Floyd Bennett Field and Dead Horse Bay

Floyd Bennett Field and Dead Horse Bay

Floyd Bennett Field is one of the best places in New York City to see Snowy Owls. Photo: Heather Wolf/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Floyd Bennet Field and Dead Horse Point/Dead Horse Bay are two publicly accessible birding areas directly across from one another on the large peninsula at Brooklyn’s southeastern corner. The two properties are adjacent to several other preserved areas, including Four Sparrow Marsh, Marine Park Preserve, and Plumb Beach. 
Killdeer find prime nesting territory in the open areas of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/120553232@N02/" target="_blank">Isaac Grant</a>
Killdeer find prime nesting territory in the open areas of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo: Isaac Grant
American Kestrels are year-round residents at Floyd Bennett Field, where the native grasses host plenty of grasshoppers and other prey favorites. 
Photo: <a href="https://www.pbase.com/btblue" target="_blank">Lloyd Spitalnik</a>
American Kestrels are year-round residents at Floyd Bennett Field, where the native grasses host plenty of grasshoppers and other prey favorites. Photo: Lloyd Spitalnik
The light, tinkling song of the Horned Lark may be heard from the grassslands of Floyd Bennett Field from October through March. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/144871758@N05/" target="_blank">Ryan F. Mandelbaum</a>
The light, tinkling song of the Horned Lark may be heard from the grassslands of Floyd Bennett Field from October through March. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
All together, these lands form a contiguous sequence of natural areas that buffer the western end of Jamaica Bay. The grasslands, woods, dunes, beaches, salt marsh, and sheltered waters of these spots provide rich habitat for birds year round.  
Rarities seen over the years at Floyd Bennett Field include this Cassin’s Kingbird, native to the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Photo: <a href="https://www.lilibirds.com/" target="_blank">David Speiser</a>
Rarities seen over the years at Floyd Bennett Field include this Cassin’s Kingbird, native to the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Photo: David Speiser
Floyd Bennett Field

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, = somewhat productive, ✸✸ = productive, ✸✸✸ = very productive)
 
Spring Migration ✸✸✸
flycatchers, cuckoos, warblers and other songbirds; lingering waterfowl; American Woodcock courtship in early April
 
Summer ✸✸✸
Nesting American Woodcock, Killdeer, Willet, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Tree Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole, Savannah Sparrow, possible Indigo Bunting; foraging wading birds, gulls, and terns; Chimney Swifts
 
Fall Migration ✸✸✸
Raptors; warblers, thrushes, sparrows, and other songbirds
  
Winter ✸✸
Possible Snowy Owl, Horned Lark, Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs; Loons, grebes, scoters and other diving ducks; accipiters, mixed songbird feeding flocks
 
Year-Round Highlights
Grassland birds, sparrows, Great Horned Owl, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harrier


Get Oriented

View a Google map of Floyd Bennett Field

Native grasses and sumac of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo: Ianqui Doodle/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Native grasses and sumac of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo: Ianqui Doodle/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
 
In 1931, New York City built its first municipal airport, Floyd Bennett Field, on a group of marshy islands at the mouth of Jamaica Bay by landfilling with garbage, rubble, and dredge spoil. The maintained grassland areas between runways inadvertently provided habitat for grassland birds. When Floyd Bennett Field was decommissioned 40 years later, in 1971, the management practice of suppressing woody vegetation by frequent mowing ceased; natural succession started to occur. 
 
In 1985, the United States Department of Interior’s National Park Service (NPS) and the NYC Audubon initiated a grassland restoration project (GRAMP) for 130 acres (out of 1,500) of Floyd Bennett Field. Trees and shrubs were removed and mowing was resumed. The managed grasslands are particularly lovely in spring when the wild flowers and grasses display hues of green, red, blue, and yellow.

Bennett Field became part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in 1972. The airport administration building and flight tower are landmarked, as are the runways, saving a piece of the City’s history. The administration building is home to the Ryan Visitor Center, adjacent to the Aviator Sports and Events Center—a concessionaire of NPS, which has combined several former hangars. A third hangar, Hangar B, at the park’s eastern edge, houses the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project (HARP)
 
The NPS Ecology Village offers nature programs and overnight camping, while the abandoned runways are now used on occasion for bicycle races and skating. Floyd Bennett Field’s other recreational areas include sport fields, a model plane flying field, and community gardens.
Very good birding is found at the North Forty and along Floyd Bennett Field’s shorefront as well as in the grassland areas. Observers have recorded up to 30 species nesting in these areas.

Again unclear about whether to keep these links here. I actually put some of these in when I first wrote this months ago, but now unsure. 
Savannah Sparrows nest in the grasslands of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo: David Speiser
Savannah Sparrows nest in the grasslands of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo: David Speiser
Floyd Bennett Field Grasslands
During spring migration, Floyd Bennett Field is the place to look for the relatively common Savannah Sparrow, and the rare Grasshopper Sparrow, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark. Northern Harrier, occasional nesters, can be occasionally seen hunting the fields and open shrubland. The Savannah Sparrow is the only grassland species still nesting here regularly, reflecting a wider decline of these species throughout the region as a result of habitat loss. Other nesters are American Woodcock, Northern Flicker, White-eyed Vireo, Tree Swallow (in man-made nest boxes), Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and American Redstart.
 
In early October, migrating tree swallow flock in swarms of more than 1,000 birds, feed on the Northern Bayberry shrubs around the field. And, in the fall, as many as six American Kestrels have been sighted at one time sitting along the fence that encloses the New York City Police Department’s runway (formerly used by the U.S. Coast Guard).
 
Hawks are seen in the small stands of tall cottonwoods trees between runways.
Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Merlin are winter residents, while Rough-legged Hawk and Short-eared Owl have become rare visitors. Floyd Bennett Field is one of the best places in the City to look for Snowy Owl, in January through early March; several birds were seen here regularly in the winter of 2015-16, when a particularly large irruption of this northern species delighted birders across the U.S.
The pines at Floyd Bennett Field may hold all sorts of surprises in the wintertime—such as this flock of Red Crossbills. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> The pines at Floyd Bennett Field may hold all sorts of surprises in the wintertime—such as this flock of Red Crossbills. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Scattered about the fields are Japanese black pines of various sizes and densities; many of which are dying. In the Ecology Village, an educational environmental center, the existing pine grove provides nighttime winter roosts for Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks and, from time to time, day roosts for Barn Owl. Because the pines are neither tall nor dense, owls do not feel secure among them. These birds of prey are easily flushed from their roosts, before birders get a good look. In the winter, these pines should also be checked for irruptive finches such as crossbills.
 
The many runways and roads that crisscross Floyd Bennett Field make walking easy, but the distances are long. In winter, the wind is cold, and in summer, there is little shade. Birding by car is a consideration, although limited, because two of the main runways are closed to motorized vehicles. Besides providing mobility and shelter, a car can act as a blind that allows you to get close to birds. When the car is not in motion, harriers, kestrels, and owls may fly within 20 feet of you. But if you get out of your car, a Cooper’s Hawk as far as 100 yards away will be frightened off its perch. Try using a scope on a window mount. And as always, please keep a respectful distance from owls.
Northern Shovelers and a variety of other waterfowl may visit "Return-a-Gift Pond" in the wintertime. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/144871758@N05/" target="_blank">Ryan F. Mandelbaum</a>
Northern Shovelers and a variety of other waterfowl may visit "Return-a-Gift Pond" in the wintertime. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
The North Forty
Besides the grassland area, there is a remote section at the north end, west of the model airplane area, called the North Forty. It is accessible by a trail that winds through shrubland and Phragmites to a man-made, two-acre pond named the Return-A-Gift Pond. (The trail and pond were paid for in part by taxpayers who checked “return-a-gift-to-wildlife” on their New York State tax returns.) 
 
During Spring migration, the trees and vegetation opposite Return-A-Gift Pond (near the yellow fire hydrant) can be very good for warblers and other passerines. During spring, summer, and fall, look for American Robin, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, and Northern Cardinal in the shrubbery at the beginning of the trail. Some of these birds nest nearby. 
 
The Jean Bourque Memorial Bird Blind looks out onto the pond itself. (Jean Bourque, who passed away in 2014, was a longtime volunteer and fierce advocate for Floyd Bennett Field’s grassland habitat, along with her husband Ron.) On Return-a-Gift Pond, you may see Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, and Solitary, Spotted, and Least Sandpipers.
Glossy Ibis, which nest on the nearby Harbor Heron Islands, may occasionally be found foraging in the wetlands of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo: David Speiser "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Glossy Ibis, which nest on the nearby Harbor Heron Islands, may occasionally be found foraging in the wetlands of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo: David Speiser

Good birding (best in spring) is also found at the northeastern end of the north runway (Raptor Point). When you reach this point, walk around to the right, look south to the beach and marsh for waterfowl and American Oystercatcher. Although you are permitted to walk this beach, it is recommended that you do not. View the birds from the bulkhead area, so you do not disturb them.
 
Across the bay are two large uninhabited islands (which are off-limits), Canarsie Pol and Ruffle Bar. The islands host nesting Osprey and Barn Owls (making use of nest platforms and boxes put up by the National Park Service), Willet, and songbirds such as Brown Thrasher and Willow Flycatcher. Canarsie Pol, once the largest wading bird colony in the harbor, has not hosted waders in recent years. 
 
Other islands in Jamaica Bay still host these birds however; in spring and summer, you may spot foraging Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and if you’re very lucky, a Little Blue or Tricolored Heron.


A rare sighting in most places in the continental U.S.: TWO Snowy Owls scuffle for turf, at Floyd Bennett Field in December 2013. Photo: Doug Gochfeld "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A rare sighting in most places in the continental U.S.: TWO Snowy Owls scuffle for turf, at Floyd Bennett Field in December 2013. Photo: Doug Gochfeld

When to Go 

To see birding highlights at Floyd Bennett Field by the season, see the top of this page. 

To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page.


For Floyd Bennett Field operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.
 

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Floyd Bennett Field to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more.
 

Personal Safety

 It is always best to bird with at least one other person in Floyd Bennett Field, as some areas are quite remote. When you are on the North Forty Trail or on trails through and around the Ecology Village campgrounds, be on the lookout for poison ivy. After leaving the trail, check yourself and your clothing for dog ticks
 
Obey the speed limit (25 MPH) and stop signs when driving the roads and runways. Caution should be exercised when driving on the runways during bicycle races. Extra caution should be exercised when approaching runway intersections where there are no stop signs.
 

Guided Bird Walks

NYC Audubon leads several trips to Floyd Bennett Field each year. Visit our Local Trips page for information on upcoming walks led by NYC Audubon.

The Brooklyn Bird Club, a private non-profit organization founded in 1909, offers frequent bird walks in Brooklyn and beyond. The club provides a number of other resources for birders as well, including a checklist and map for birdwatchers of Prospect Park, The Clapper Rail newsletter, and an active blog with the latest news and bird reports.
 

Directions and Visiting Information

There are two entrances to Floyd Bennett Field:
  1. Just 200 yards south of the Belt Parkway on Flatbush Avenue there is an entrance for the Aviator Sports and Event Center (which includes a food court and restrooms). Parking at this facility is free.
  2. The second entrance is the main entrance, three quarters of a mile further south on Flatbush Avenue, near the Marine Parkway Bridge toll plaza.
 
Parking Note: At certain times of the year, parking areas may be restricted to fishermen with special permits or to special events’ participants. For advice, check at the information desk at the Contact Center just inside the main entrance to the field.
 
View the National Park Service page for Floyd Bennett Field for operating hours, directions, and additional background information.
 
 
See information for the Ryan Visitor Center.
 
View a Google map to Floyd Bennett Field for public transportation and driving directions.
 
Other Resources:
To read Mixed Woodlands of Floyd Bennett Field from the National Park Service.
Long-tailed Ducks winter over in the sheltered waters of Dead Horse Bay. Photo: <a href="https://www.lilibirds.com/" target="_blank">David Speiser</a>
Long-tailed Ducks winter over in the sheltered waters of Dead Horse Bay. Photo: David Speiser
Dead Horse Point and Bay

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, = somewhat productive, ✸✸ = productive, ✸✸✸ = very productive)
 
Spring Migration ✸✸✸
Horseshoe crabs breed and lay their eggs mid-May–early June, attracting Ruddy Turnstone, Laughing Gull, Sanderling, and other shorebirds; warblers and other songbirds in uplands
 
Summer ✸✸
Migrating shorebirds, foraging wading birds, gulls, and terns; nesting American Oystercatcher, Boat-tailed Grackle
 
Fall Migration ✸✸✸
Raptors; warblers, thrushes, sparrows, and other songbirds
 
Winter ✸✸
Possible Snowy Owl, Snow Buntings; Loons, grebes, scoters and other diving ducks; accipiters, mixed songbird feeding flocks
 
Year-Round Highlights
Peregrine Falcon, gulls


Get Oriented

View a Google map of Dead Horse Bay and a printable trail map (PDF) (also shown below).

Map of Dead Horse Bay "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Map of Dead Horse Bay


Dead Horse Bay and Dead Horse Point are the small bay and uplands (138.8 acres) directly across Flatbush Avenue from the main entrance to Gateway National Recreation Area and Floyd Bennett Field. The bay’s sheltered waters attract wintering waterfowl such as Brant, American Wigeon, scaup, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Merganser, as well as loons, scoters, and Horned and Red-necked Grebe.

The southern section of Dead Horse Bay is easily accessible through a series of well-maintained trails (see trail map above). From the trailhead on the west side of Flatbush Avenue (across Flatbush Ave. from the main entrance to Floyd Bennett Field), take the far righthand trail to the shore of the bay (0.28 miles). As you emerge from the trail onto the sandy beach, inch forward quietly until the shore is in sight. This slow approach is unlikely to disturb the shorebirds. Sometimes horse bones are found in the sand, evidence of the bay’s past as a manufacturing center for fertilizer made from horse carcasses.
 
Walk left when you reach the beach and follow around the tip of a peninsula to the base of the Marine Parkway (Gil Hodges) Bridge that spans Rockaway Inlet (0.75 miles). For this walk, the tide is an important consideration; the full moon/new moon high tides may swamp the beach. (Find a link to tide information under “Special Birding Notes,” below.) At low tide you will see exposed mud and sand flats and a sand spit at the mouth of the bay where waterfowl, gulls, and shorebirds gather, including American Oystercatcher and Greater Yellowlegs in spring and fall and Common and Least Terns in summer.

Laughing Gulls feed on Atlantic Horseshoe Crab eggs at Dead Horse Point. Photo: Gigi Altarejos "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Laughing Gulls feed on Atlantic Horseshoe Crab eggs at Dead Horse Point. Photo: Gigi Altarejos
 
In the winter, check the inlet for Long-tailed Duck, black and white riders of the chop, far from their summer haunts in Greenland and Northern Canada. While on the beach at the Rockaway Inlet, scan the towers of the Marine Parkway Bridge for resident Peregrine Falcons.
 
To return to Flatbush Avenue, several routes are possible: You can walk inland trails back to the trailhead at Flatbush Avenue; turn left before the Marine Parkway Bridge and follow the bicycle/pedestrian path to the traffic light; or at low tide, walk under the bridge and take Aviation Road into Floyd Bennett Field. The inland trails can attract a variety of passerines during spring and fall migration, and wintering raptors such a Cooper’s Hawk may be seen hunting in the colder months.

Great numbers of Greater Scaup sometimes gather in Dead Horse Bay. Photo: Keith Michael "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" data-trix-attributes='{"italic":true}' class="attachment attachment--content"> Great numbers of Greater Scaup sometimes gather in Dead Horse Bay. Photo: Keith Michael


Special Birding Notes

If you are looking for waterbirds and shorebirds, it is generally best to go at low tide at any time of year. To consult the tide schedule, call the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge at 718-318-4340 or view online tide information. (Under the bold heading “Long Island South Shore, Shinnecock Inlet to Mill Basin,” select “Plumb Beach Channel,” choose the month and day you are birding, and click “Get Tides.”)
 

When to Go

To see birding highlights at Pelham Bay Park by the season, see the top of this page. 

To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page.

 

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Dead Horse Point to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more.
 

Personal Safety

It is recommended that you go birding at Dead Horse Point with at least one other person. If you walk the bicycle/pedestrian path, be on the lookout for speeding cyclists.

Guided Bird Walks

NYC Audubon leads several trips to Floyd Bennett Field and Dead Horse Bay each year. Visit our Local Trips page for information on upcoming walks led by NYC Audubon.

The Brooklyn Bird Club, a private non-profit organization founded in 1909, offers frequent bird walks in Brooklyn and beyond. The club provides a number of other resources for birders as well, including a checklist and map for birdwatchers of Prospect Park, The Clapper Rail newsletter, and an active blog with the latest news and bird reports.
 

Directions and Visiting Info

 
View a Google map to the main entrance into the Dead Horse Point trails. (The trail entrance is directly across Flatbush Avenue from the southern (Aviation Road) entrance to Floyd Bennett Field.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to those who provided local birding expertise for this page: Heydi Lopes (2020); Ronald V. Bourque (2012).