Volunteer Profile: Junko Suzuki, Determined Birder

Though Junko Suzuki's most frequent birding spot is Central Park, here she visits Niagara Falls, NY, in search of rare gull species. Photo courtesy of Junko Suzuki


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

By Phil Roosevelt

Junko Suzuki will never forget her first Christmas Bird Count. It was 2003, and snow was falling hard in New York. Junko and her fellow volunteers trudged through the northeastern reaches of Central Park, notebooks in hand, until the snow piled too high and the visibility dropped too low. A ranger with the group called for help, and a truck ferried them to safety. But that’s not all she remembers from the day. Peering into the whiteness, the group had spotted a tiny bird with a long tail and a rust-colored cap—an American Tree Sparrow, the first Junko had ever seen. She thus got a “lifer.”

Junko almost always finds the bird. She has been tracking the birds of New York City, formally and informally, for more than 20 years. She has made it to no fewer than seven Christmas counts, including the one this past December. She is remarkably persistent: She looked for one species, the Henslow’s Sparrow, for more than 10 years. In the 11th year, she finally spotted it, in the Shawangunk Mountains north of the City.

Junko, a native of Japan who has worked variously as a media consultant, a theater critic, and a graphics designer, first took to birds in the late 1990s after watching some Mourning Doves sleep on a fire escape in Brooklyn. She was struck by the beauty and the peace. It was “almost a kind of healing experience,” she recalls. She read up on birds, took some classes, and began heading into Central Park as often as possible.

Early on, someone told her of watching a thousand Broad-winged Hawks
wheeling and circling in the sky during a migration. The image stuck in her mind; year after year she looked for great masses of broad-wings. Finally, one morning last September, it happened. Starting at 10:50am, she watched one swirling flock after another fly over Central Park’s Belvedere Castle. The flocks, or kettles, kept coming, bigger and bigger. A fellow birder joined her, then several more. By 5pm, the group had counted 3,256 Broad-winged Hawks. “It was just a dream come true,” she says.

For the 2022 Audubon Christmas Bird Count, held on a cold but blessedly blue-skied Sunday morning, Junko helped lead about 15 volunteers through her assigned area in the northwestern corner of Central Park, not far from her apartment. She clearly knew the turf. When the group reached a particular clearing, near 105th Street, she urged them to return at first light on spring mornings to take in the flocks of migrating songbirds.

Just as the count was finishing up, after six hours of hiking and tallying, Junko got a text message: a Redhead duck, a rarity in New York City, had been spotted from Battery Park City. She jumped on a downtown subway and, of course,
found the bird.

Junko surveys her Audubon Christmas Bird Count territory in the northwest corner of Central Park. Photo: Phil Roosevelt