Birding while Busy

Find the time this spring to get a good glimpse the beautiful Canada Warbler (here, a male, with its striking yellow underparts, white eye-ring, and black "necklace"). Photo: François Portmann


This article appears in the Spring 2023 issue of The Urban Audubon.

By Hillarie O'Toole

You’re not alone if you feel as if time keeps moving faster and faster. By the time daily responsibilities such as commuting, school, work, caregiving, and household management are through, it’s a marvel that any New Yorker is able to carve out time for social gatherings, curling up with a good book… or savoring a quiet moment with birds. 
The splendors of spring migration tend to sneak up on me: I go from celebrating the New Year to a flurry of activity that leaves me wondering how on earth we got from January to May—in what a colleague referred to as the “slippery slope to summer.” Each year, I resolve to make more time to seek out the beautiful songbirds passing through the City. I’ve gotten better about this, but like anything worthwhile, it takes planning and practice. Here are some practical tips that I have found useful in making space in the day for birding.
Plan Ahead
Mark your calendar for spring migration! A variety of resources can help you determine the best times to see your favorite species, including Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdCast and eBird. In New York City, the most active songbird migration period is from late April through mid-May, so it can be helpful to pencil in blocks of time for yourself, and for organized birding events, well in advance. NYC Bird Alliance offers many bird outings across the City; joining these walks is a wonderful way to get out and both learn from local experts and meet fellow birders. 
And don’t fret too much if, like me, you are not a morning person. While birds tend to be more visible and active during the morning hours, I’ve had great success on sunset strolls, when birds catch their final insect meals of the day. The sun setting low in the west can really catch the flash of fuchsia on a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak perches among lilac blooms. Photo: Kristine Olson/Audubon Photography Awards
Combine Parts of Your Routine
While planning ahead is a good strategy, sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day. On those days, give yourself permission to “multitask” (not something generally recommended, but for birding we can make an exception): 
  • Bird during your commute: take a slightly longer route to the subway or get off at an earlier stop to check out a green space. 
  • Have a pre- or post-work indoor exercise routine? Move it outdoors and sling your binoculars or camera over your shoulder for chance encounters. 
  • It can be difficult to get away from the computer screen during the day. Taking lunch or a coffee break outside can reap many benefits, including the possible bird sighting. 
  • If you have any spring travel planned, be sure to check local Audubon chapter websites for birding locations that you can explore while visiting. Sometimes, just 15 minutes is enough to spy a warbler that will bring a smile to your face for the rest of the week.
Use Technology
You can also bring the outdoors to you, wherever you are.  A growing number of resources can bring the birds, in real time, to your living room: 
  • Live bird cams offer views of courtship, nest building, and raising young. Cornell’s All About Birds has a rotating selection of live cams throughout the year, of a variety of species. 
  • Social media can connect you to fellow New Yorkers (and birders around the world) and see the world through their lenses. On Facebook, you can check out New York Birders for daily musings and photos from birders throughout New York State. 
  • Be sure to explore NYC Bird Alliance’s virtual birding activities and resources including virtual festivals, online web series, bird cams, and more.  
Be Present
What’s most important is to enjoy the time you can carve out for yourself, in whatever manner you are able, and not to judge yourself based on others’ standards of success. If you happen to observe a bird singing outside your window, that is a win! In a city that thrives on a fast pace, we can all treasure leisurely moments with nature, when time is marked only by the seasons and the songs of birds.

Plan ahead and bird with NYC Bird Alliance! Learn about our roster of spring events at

Bird however you like—alone, for a peaceful communing with nature... or with a group, as a fun social outing (here, a LBGTQ+ Pride walk in Central Park). Photo: Andrew Maas