Incongruous as it may seem to those who haven’t yet discovered birds in the Big Apple, birding enthusiasts come to New York City from all over the world to watch birds. In the midst of soaring skyscrapers and seemingly endless expanses of asphalt, the green shapes of our parks call out to birds during migration. In spring and fall, millions of songbirds, raptors, and waterbirds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway pass right through New York City, and funnel into our green spaces to rest and refuel.
This effect may be at its strongest in Manhattan, due to the density of development and the few green oases available. Central Park and Inwood Hill Park are the largest of these habitats, but migrants have many more spots to choose from: a series of green patches along Manhattan’s coast, including Riverside Park, Highbridge Park, Swindler Cove Park, East River Park, and The Battery, also attract great numbers of birds. Formally arranged urban parks that lack large areas of natural habitat, such as Bryant Park and Washington Square Park, can also attract a great variety, as can even smaller “pocket parks.” Finally, several developed islands in the borough of Manhattan—Randall’s, Roosevelt, and Governors Islands—offer excellent bird habitat, while a couple of very small Harbor Heron islands in the East River, off limits to the public, host nesting egrets, cormorants, and gulls.
Manhattan’s parks are extremely well birded, both by the City’s birding enthusiasts and by visitors from across the globe. A total of 340 species have been recorded in the borough, according to Manhattan (New York County) eBird records
, including 39 warbler species (not including hybrids). Surprising birds such as Virginia Rail, Sora, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and, in particular, American Woodcock regularly show up in the most unexpected of places, as they attempt to navigate the City’s terrain during migration. Greater rarities documented over the years have included White-tailed Tropicbird, South Polar Skua, Anhinga, Purple Gallinule, Rufous Hummingbird, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Couch’s Kingbird, Harris’s Sparrow, Swainson’s Warbler, and Kirtland’s Warbler.
Manhattan’s habitats also host quite a few breeding species that one might not expect in such a dense metropolis: nesters include Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawk, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, Hairy Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Warbling Vireo, Wood Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, and both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles. Great Horned, Barn, and Northern Saw-whet Owls are regularly found roosting in Manhattan parks over the winter.