Great Kills Park

Great Kills Park

Black Skimmers fly over the waters of Great Kills Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Great Kills Park, part of the Staten Island Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, is administered by the National Park Service and also includes areas owned by NYC Parks. The Park covers 1,200 acres of woods, marshlands, dunes, and beaches that run along the south shore for over two miles, forming a large bay protected by a long peninsula, Crook’s Point. Recreation areas include a marina, public beaches, public boat launch, fishing areas, and nature trails.

Great Kills Park is an excellent birding site and is popular with local birders. Its marshes, mudflats, dunes, beaches, and woodlands are an important stopover for birds of all kinds migrating along the island’s coast. eBirders have recorded 279 species across the different sections of Great Kills Park, and in recent years have spotted rarities such as Parasitic Jaeger, King Eider, Sandhill Crane, Short-eared Owl, Lapland Longspur, and Yellow-head Blackbird. Nesting species include Osprey, Killdeer, Boat-tailed Grackle, and Orchard Oriole. Herons and egrets nesting on nearby Harbor Heron Islands visit the park’s marshes to forage. 
A Black-crowned Night-Heron eyes prey below, in the waters of Great Kills Harbor. This charismatic species nests on Hoffman Island, south of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
A Black-crowned Night-Heron eyes prey below, in the waters of Great Kills Harbor. This charismatic species nests on Hoffman Island, south of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
The "Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet!" song of the Yellow Warbler is heard throughout Great Kills Park in the summertime. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
The "Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet!" song of the Yellow Warbler is heard throughout Great Kills Park in the summertime. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Snowy Owls occasionally stop by the beaches and dunes of Great Kills Park in the wintertime. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/120553232@N02/" target="_blank">Isaac Grant</a>
Snowy Owls occasionally stop by the beaches and dunes of Great Kills Park in the wintertime. Photo: Isaac Grant

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, ✸ = somewhat productive, ✸✸ = productive, ✸✸✸ = very productive)
 
Spring Migration ✸✸✸
Flycatchers, thrushes warblers, tanagers, and other land birds; shorebirds and waders; Northern Gannet

Summer ✸✸
Foraging wading birds, gulls, and terns, American Oystercatcher; Osprey; migrating shorebirds; nesting Killdeer, Fish Crow, Barn, Tree, and Bank Swallows, Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Orchard and Baltimore Oriole, Boat-tailed Grackle

Fall Migration ✸✸✸
Shorebirds; raptors; warblers, thrushes, sparrows, and other songbirds

Winter ✸✸
Wintering waterfowl including dabbling and diving ducks, grebes, and loons; gulls and possible alcids; Purple Sandpiper; Northern Gannet

Year-Round Highlights
Bald Eagle, gulls



Get Oriented

On your way in to Great Kills Park during the warmer months, look for Killdeer and their young. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
On your way in to Great Kills Park during the warmer months, look for Killdeer and their young. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Starting at Parking Area “A”
Parking Area A, off Buffalo Road about 1.5 miles into the park, also hosts the National Park Service Ranger Station and other administration buildings, and is a good starting point. The edges of Parking Area A, with patches of grasses, can be ideal for large numbers of wintering Horned Larks, sometimes accompanied by Snow Buntings or Lapland Longspurs. Raptors are more likely to be observed around the administration buildings opposite the parking area. 


Search the poplar and aspen trees behind these buildings for Red-shouldered, Rough-legged, Red-tailed, and Cooper's Hawks, as well as Northern Harrier. In recent years, raptor levels have fluctuated. The birds tend to remain if rodent numbers are high. Bald Eagles, now residents on Staten Island, have been making more frequent appearances in recent years, showing a preference for the sheltered water of the marina boat basin in autumn and winter.

Horned Larks may be joined by Snow Buntings or Lapland Longspurs at Great Kills Park in the wintertime. Photo: Isaac Grant "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Horned Larks may be joined by Snow Buntings or Lapland Longspurs at Great Kills Park in the wintertime. Photo: Isaac Grant



The large phragmites-covered section of park behind the Administration Buildings is a habitat of seasonal ponds, created after heavy rains. Shorebirds, waterfowl, Glossy Ibis, herons, American Bittern (uncommon), Least Bittern (a few records), egrets, Virginia Rails and swallows can be observed in season. The first record for White Ibis in Staten Island was recorded in the vernal ponds, in 2011.


From the Parking Area A, Blue Dot and Orange trails are clearly marked and easy to follow. If you are walking, the Blue Dot Trail, search for Wilson’s Snipe along the muddy stream edge to the west of the trail.
Little Blue Herons, which nest on Hoffman Island, south of Staten Island, come to Great Kills Park to feed. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
Little Blue Herons, which nest on Hoffman Island, south of Staten Island, come to Great Kills Park to feed. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
“The Flats”
At the northeast end of Parking Area A, a dirt trail leads towards the beach and extensive mudflats, “The Flats.” Check the sandy cliffs here—though heavily eroded in 2013 by Hurricane Sandy, they have continued to provide suitable habitat for a small colony of Bank Swallows, the only breeding colony of this species in the metropolitan region. 


The mudflats, saltmarsh, and shoreline here attract gulls, ducks, wading birds, and shorebirds throughout the year. In spring and summer, egrets, waterfowl, plovers, American Oystercatcher, smaller numbers of Red Knots, and gulls are regular visitors. You may spot one of the few Little Blue Herons, and recently Cattle Egret, that nest on nearby Hoffman Island. A scope is helpful to observe the birds here; time your visit to the mudflats during low tides. (View the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tide tables.) In the fall, look for Saltmarsh Sparrow here.
An Osprey dives in Great Kills Harbor. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
An Osprey dives in Great Kills Harbor. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
Boat Launch and Nature Center
In mid-September into early October, investigate a grove of locust trees at the northeast end of the harbor (at the bayside boat launch and small parking lot near the Nature Center, which is currently closed) for migrants, including vireos, flycatchers, warblers, buntings, and sparrows. The small boat ramps here also provide a place to look out in the harbor for gulls and waterfowl. Osprey, which nest on a platform further out in the harbor, are frequently seen. Boat-tailed Grackle and Orchard Oriole may nest in this area.


When open, the Nature Interpretive Center by the boat launch offers clean facilities as well as an interpretive pond which can be excellent in fall. Sit on benches and wait for migrants to come down to the water. Yellow-breasted Chat has bred in this area.


In winter, this area is good for sparrows, and a number of other hardy specialties can be present in autumn in the olive thickets around the nature center. Yellow-rumped Warblers are abundant in winter, feeding on Northern Bayberry. Search for the occasional Orange-crowned Warbler in the flocks of these warblers. Fox Sparrows and Eastern Towhees winter here; Ring-necked Pheasants, though less common that in the past, are still found here.
Unusual visitors from the north, like this Common Redpoll, sometimes turn up in Great Kills Park. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/120553232@N02/" target="_blank">Isaac Grant</a>
Unusual visitors from the north, like this Common Redpoll, sometimes turn up in Great Kills Park. Photo: Isaac Grant
Crooke’s Point and the Harbor
Great Kills Harbor was created in the 1870s when Crooke’s Island (now called Crooke’s Point) was connected to the mainland using dredge material. A walk along the gravel road leading to Crooke’s Point passes through some good habitat. The dunes on the bay side were once a reliable site for wintering Short-eared Owls and in the evening; local Barn Owls can occasionally be observed here. 


If Great Kills has a wintering Snowy Owl, this would be the most likely location for the bird, for the reason that fewer people visit this more isolated section of the park. Snowy Owls have been seen here in past years. The dunes can be good in winter for Tree Sparrows and Snow Buntings. Wintering waterfowl can be numerous here, and this is Staten Island’s more reliable site for scoters. Gulls move in from the bay and feed in the narrow channel, and rarities should be looked for.

The hardy Yellow-rumped Warbler winters over in Great Kills Park; the male, shown here, gets very colorful by springtime. Photo: Dave Ostapiuk "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> The hardy Yellow-rumped Warbler winters over in Great Kills Park; the male, shown here, gets very colorful by springtime. Photo: Dave Ostapiuk



Along the road to Crooke’s Point, from late August through October, one can be rewarded with a good variety of migrants attracted to the vine covered trees, dense brush, Bayberry, and open woods. Warblers, vireos, orioles, flycatchers, and other migrants can be numerous. The Tree Swallow migration, like many other coastal sites, can be spectacular in early September. The flocks of Tree Swallows should be checked carefully for other swallow species. Recent breeding species on Crooke’s Point have included Field Sparrow and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.


The beach and rock jetty at the tip of Crooke’s Point offer extraordinary views of the waters of Lower New York Bay as well as a sweeping vista that stretches from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Queens and south to New Jersey. During the winter months, Purple Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstones, and occasional northern “white winged” gulls, such as Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, visit both the jetty at Crooke’s Point and the jetty north of the tidal flats closer to Oakwood Beach. Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspur are more likely to be seen along the shoreline.


Fall through early spring, Gannets occasionally show up to dive for fish in great numbers in Great Kills Harbor. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Fall through early spring, Gannets occasionally show up to dive for fish in great numbers in Great Kills Harbor. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares


In the warmer months, look for nesting Osprey and foraging Common and Forsters Terns and Black Skimmers in Great Kills Harbor. In winter, the Harbor is good for waterfowl viewing. This site has loons, grebes, Greater Scaup, scoters, and other species of waterfowl from November through March. In winter, numbers of Long-tailed Ducks bob around in the harbor’s inlet, and Northern Gannets sometimes show up in good numbers, particularly in spring. Snow Buntings can be found in the open areas along the beach. Yellow-rumped Warblers winter in the Crooke’s Point’s bayberry thickets, along with Field Sparrows and other hardy wintering species such as Gray Catbird and Brown Thrasher.
Common Terns court in Great Kills Harbor. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/51819896@N04/" target="_blank">Lawrence Pugliares</a>
Common Terns court in Great Kills Harbor. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares
NYC Parks Beaches and Wetlands
Two hundred and fifty acres of Great Kills Park to the northeast from the National Parks property are owned and administered by NYC Parks. (In 1971 the City deeded the southern acreage to Gateway National Recreation Area.) This part of the park includes large tidal marshes and four beaches: New Dorp Beach, Cedar Grove Beach, Oakwood Beach, and Fox Beach, which is connects to the National Park Service property and mudflats to the southwest. (To the northeast lies Gateway’s former U.S. Army base, Miller Field, which is another productive area during migration.) 


The marshes here attract a good number of wading birds, which come to forage from the nearby Harbor Heron Islands; a good number of landbirds nest here as well, including Yellow Warbler and Boat-tailed Grackle. The beaches provide a good vantage point for foraging terns, gulls, and shorebirds, while good numbers of diving birds, loons, and grebes are seen here in the winter. 


In September and October, investigate the City’s weedy parkland on the west side of Grove Avenue between Agda Street and Ebbitts Street for fall migrants. 
Bank Swallows, an unusual nesting species in New York City, soar over the Flats of Great Kills Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Bank Swallows, an unusual nesting species in New York City, soar over the Flats of Great Kills Park. Photo: Lawrence Pugliares



When to Go

To see birding highlights by the season at the Great Kills Park, 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 Great Kills Park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.

 eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Great Kills Park to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more. (Click on “Hotspot Map” at left to see other hotspots within the park; note that in eBird, Great Kills Park includes a number of hotspots.)

Personal Safety

Joggers, walkers, and cyclists use the park and give the illusion of safety. However some of the best birding areas are isolated, particularly along some portions of the beach, so it is best to bird with another person. Beware of dog ticks, poison ivy, and mosquitoes. 


***Note that a large northern, inland section of Great Kills Park has been closed for some time due to radioactive contamination. This area of the park is clearly marked and is not included in the birding routes on this page.


Guided Bird Walks

The Staten Island Museum, founded in 1881 by a group of young Staten Island naturalists, offers bird and nature walks in Staten Island's parks throughout the year, along with many other programs and educational activities. 

Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, Staten Island's principal land conservation organization, offers bird and nature walks and other conservation-oriented events throughout the year. Protectors of Pine Oak Woods and its forerunner, SIGNAL, were involved in the preservation of much of Staten Island's parkland, and the organization continues to fight for the responsible stewardship and preservation of the island's wild habitats.

Directions and Visiting Information

View Google map directions to the Great Kills Park main entrance. If you are traveling by car, follow Buffalo Street from the main entrance for 1.5 miles to Parking Area “A” on the left (opposite the Ranger Station) where parking is free. Parking at Crooke’s Point is by permit only.


The Beach Center (with restrooms), and its food concessions, are open in the warm months and a Ranger Station, with visitor information, is open year round. 


See the National Park Service site for information on the southern section of the park including the Flats and Crooke’s Point. See the NYC Parks page for information on the northern section including New Dorp Beach, Cedar Grove Beach, Oakwood Beach, and Fox Beach.

View a National Park Service map of Great Kills Park.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to those who provided local birding expertise for this page: Howard Fischer (2020, 2012, 2001).