Many of the most rewarding birdwatching sites in the United States can be found in rural areas, such as the Florida Everglades, Pennsylvania’s Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and national parks. But an unlikely urban area in New York rivals the opportunities for observation offered by these other locations. “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 to find food and cover end up in Central Park,” says Robert DeCandido, aka Birding Bob. “In fact, on a good day in early May, it is possible to see about 125 different kinds of birds in the park.” He has given birding tours of Central Park for more than 20 years, helping people spot members of the rare species that visit the park during the spring migration. In addition to Central Park, the birds flock to many green spaces around the Big Apple this time of year. Want to see more? Birding Bob offers nine tips to spotting the feathered creatures.
- Get warmed up, and once you are, keep going. Birding Bob recommends showing up early for his tours to start familiarizing yourself with the environment.
- Don’t get frustrated if you can’t identify the birds right away. “Birdwatching is about having fun learning about the local environment,” Birding Bob says. “At the outset, just come out to look and watch. Don’t worry about putting names on the birds, just enjoy the experience of the energy, flashing colors and spring in Central Park.”
- Practice makes perfect. “As one gets better at this game of spotting, one develops skills for remembering exactly where on the bird's body was that patch of gold or green ... was it a double or single wing bar? Did that one have ear tufts or not?” the guide says. “In other words, with practice and enough interest, we start to see nuances between the species ... or just between males and females and young birds of the same species.”
- No binoculars? No problem! “It is fine to do ‘natural-style’ birding, using only your eyes. You don't need binoculars ... just curiosity and the desire to see something,” he says.
- A good birdwatching experience often comes down to one thing: location. Birding Bob recommends heading to The Ramble, Central Park’s largest wooded area. Its meadows and lake draw tons of migrating birds throughout the spring.
- Try looking for common species when starting out. “In April, waterfowl are heading north, everything from Wood Ducks to Buffleheads and even Common Loons. By late in the month, the great migration of neotropical passerines is approaching New York City: Prothonotary Warblers and Black-throated Blue Warblers and American Redstarts, etc.”
- Start birding in your own backyard. “I started birding when I was growing up in the Bronx. We had a big yard next to our brick house and my grandmother would put out stale pieces of bread to feed the winter birds: Blue Jays; sparrows; starlings and the occasional Robin,” Birding Bob says. “Today, I still watch that same yard from my same house.”
- Chat with your fellow birders. On his website, Birding Bob writes: “The Bob birdwalks truly have become a community, and many valuable and lifelong friendships have resulted. In fact, many come along as much for the people and camaraderie as for the birds.”
- Develop an appreciation for shared habitats. Birding Bob says: “New York City has a long history (125 years) of people looking at birds in the parks. It is nice to know something about the habitat we—the birds, wildlife, plants and people—share together. Urban areas and the parks therein are important stopover habitats for migrants ... you don't have to go to the rainforest or the coral reef or Costa Rica or Africa to see wildlife—something wild is happening every minute of every day here in NYC.”