Spring in Flight: Birding in NYC

Humans aren’t the only ones eager for a bite of the Big Apple this season—dozens of species of birds flock to Central Park in April, making it one of the best places for observation in North America.

Visitors fly in from far and wide to soak up spring in NYC. But humans aren’t the only ones eager for a bite of the Big Apple—dozens of species of birds flock to Central Park in April, making it one of the best places for observation in North America. With avian-inspired art and arboreal grounds in full bloom, the city has come down with a case of bird fever. And things are just heating up. 

Strap on a pair of binoculars and some sneakers—we’re going on safari in Central Park (Fifth Ave., btw 59th & 110th sts.). The mission: Spot as many birds as possible. It’s a game of “I Spy,” with birding expert Robert DeCandido as the guide, and April one of the best times to try it.

“Central Park is a large green space smack in the middle of an island—an island that does not have many other significant green spaces—so birds looking for a habitat that they can operate in end up there after migrating all night, “ says DeCandido, aka Birding Bob, who has hosted birdwatching tours of Central Park for more than 20 years. “In April, waterfowl are heading north—everything from Wood Ducks to Buffleheads and even Common Loons. By late in the month (after Apr. 20), the great migration of neotropical passerines is approaching New York City, when Prothonotary Warblers and Black-throated Blue Warblers and American Redstarts can be spotted.”

DeCandido invites the public to join him for walks in the park every Sunday, along with other times listed on his website. Those looking to take nature strolls in Central Park during the week can sign up with the American Museum of Natural History, which has teamed up with ornithologists to help nature lovers identify birds making NYC stopovers on the Atlantic Flyway bird migration route.

But venturing out with a guide isn’t the only way to see winged beauties—independent adventurers can borrow Central Park Conservancy birding kits, which include binoculars, guidebooks, maps and sketching materials, from Belvedere Castle (mid-Park at 79th St.). DeCandido recommends heading to the Ramble—Central Park’s largest wooded area, located between 73rd & 78th sts.—for a chance to see much wildlife.

Nests by Nabe

With more than 280 species, Central Park offers birding experiences that rival those of national parks, but other areas of the city also boast plenty of feathered friends, as well as flora and fauna. New York City Audubon, a grassroots organization dedicated to the preservation of avians and their habitats, suggests bird enthusiasts spend time at Riverside Park (Riverside Dr., btw W. 72nd & W. 129th sts.) and Inwood Hill Park (Seaman Ave., btw Dyckman & W. 218th St.) while in Manhattan.

The Bronx blooms in the spring, with lush, green parks and opportunities to see living creatures. The New York Botanical Garden (Bronx River Pkwy., at Fordham Rd., 718.817.8700) celebrates the season with The Orchid Show: Key West Contemporary (through Apr. 21) and excellent birding opportunities at its Twin Lakes. For a more kid-friendly birding experience, head to the Bronx Zoo (2300 Southern Blvd., at E. Fordham Rd., 718.367.1010), where Blue-Bellied Rollers, Helmeted Curassows and Cuban Amazon Parrots squawk at the year-round World of Birds exhibit.

As for Queens, the coastal areas of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (Cross Bay Blvd., btw E. 6th Rd. & 165th Ave.) have been called a “birder’s paradise,” with more than 330 species sighted here in recent decades. While in the borough, pay a visit to the Victorian garden and bird sanctuary at the Voelker Orth Museum (149-19 38th Ave., at 149th Pl., 718.359.6227), which attract orioles, mockingbirds and hummingbirds.

Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Flickers, mallards and European Starlings regularly flock to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (150 Eastern Pkwy., btw Empire Blvd. & President St., 718.623.7200), which is also one of the best places for viewing cherry blossoms outside of Japan. The garden celebrates these pink and white blooms with more than 60 events and performances during its Sakura Matsuri festival (Apr. 26-27).

A colony of Quaker Parrots (also known as Monk Parakeets), whose origins remain unknown, can be observed near Brooklyn College (2900 Bedford Ave., at Campus Rd., 718.951.5000) and Green-Wood Cemetery (25th St. & Fifth Ave., Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, 718.768.7300). During monthly birding safaris, tour guide Steve Baldwin helps visitors spot members of the mysterious flock.

Staten Island’s 2,000 acres of freshwater wetlands and 3,000-acre second-growth forest, known as the Greenbelt, provide habitat to Purple Sandpipers, Peregrine Falcons, Snow Bunting and Great Horned Owls. Highlights here include Great Kills Park (Hylan Blvd., btw Fairlawn & Chesterton aves.), Wolfe’s Pond Park (Hylan Blvd., btw Holten & Cornelia aves.) and Conference House Park (Satterlee St., at Clermont Ave.). 

Art Takes Flight

As the skies, trees and shores fill with colorful creatures of feather, the NYC art scene takes notice with avian-inspired works this month. In Audubon’s Aviary: Parts Unknown (through May 26), the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library (170 Central Park West, at W. 77th St., 212.873.3400) not only displays John James Audubon’s detail-rich, hand-colored prints and watercolors, but brings them to life, via audio samples of the depicted species’ calls and songs, provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Avian themes also pervade Art in the Parks, an initiative of the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, with a number of bird-related pieces on view this month. Van Cortlandt Park (Broadway, W. 240th St. to Caryl Ave., Bronx) hosts “Flock,” a 15-foot swirling sculpture. In Queens, the Rockaway Barrier Beautification Project (Shorefront Pkwy., btw Beach 74th & Beach 107th sts.) captures the freedom of birds and surfer vibes in a mural comprised of three installations: Jade Chan’s “In Flight,” depicting silhouettes of stark white birds on a cerulean background; Patty Harris’ “Ride the Wave,” illustrating surfers taking on the ocean; and John Garcia’s untitled painting of birds on an abstract sea of cool blues and purples. Brooklyn sculptor Petros Chrisostomou also takes inspiration from the spring migration with “Sky Feather, “ his first large-scale work in NYC, slated to debut this month on Lenox Ave., btw W. 124th & W. 125th sts. The giant feather stays on view for a year.

Luxe jeweler Fabergé is laying over 200 eggs, sending folks on a Big Egg Hunt (Apr. 1-25). Created by artists, designers and even chefs, the two-and-a-half-foot sculptures are “hidden” in interiors around town, then will nest together on display for the final week at Rockefeller Center, before being auctioned off for charity.

So, even if winged creatures aren’t usually your thing, catching a case of bird fever may be a worthwhile way to soar into spring.