Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Glossy Ibis

by F. Portmann

The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is the United States Department of Interior’s only “wildlife refuge” administered by the National Park Service. All other national refuges fall under the aegis of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge covers 9,000 acres (20 square miles) of open bay, saltmarsh, mudflats, upland field and woods, two man-made brackish ponds—117-acre “East Pond” and 45-acre “West Pond” and small fresh water ponds, including Big John’s Pond. The Wildlife Refuge is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

West and East Ponds Map

by R. Bourque

Click here for printable PDF map

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in New York City to observe migrating species. In fact, it’s a birder's paradise with 332 bird species sighted at the refuge over the last 25 years (38 are accidental, and include several New York State records); that is nearly half the species in the Northeast. It is one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the northeastern United States. Birding is excellent year round. It is a rich area for wintering waterfowl, including Snow Goose (at least 700 at one time),



Snow Geese and Mergansers

by F. Portmann

Nesting Osprey and Shorebirds

by F. Portmann

Brant, various species of ducks and raptors including Cooper’s Hawks and Peregrine Falcon. In spring, there are numerous shorebirds, such as American Oystercatcher, both yellowlegs, and Dunlin; waterfowl; wading birds; and warblers, which, on rare occasion, include Prothonotary and Connecticut. Also in the spring, American Woodcock performs courtship displays, right by the Visitors Center at dusk. In the fall, look for Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, both yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, Stilt Sandpiper, and both dowitchers (with Short-billed being much more frequent).

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

by F. Portmann

There are approximately 70 species that nest regularly at the Refuge. Among them are Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron (the best place in New York City to see this species), Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron,

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, Osprey (on man-made platforms), Clapper Rail, American Oystercatcher, Willet, American Woodcock, Laughing Gull, Forster’s Tern, Barn Owl (in man-made nest boxes), Willow Flycatcher, American Redstart, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Boat-tailed Grackle.

In early summer (by July 1), the East Pond water level is lowered to provide a mudflat around the 3-mile perimeter, thereby making it attractive to shorebirds and birders. However in recent years, there has been difficulty with adequate drainage affecting the available shoreline of the East Pond. Please check with the Refuge office for current conditions before travel at 718-318-4340.

Forster's Tern

by F. Portmann

A checklist, Birds of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, (not available online) can be obtained at the Visitor Center, which is located at the entrance, or by writing Gateway NRA, Wildlife Refuge, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York 11234. Also at the Visitor Center, rangers can point you in the right direction and give you tips on the birds. The facility has interesting exhibits which highlight Jamaica Bay's remarkable plant and animal life and history. Just outside and behind the Center, towards the West Pond, is a wooden box which houses a log of recent sightings of note. Check it out before you go out!

Yellow-rumped Warbler

by F. Portmann

West Pond, North Garden and South Garden
From the back of the Visitor Center take the gravel trail that encircles the West Pond, following it in a clockwise direction. The trail is about 1 and ½ miles and takes about an hour and a half to complete, depending on your birding style. At the westernmost end make a short detour on the Terrapin Trail. Note that the Terrapin Trail is closed during diamondback terrapin nesting season to provide protection for these turtles. From June through July, females leave the waters of the Bay to lay their eggs in sandy areas. Along this portion of the trail, you can look one way and see the bay and saltmarsh and the other way to view the West Pond - it's spectacular! The bird life changes constantly with the seasons, in late summer it’s a tern nursery – in winter, the pond is filled with hundreds of ducks.

East Pond Guide

by R. Bourque

Click here for printable PDF map

 As it swings around, after you have lost sight of West Pond, you reach the lush, wooded North Garden. The South Garden follows; it is just before you return to the Visitor Center. These garden trails are excellent places to explore in spring and autumn for migrant vireos, gnatcatchers, warblers, and other songbirds. Also, check out the butterflies. To date, 72 species have been recorded with 35 species regular breeders. Pick up a butterfly checklist at the Visitor Center.



East Pond and Big-John’s Pond

Big John's Pond

by D. Riepe

To reach Big John’s Pond and the western side of East Pond, first cross Cross Bay Boulevard at the traffic light opposite the parking lot entrance, then walk north (left) along the Boulevard for 800 feet and then take a sharp right onto a trail into the woods. This trail will shortly lead you to Big John’s Pond (on your left) which has a duck blind for observing wildlife. From the blind you will see a nesting box. In season, Barn Owls call it home.

Continuing down that trail, leads to mid-pond viewing. For shorebirds, a spotting scope is very helpful here.

View of East Pond

by D. Riepe

When the East Pond water has been sufficiently lowered, walking on the edges of the pond to view shorebirds is possible. Many birders start at the southern end. To reach this area after crossing the Boulevard, walk south (right) about 200 yards and look for a trail in towards the pond. Boots are highly recommended as it can be muddy and wet. Here, it is advisable to bird with others, in case someone gets stuck. Another access point, again only if the water is very low, is from the north end. Parking is available in the Fisherman’s Parking Area just south of the North Channel Bridge. Access to the pond is from the northwest. Again, if the water level is too high, do not walk in. If it's muddy, walk with caution.

by F. Portmann

For the greatest numbers of shorebirds, it is best to bird the East Pond, about 1 to 2 hours before high tide in Jamaica Bay. For tide information, click here - under "Jamaica Bay" click on "Beach Channel (bridge)" and then choose the month and day you are birding. Tide information can also be obtained by calling the Refuge.

Refuge Regulations
Obtain a permit at the Visitor Center desk, if you are a first-time visitor. The following regulations apply: stay on trails, except in garden areas; picnic only at the designated site outside visitor center; no smoking; no radios or other sound-producing equipment; no collecting plants and/or other wildlife; no feeding of wild animals; and no bicycles, motor bikes, or cars on the trails.

Magnolia Warbler

by F. Portmann

Visitor Center
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is open dawn to dusk year-round, and the Visitor Center hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-4pm. The main lot is open dawn to dusk and parking is free. (If the lot is full - which is rare - visitors can park ¼ mile south in Broad Channel.) The Center has a bookstore, natural history exhibit area, restrooms, and lecture room. National Park Service Rangers offer bird walks, workshops, and other activities from the Center. Check their website.

When to Go
Nesting** Spring Migration*** Fall Migration*** Winter**
(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)

Birding is good at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge any time of year. The peak month for spring migration of shorebirds and songbirds is May, earlier for waterfowl and hawks. Walk the garden trails in the early morning for both spring and fall migrants. Most fall shorebirds are seen at the East Pond from mid July to mid September. Waterfowl start to arrive in late September, and their numbers build up through October and into November.

From mid-March through May, woodcock courtship displays, featuring the aerial exertions and acrobatics of the males, can be seen just before dark in the fields south of the Visitor Center.


by F. Portmann

Personal Safety
From April to September, beware of ticks, mainly dog ticks, along grassy edges of the trails. Also, poison ivy is common trailside.

Getting There
Google map click here


  For Additional Information on the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

 Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, 718-318-4340, www.nyharborparks.org
American Littoral Society, 718-474-0896, www.alsnyc.org
Brooklyn Bird Club, www.brooklynbirdclub.org
Linnaean Society of New York, 212-252-2668 www.linnaeansociety.org
 Queens County Bird Club, www.qcbirdclub.org

Resource Persons for Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Birding: 

2012 - Don Riepe, Vice President of Conservation, Board of Directors, NYC Audubon, Refuge Manager (retired), Gateway National Recreation Area, and Chapter Director, American Littoral Society and Guy Tudor, Wildlife Illustrator and Queens Naturalist

2001 - Don Riepe

DMC Firewall is developed by Dean Marshall Consultancy Ltd