New York City a ‘birding paradise’ with busy bird clinic, global birdwatching hotspots — and a few egrets


Egrets. New York City’s had a few. 

Hawks, harriers and hummingbirds, too.

The Big Apple is a concrete jungle. Yet it’s also home to a spectacular array of birds and one of the largest birdwatching communities in North America. 

It even boasts one of the nation’s busiest bird hospitals.

“New York City is this incredible birding paradise,” says Catherine Quayle, a spokesperson for Wild Bird Fund, an animal clinic on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that cares for nearly 10,000 birds each year, representing more than 100 different species. 

May is peak season for bird enthusiasts. 

Bird Day, America’s oldest celebration of our feathered friends, dating back to 1894, is today (May 4). World Migratory Bird Day is May 13. 

John James Audubon himself, America’s most famous birdwatcher, lived in New York City between travels. 

He died in Manhattan and is buried in Harlem. 

“New York City is this incredible birding paradise.” — Catherine Quayle, Wild Bird Fund

His original “Birds of America” drawings have been a part of the current Polonsky Treasures Exhibition on display at the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

Most of the patients at New York City’s Wild Bird Fund are found on streets or in parks and brought to the clinic by Gotham residents who appear to have great compassion for these wild animals who live amid the concrete.

Quayle hails from southern Virginia, but said she only “discovered my love of birds when I moved to New York City.”

Among the Big Apple’s treasure trove of birdlife is one of the nation’s largest communities of nesting pairs of peregrine falcons. 

Peregrine falcons were once listed as endangered nationally. They are still on New York State’s list of endangered birds, “but are doing very well in New York City,” said Quayle. 

New York City sprawls across several different islands, plus the mainland, and boasts 520 miles of waterfront — more coastline than Boston, Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco combined, the city boasts on its official government website. 

All that seashore and riverfront makes New York City a natural habit for water birds. 

The city also sits beneath the incredible Atlantic Flyway, an ancient migratory path stretching from Greenland to South America that birds have followed each spring and autumn throughout recorded history. 

Given the lack of green space, migratory birds rest in high concentrations if they stop in New York City. 

The spring migratory season is peaking right now. Organizations such as the Brooklyn Bird Club, founded in 1909, are busy with events to capture the beauty of the animals and introduce newcomers to a hobby that’s both art and science.

“Incongruous as it may seem … birding enthusiasts come to New York City from all over the world to watch birds,” notes the New York City Audubon Society on its website.

New York City is home to about 450 bird species. 

About half are local to the city, the other half migratory birds that spend at least part of the year in Gotham on their way to somewhere else. 

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation lists online bird-watching hotspots across all five boroughs. 

Pelham Bay Park, New York City’s largest park, in the Bronx, is the home to owls, ospreys and fascinating shorebirds such as killdeer.

Marine Park in Brooklyn boasts an incredible array of seabirds — among them, the American oystercatcher. The bird earns its name hauling the shellfish once abundant in the natural estuary of New York Harbor and that have rebounded dramatically in recent years. 

The world-famous urban oasis of Central Park in Manhattan has a stunning array of owls — among them, barred, saw-whet and great horned hooters.

“Birding enthusiasts come to New York City from all over the world to watch birds.” — New York City Audubon

A Eurasian eagle owl named Flaco “captured New Yorkers’ hearts” this winter, the New York Post wrote, when he escaped Central Park Zoo and took up residence in the park.

Zoo officials called off the recovery effort when Flaco quickly proved adept at hunting and showed that he could live on his own. 

Forest Park in Queens includes a large oak forest inhabited by woodpeckers, great blue herons and orioles. 

Staten Island, which sits at the mouth of New York Harbor, offers a remarkable array of both seabirds and birds of prey. 

“If you are lucky, you might spot a bald eagle!” says the New York City Parks Department online of Staten Island’s Greenbelt. 

Gotham’s endless array of buildings do pose great danger for birds.

The animals often fly into the windows that tower over the city and end up injured on the sidewalks below. Window strikes are one reason why New York City’s Wild Bird Fund clinic is so busy.

About 1,200 of the 9,500 birds the hospital treated last year were injured by hitting windows, according to spokesperson Quayle.

“Extraordinary birding in New York City is due to a combination of geography, topography, and habitat diversity.” 

“Brown papers bags make a great bird ambulance,” she said.

The clinic recommends gently placing a wounded bird in a paper bag and bringing it to an appropriate facility as soon as possible.

“Extraordinary birding in New York City is due to a combination of geography, topography and habitat diversity,” writes the NYC Audubon Society.

It adds, “Our harbor’s varied ecology provides nesting habitat for a broad array of waterbirds, raptors, songbirds and more.”

As for egrets — famed “My Way” and “New York, New York” crooner Frank Sinatra would be proud to learn that the city has more than a few.

The Big Apple boasts 11 different varieties of the birds, more commonly known as herons.