused by repeatedly looking upward into the treetops. And it provides the perfect spot for watching the fall migration of hawks. Ten thousand hawks (of 15 species) have been counted migrating over Central Park in a single autumn season. On a good September day, observers have tallied thousands of Broad-winged Hawk and as many as 125 American Kestrel, 75 Osprey, and 10 Bald Eagle.
by D. Speiser
In early October, Peregrine Falcon come through along with the accipiters. The migration of accipiters begins in mid-September and continues into early November. In a single day, it is possible to see more than 100 Sharp-shinned Hawk, dozens of Cooper’s Hawk and, on very rare occasions, Northern Goshawk. Turkey Vulture become numerous by mid-October. In late October, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed hawks pass over. In November and early December, the last of the migrating Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, and buteos are seen. Also in October, flocks of songbirds, such as Blue Jay, Eastern Bluebird, and Cedar Waxwing are seen as well as waterbirds, including Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, Canvasback, and Greater Scaup. It is not uncommon to count several thousand Snow and Canada geese, winging their way over this urban parkland.
The Belvedere Castle observation deck also provides a good view of Turtle Pond, home to five species of turtle. Both in spring and fall, you will see red-eared sliders, the Park’s most common turtle. They crowd each other for space on the rocks to bask in the sun. The Conservancy has provided an unobtrusive nature blind, on the shore near the Delacorte Theatre, from which turtles and, of course, birds can be viewed.
In summer, scan the pickerel weed and sedge on the far shore for dragonflies. During their fall migration, watch hundreds of green darner dragonflies and monarch butterflies pass through this region.
Locust Grove and Pinetum
On the west side of the Great Lawn, just north of Delacorte Theater, is the Locust Grove. Locust wood is popular with woodpeckers because it is relatively soft for digging winter roosts. Here you may see Red-bellied, Downy, and occasionally a Red-headed Woodpecker.
North of the Locust Grove you enter the Pinetum. It is a good place to see Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers in spring and fall. When you exit the Pinetum at the West Drive, you pass a mighty sycamore. Cross over the 86 Street Transverse and arrive at the Reservoir.
by D. Speiser
The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
The 106-acre Reservoir stretches from 85th to 94th Street, slightly closer to the East Side (Fifth Avenue) than to the West Side (Central Park West). In late March and April, migrating loons, grebes, cormorants, ducks, and coots stop here. Later in the spring and in summer, Great Egrets forage along the water’s edge for choice morsels to take back to their young waiting in nests, most likely on the East River’s North and South Brother islands. (In 2005 North and South Brother islands were designated New York State Important Bird Areas(IBAs) after being nominated by NYC Audubon.) In winter, look for cormorants, ducks, and gulls. Rarities, such as Tufted Duck and Iceland Gull, have appeared here.
by D. Speiser
The North Woods and Surroundings
In the Park’s northern end,a 90-acre woodland area, called the North Woods, is an excellent place for sighting and hearing songbirds in both the spring and fall. Indeed, many observers feel the number and diversity of migrants in the North Woods exceeds that of the Ramble. The North Woods includes the Pool; the Loch; the Ravine; the Wildflower Meadow, where House Wren breeds and flocks of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and American Goldfinches feed on fall grasses, along with less common species such as Indigo Buntings; the Great Hill, excellent for migrating warblers, thrushes and other songbirds in both spring and fall; and the Meer, a lake at the north end good for waterfowl in migration. Immediately south of the North Woods and at the northern edge of the North Meadow are a series of rock outcroppings that are excellent in migration for sparrows, including less common species such as White-crowned Sparrow.
The Wildflower Meadow
Dana Discovery Center
The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, which runs nature programs for all ages, is located to the east of the North Woods at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue.
South of the Discovery Center at Fifth Avenue and 105 Street is the entrance to the Conservatory Garden, which delights flower-lovers most of the year. The walks are lined with crabapple trees. In late fall, the trees are filled with American Robin, Gray Catbird, and huge flocks of Cedar Waxwing devouring the fruit. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can often be found feeding on various flowers in both the spring and fall.
Eastern Screech Owl
by D. Speiser
As many as five species of owl winter in the park. Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet owls are the most common of the wintering owls. Great Horned and Barn Owls are very rare. Now that the Eastern Screech-Owl is a resident of the park, they too can be seen (heard) in winter.
Christmas Bird Count
In the 1900 Christmas Bird Count, the lone counter in New York City was 12-year old Charles H. Rogers (who later became the well-known Princeton University ornithologist). On Christmas Day, he went to Central Park and reported twelve Herring Gull, one Downy Woodpecker, four European Starling, “abundant” White-throated Sparrow, two Song Sparrow, and one American Robin. On December 19, 1999, Central Park celebrated the 100th Christmas Count. More than 100 people counted 6,462 birds representing 62 species, the most people, the most birds, and the most species in the history of the Central Park count. The NYC Audubon is responsible for the Lower Hudson Count, which includes all of Manhattan (and parts of New Jersey). Contact us , if you would like to take part.
by D. Speiser
Winter Waterfowl Count
In mid January, the New York State Ornithological Association (NYSOA) conducts a statewide waterfowl count. In Central Park, much of the water freezes over or is drained. But waterfowl are counted in the open water on the Meer, Pool, Reservoir, the west side of Rowboat Lake, and the northeast corner of the 59th Street Pond. Many places in and around New York City are not yet counted. If you wish to participate, get in touch with the NYSOA.
Central Park Breeding Bird Census
by D. Speiser
In 1998 and 2008, NYC Audubon, with help from the Linnaean Society of New York and City of New York Parks and Recreation, conducted a breeding bird census of the entire park, following the protocols of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. In 1998, twenty eight species were confirmed as nesters. American Robin were the most numerous and widespread, with more than 200 nesting territories. Next (but very far behind) were Common Grackle with 19 territories, Baltimore Oriole with 17, Northern Cardinal with 13, Blue Jay with 13, Northern Flicker with 10, and Red-bellied Woodpecker with 9. Among the species with few territories were Great Crested Flycatcher,
Great Crested Flycatcher
by D. Speiser
Eastern Kingbird, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Wood Thrush, and Brown Thrasher. These nesters were distributed from the Hallett Sanctuary(closed to the public) in the southeast to the Blockhouse in the northwest. Non-native species such as pigeons (Rock Dove), House Sparrow, and European Starling were not included in the study. In 2008, a second census was conducted. Twenty-eight species were confirmed as nesting. Six species that were confirmed on the 1998 census, Common Yellowthroat, Fish Crow, Great Crested Flycatcher, Mute Swan, Rough-winged Swallow and Song Sparrow, could not be confirmed in 2008. However, six species were confirmed in 2008 that were not found in 1988: Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Eastern Wood Pewee and Green Heron. American Robins again led the way, followed in 2008 by Blue Jays. For more detailed information on the census, click here.
by F. Portmann
Nesting Red-tailed Hawk
Since 1994, a pair of Red-tailed Hawk has nested on an ornamental window pediment of a Fifth Avenue apartment at 74th Street. The best vantage for observing nesting and fledging activities is from the west side of Central Park’s model boat pond (Conservatory Water). During April, May, and June, a scope trained on the nest is likely to be at this location. Don’t hesitate to ask if you can take a look. Central Park birders are pleased to share the antics of the red-tails. Other Red-tailed Hawks nest in other areas in or near the Park. Click here NEEDS LINK for more Red-tailed Hawk information.
NYC Audubon Advocates for Central Park’s Habitat and Wildlife
Members of NYC Audubon sit on the Central Park Conservancy’s Woodlands Advisory Board, which addresses management and restoration needs.
Central Park birders
by L. Hertzog
When to Go
Spring migration extends from late February through the first week of June, peaking in May. The last days of April can also be quite good for the earlier migrants (sparrows and other songbirds that winter in the United States and pass through before those from the tropics). Often the early birder finds the best sighting, so set out at sunrise.
Autumn migration stretches from mid-August to early December. Songbirds peak in September and October. For raptors, try Belvedere Castle. The best hours are between 10am and 4pm.
In winter, any time of day is good for birding.
Optimal Weather Conditions
Some of the most spectacular “waves” have occurred on sunny spring mornings after nights of southerly to southwesterly winds. Fog in the morning, particularly in May, also produces good birding days.
In autumn, clear, blue skies following the passage of a cool or cold front make for the best birding days. “Fallouts” can also occur the morning after a nighttime rainstorm. The hawk watch is best on days when the winds are from the west to north and when there is ample cloud cover. Also, hawk watching can often be good on clear days with west to north winds after the passing of a cold front.
Central Park is a popular place for joggers, bikers, and strollers, particularly on weekends if the weather is nice. In springtime, it also teems with birders. Nevertheless, you should take caution in the secluded spots, especially in the North Woods and the Ramble, not only for your safety but also for your sense of decorum.
Public transportation is the way to get to Central Park – or walking, of course!
For the southern part of the park, you can start at W. 72nd and Central Park West (on the west side of the park). Click here for directions (just fill in your starting location).
For the North End, start at 103rd and Central Park West. Click here for directions.
Resource Persons for Central Park Birding:
2012 - Harry Maas, President of the NYC Audubon Board of Directors
2001 - Robert De Candido, former Urban Park Ranger, City of New York/ Parks and Recreation; Sarah M. Elliott, teacher of nature classes in Central Park and Battery Park and publisher of the Elliott Newsletter, Tom Fiore, Roger F. Pasquier, Environmental Defense; and Marie Winn, author, Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park