Harlem & East River Parks

Harlem & East River Parks

View of the Hell Gate Bridge from a waterside path on Randalls Island. Photo: Eddie Crimmins
The Harlem River and East River, which divide Manhattan from the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, are in fact not rivers at all: they are both tidal straits, arms of the Atlantic Ocean. This salty ocean water mixes with the fresh source of the Hudson River and various small freshwater creeks, forming the estuary that makes our harbor so rich with life. Though access to Manhattan’s eastern shoreline has been largely cut off by development and highways over the years, connection to the river and its ecosystem is available at a series of green spaces that dot Manhattan’s eastern shore. 
Red-tailed Hawks are frequently found sitting quietly in Manhattan's parks, like this adult in Highbridge Park. <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/rbs10025/8526023765/" target="_blank">Photo</a>: Robert/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/" target="_blank">CC BY-NC-ND 2.0</a>
Red-tailed Hawks are frequently found sitting quietly in Manhattan's parks, like this adult in Highbridge Park. Photo: Robert/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Tree Swallows forage along the banks of the East River and nest in places including Randall's Island. Photo: <a href="https://www.fotoportmann.com/" target="_blank">François Portmann</a>
Tree Swallows forage along the banks of the East River and nest in places including Randall's Island. Photo: François Portmann
Great Egrets and Black-crowned Night-Herons, which nest on several islands in the East River, can be found found foraging at Sherman Creek and on Randall's island. 
Photo: <a href="http://www.stevenanz.com/" target="_blank">Steve Nanz</a>
Great Egrets and Black-crowned Night-Herons, which nest on several islands in the East River, can be found found foraging at Sherman Creek and on Randall's island. Photo: Steve Nanz
Natural spaces have also survived on preserved islands right in the middle of the waterway. And all of these green oases provide habitat for both wetland and upland birds. From north to south, these sites include Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek, Highbridge Park, Randall’s Island, Roosevelt Island, and  the southerly Carl Schurz , Peter Detmold, and East River Parks.


Get Oriented

View a Google map of all the Harlem and East River parks described on this page. swindlercovehs
Migrating shorebirds such as Greater Yellowlegs stop over in the inlet of Sherman Creek. Photo: John Mack/Audubon Photography Awards
Migrating shorebirds such as Greater Yellowlegs stop over in the inlet of Sherman Creek. Photo: John Mack/Audubon Photography Awards
Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
 
Spring Migration** 
Shorebirds; warblers and other songbirds
 
Summer**    
Foraging waders, swallows, and common nesting songbirds
 
Fall Migration** 
Shorebirds; warblers and other songbirds
 
Winter*
Waterfowl
 
Year-Round Highlights
Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Killdeer, Woodpeckers


Get Oriented

 See a Google map of Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek.

Our first stop down Manhattan’s East Side is one of New York City’s newer green spaces, the combined parks of Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek. This reclaimed dumping site, subject of a $10 million restoration effort and opened to the public in 2003, features Harlem River access, a rare Manhattan tidal mudflat, and lovely native plant gardens.

The park is the result of partnership between various agencies including NYC Parks and the New York Restoration Project, founded by Bette Midler. The Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse, which juts out into the river from just below Swindler Cove, was designed to offer boating experiences to children in the community; a new outdoor education center and boating facility is currently planned

Barn Swallows, as well as Tree and Rough-winged Swallows, come to forage over Sherman Creek in the summertime. Photo: François Portmann "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Barn Swallows, as well as Tree and Rough-winged Swallows, come to forage over Sherman Creek in the summertime. Photo: François Portmann

Sherman Creek

“Sherman Creek” proper is the shallow river inlet right below 201st and Academy Streets. (Don’t be confused: you may also see “The Sherman Creek Parks” listed online. This name refers to a series of street-end city parks north of Sherman Creek, from 202nd to 206th Streets, which offer small public plazas and views of the Harlem River.) The mudflats of the actual “Sherman Creek” are the vestige of several freshwater creeks that once spilled out here, and can be observed from some well-designed pathways and viewing spots. The pathway entrance on10th Avenue above its intersection with Dyckman Street. The mudflats are best visited at low tide. (See a tidal chart for the nearby West 207th Street Bridge.) 
 
During spring and fall migration, Spotted, Semipalmated, and Least Sandpipers are frequently observed both here and in Swindler Cove Park, along with Greater Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plover. (Killdeer may appear year round.) Check the northern end of the creek inlet for waders, particularly Great Egret and Black-crowned Night Heron. The more common gulls abound, along with Double-crested Cormorants. 
 
In the winter time, waterfowl also congregate here; among American Black Ducks, Mallards, and Canada Geese, rarer species like Canvasback are also observed on the open water. Forest habitat by the water may also attract migrant land birds during migration. Rough-winged, Tree, and Barn Swallows are seen here through the summer. Look out for Belted Kingfisher throughout the year.

Swindler Cove Park’s small beach is visited by birds and humans alike. Photo: <a href=\"https://www.flickr.com/photos/edcnyc/\" target=\"_blank\">Eddie Crimmins</a> "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Swindler Cove Park’s small beach is visited by birds and humans alike. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/edcnyc/" target="_blank">Eddie Crimmins</a>


Swindler Cove Park

Just south of Sherman Creek and connected by several pathways is the well-manicured Swindler Cove Park, managed by the New York Restoration Project. (“Swindler Cove” is the very small inlet crossed by a curved metal footbridge.) Here a small network of wooded paths and walkways connects native plant gardens, a small pond, and a community garden used by children from the adjacent public school and surrounding community. The park also provides good vantage points on the natural shoreline including a small beach, as well as out onto the Harlem River. 
 
The freshwater features may attract thirsty land birds, both during migration and nesting season. Species such as Northern Flicker, Eastern Kingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird, and Baltimore Oriole are observed here through the summer, and may breed either at this location or in the large and forested Highbridge Park, which lies right across the Harlem River Drive. American Goldfinches are seen throughout the year. A path down to the Peter Jay Boathouse provides more spots to look for shorebirds and waterfowl, before it joins with the waterside greenway of Harlem River Park.

American Goldfinches may come down to take a drink or bathe in Swindler Cove Park. Photo: Sharron Crocker/Audubon Photography Awards "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> American Goldfinches may come down to take a drink or bathe in Swindler Cove Park. Photo: Sharron Crocker/Audubon Photography Awards


When to Go

See "Birding Highlights by the Season" above; the eBird link below also may be helpful. To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page. 

For park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, a map of other nearby hotspots, and more.
 

Personal Safety

It is best to bird with at least one other person in Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek, as some areas may not be heavily frequented.
 

Directions and Visiting Info

Enter Sherman Creek via a pathway entrance on 10th Avenue above its intersection with Dyckman Street. See a Google map of Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek.
 
Subway:  Nearby subway stops include the Dyckman Street 1 and A train stations.
 
View the NYC Parks page for Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek for operating hours, directions, and additional background information. (Note that this NYC Parks page also includes information for “The Sherman Creek Parks,” which are actually separate, small, end-of-street waterside parks that lie north of Sherman Creek and Swindler Cove Park.)
 
Visit the New York Restoration Project page for Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek to see operating hours, facilities information, and other resources.highbridgehs
The Old Croton Aquaduct trail passes through forested Highbridge Park. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/edcnyc/" target="_blank">Eddie Crimmins</a>
The Old Croton Aquaduct trail passes through forested Highbridge Park. Photo: Eddie Crimmins
Highbridge Park

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
 
Spring Migration** 
Warblers and other songbirds
 
Summer*    
Some nesting woodpeckers, songbirds
 
Fall Migration** 
Warblers and other songbirds, raptors
 
Winter*
Mixed songbird feeding flocks, accipiters
 
Year-Round Highlights
Resident Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons nesting in area; woodpeckers


Get Oriented

See a NYC Parks map of Highbridge Park.

Migrants like the Black-throated Green Warbler frequently stop through Highbridge Park. Photo: Kelly Colgan Azar/CC BY-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Migrants like the Black-throated Green Warbler frequently stop through Highbridge Park. Photo: Kelly Colgan Azar/CC BY-ND 2.0


Stretching 45 blocks along Manhattan’s east coast from 155th Street to Dyckman Street, Highbridge Park includes native forest that was never developed or farmed due to the area’s steep and rocky terrain. The park is named for the High Bridge, completed in 1848. Manhattan’s oldest standing bridge, the High Bridge was built to carry water into the long-gone Highbridge Reservoir, via the Croton Aqueduct. 
 
Though the park now abuts the Harlem River Drive, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it overlooked the Harlem River Speedway (a horse racetrack) and a popular pedestrian promenade along the Hudson River. (Though the construction of the Harlem River Drive in 1940 cut off community access to river, a huge new project to reconnect to the waterfront, the Harlem River Greenway, is under way.) The park now includes a recreation center, pool, playgrounds, and a mountain-biking trail. Though Highbridge Park is a New York City park, the northern section of the property is maintained by the New York Restoration Project.

During migration and over the winter, check the forest floor of Highbridge Park for the mouse-like Winter Wren. Photo: François Portmann "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> During migration and over the winter, check the forest floor of Highbridge Park for the mouse-like Winter Wren. Photo: François Portmann


Access for birding in Highbridge Park is provided by a walking and biking trail running almost the park’s entire length, from 159th Street to Harlem River Drive/Dyckman Street (where the trail leads to adjacent Swindler Cove Park and Sherman Creek). The trail includes part of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, and connects to the pedestrian High Bridge itself at about the level of 174th Street, providing an opportunity to walk high over the Harlem River (and cross to the Bronx). 
 
Though a narrow strip of land, the park feels surprisingly remote in spots: the main trail passes through forest, meadow, and thicket, and past rare outcroppings of Manhattan schist bedrock. A good variety of land birds stop over here during spring and fall migration, including 25 warblers species recorded so far on eBird; the pathway provides good mid-story views as one looks down the wooded slope.

Highbridge is also a good spot to see raptors year-round. Resident Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and American Kestrels all breed nearby, while Cooper’s Hawk is frequently seen fall through spring. The park’s habitat is also large enough to host a good variety of birds through the summer: Downy and Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Cedar Waxwing, and Baltimore Oriole may all breed here.

George and Martha” have been among the nesting Red-tailed Hawks known to local birders in Highbridge Park. Photo: Robert/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> George and Martha” have been among the nesting Red-tailed Hawks known to local birders in Highbridge Park. Photo: Robert/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When to Go

See "Birding Highlights by the Season" above; the eBird links below also may be helpful. To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page. 

For park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.
 

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Highbridge Park south of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge and Highbridge Park north of the Alexander Hamilton Bridge to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, a map of other nearby hotspots, and more.
 

Personal Safety

It is best to bird with at least one other person in Highbridge Park, as some areas are remote and not heavily frequented. Watch for speeding cyclists on the trails.
 

Directions and Visiting Info

The southern end of Highbridge Park’s principal trail begins at 158th Street and Edgecombe Avenue, and is accessible at various points (see the fine green trail line on the Google map) up till its northern termination at Harlem River Drive and Dyckman Street
 
Subway: The 155th Street A/C station is a few blocks from the 158th Street trail entrance. The northern trail end is a 5-10 minute walk from the Dyckman Street 1 and A train stations.
 
View the NYC Parks Map for Highbridge Park for operating hours, directions, and additional background information.
 
The landscaped waterside paths of Randall’s Island provide good vantage points on both the East and Harlem Rivers and the Bronx Kill. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/76807015@N03/" target="_blank">Gigi Altarejos</a>
The landscaped waterside paths of Randall’s Island provide good vantage points on both the East and Harlem Rivers and the Bronx Kill. Photo: Gigi Altarejos
Randall’s Island

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
 
Spring Migration** 
Warblers and other songbirds
 
Summer**    
Foraging waders, gulls, Double-crested Cormorant; breeding Killdeer, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-winged, Tree, and Barn Swallows, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow Warbler
 
Fall Migration** 
Warblers, sparrows
 
Winter*
Waterfowl, Raptors, woodpeckers, mixed songbird feeding flocks
 
Year-Round Highlights
Waterbirds, resident Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Common Raven


Get Oriented


Look for wading birds like the Snowy Egret that come to forage in Randall’s Island marshes; the birds breed on nearby Harbor Heron Islands. Photo: Gilberto Sanchez/Audubon Photography Awards "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Look for wading birds like the Snowy Egret that come to forage in Randall’s Island marshes; the birds breed on nearby Harbor Heron Islands. Photo: Gilberto Sanchez/Audubon Photography Awards
 
At the junction of the Harlem and East Rivers lies an island so crisscrossed by highways and bridges that you might think connection of the City’s boroughs its main purpose—until you focus in to see that the majority of the island is parkland, devoted to green space and recreation. Over the last decade, it has quickly become a popular birding destination, as local birders have discovered its varied habitats, frequently visited by avian rarities.
 
Made up of two historically separate islands, Randall’s and Wards Islands, the island has served many functions over its history. Just to name a few, it once hosted British posts during the Revolutionary War, the New York City Asylum for the Insane, a home for Civil War Veterans, a poor house, a reform school for juvenile delinquents, and an orphanage—and also became a final resting place for hundreds of thousands of bodies relocated from graveyards in Madison Square and Bryant Park (!).

Randall’s Island has become known as a likely spot to find unusual migrants like this Nelson’s Sparrow. Photo: Anders Peltomaa/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Randall’s Island has become known as a likely spot to find unusual migrants like this Nelson’s Sparrow. Photo: Anders Peltomaa/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


The island continues to be the home of varied institutions today--including two psychiatric hospitals, a state police station, a fire academy, and a wastewater treatment plant. And its 433 acres of parkland, managed by the Randall’s Island Park Alliance, include a great variety of recreational facilities, including Icahn Stadium, athletic fields, a driving range, and picnic areas. 
 
The island’s draw for birders, however, is of course its substantial green space—which includes restored wetlands, five miles of coastal upland habitat, waterfront native plant gardens, and open fields. An impressive variety of bird species has been spotted on Randall’s Island over the years, including Tufted Duck, Black-headed Gull, Snowy and Short-eared Owls, 24 species of warblers, Snow Bunting, Common Redpoll, and Saltmarsh, Seaside, and Nelson’s Sparrows.

The marshes of Randall’s Island attract many species of waterbirds year-round. Photo: <a href=\"https://www.flickr.com/photos/76807015@N03/\" target=\"_blank\">Gigi Altarejos</a> "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> The marshes of Randall’s Island attract many species of waterbirds year-round. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/76807015@N03/" target="_blank">Gigi Altarejos</a>


Little Hell Gate Inlet

The centerpiece of Randall’s Island’s restored habitat lies just south of Icahn Stadium, at the western end of what was once the channel between Randall’s and Wards Island, “Little Hell Gate.” Filled in the 1960s, this area has been revitalized with both saltmarsh and freshwater marsh restoration. A walkway crosses the saltmarsh and inlet mouth, on the island’s western side. 
 
In the winter, diving ducks such as Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, and Red-breasted Merganser can be seen from here, joining year-round Mallards, Gadwall, and Canada Geese, as well as the common gull species. Spring through fall, check the marshes for waders, such as Great and Snowy Egrets and both night-herons, which nest upriver on South Brother Island, as well on nearby Mill Rock Island, in smaller numbers. [LINK:Read more about South Brother and Mill Rock Islands, and NYC Bird Alliance’s Harbor Herons Nesting Survey.])

Tree Swallows breed in nest boxes on Randall’s Island. Photo: Robert/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Tree Swallows breed in nest boxes on Randall’s Island. Photo: Robert/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


As you bird the saltmarsh and inlet, be on the lookout for swallows including Rough-winged, which breed here. Double-crested Cormorants also nest on both South Brother Island and Mill Rock in good numbers, and may be seen here year-round—as is Great Blue Heron. Check for shorebirds during migration. 
 
Just south of the saltmarsh is a path bordered with trees that attract migrant land birds spring and fall. Heading east along this path, cross under the highway to the southern end of the freshwater wetlands and wildflower meadow. A grassy trail leads north through bird- and butterfly-friendly native plantings to a small pond. Warblers and other songbirds such as Marsh Wren and Swamp Sparrow may stop during migration, and it’s a good sparrow spot in the fall. Check the pond and marsh for egrets, herons, shorebirds, and waterfowl. Some songbirds breed here or nearby, such as Gray Catbird and Yellow Warbler.

Red-tailed Hawks nest in the lights of the Icahn Stadium. Photo: Keith Michael "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Red-tailed Hawks nest in the lights of the Icahn Stadium. Photo: Keith Michael


North End

The northern end of Randall’s Island is mostly open space, including fields, waterside trails and gardens, and includes a second restored saltmarsh. Just north of Little Hell Gate, scan the skies and likely perches around Icahn Stadium for Red-tailed Hawks: a pair has nested for a number of years in the lights of Field 10, just north of the stadium. (Red-tail nesting season begins in early March and nestlings usually fledge by early summer, but both juveniles and adults may be around all year.) 
 
A hike around the northern perimeter of the island will take you past several areas of open fields; check for Chimney Swifts and Barn, Tree, and Rough-winged Swallows—and for sparrows in the fall. Listen for the croak of Common Ravens, which can be observed year-round. In the wintertime, scan the Harlem River and Bronx Kill for waterbirds such as Greater Scaup and both loon species, as well as less frequent species like Common Goldeneye and Great Cormorant. Keep a look (and ear) out for Belted Kingfisher, year-round.
 
Off the northwest corner of the island is a second restored wetland area, the Bronx Kill Saltmarsh. Egrets and both night-herons are often seen here (their South Brother Island nesting colony is in sight, to the east). Killdeer nest in this area, and Laughing Gulls and Osprey may forage nearby. Spotted Sandpiper and other shorebirds stop here during migration. In the winter, a good variety of dabbling waterfowl can be seen in the Bronx Kill as well as in the East River, including large numbers of Brant, Northern Shoveler, and Gadwall, as well as divers such as Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, and less frequent species.

Double-crested Cormorants nest on nearby Mill Rock and U Thant Islands; if you get a chance during the spring breeding season, look at one up close. Photo: Eric Stogner/Audubon Photography Awards "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Double-crested Cormorants nest on nearby Mill Rock and U Thant Islands; if you get a chance during the spring breeding season, look at one up close. Photo: Eric Stogner/Audubon Photography Awards


South End

South of Little Hell Gate is the former Wards Island. Though perhaps less birdy overall than the northern portion, the south end’s waterside native plantings and open fields serve as a stopover during migration (and its waterside trail provides spectacular views). And directly south of the island’s southwest corner lies Mill Rock Island, which hosts nesting Double-crested Cormorants and both Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls. (Its colony of Great and Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night-Herons has declined in recent years, possibly due to human disturbance during the nesting season. [LINK:Read more about Mill Rock Island and NYC Bird Alliance’s Harbor Herons Nesting Survey.])
 
The Ward’s Island Pedestrian Bridge, departing at the level of 103rd Street (and accessed from a bridge over the FDR Drive), provides walking access to the southern section of Governors Island from Manhattan. Look for Peregrine Falcons, which have nested here in recent years, as well as for gulls, waders, and cormorants flying along the river. 
 
At the southeast corner of the island, an area of trees, shrubs, and natural meadow hosts an Urban Farm, a waterside native planting area including the “Hellgate Wildflower Meadow,” just south of the Hell Gate Bridge, and a several clusters of trees. This stop-over habitat is visited by a good variety number of songbirds, flycatchers, and woodpeckers during migration. The adjacent large complex of recreational fields may also attract sparrows, swallows, Killdeer, and raptors. Breeding birds in this areas may include Eastern Kingbird and Warbling Vireo. 

Listen for the Warbling Vireo’s liquid song on Randall’s Island during nesting season. Photo: Kelly Colgan Azar/CC BY-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Listen for the Warbling Vireo’s liquid song on Randall’s Island during nesting season. Photo: Kelly Colgan Azar/CC BY-ND 2.0

When to Go

See "Birding Highlights by the Season" above; the eBird link below also may be helpful. To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page. 

For park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.
 

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Randall’s Island to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more. (Click on “Hotspot Map” at left to see other nearby; note that in eBird, Randall's Island includes a number of hotspots.)

Personal Safety

Most areas of Randall’s Island are well frequented and safe places to bird. The freshwater marsh and meadow area east of Little Hell Gate Inlet is somewhat isolated, however; birding with a companion is recommended.

Guided Bird Walks

NYC Bird Alliance leads several walks each year on Randalls Island. Visit our Local Trips page for information on upcoming walks. 
 

Directions and Visiting Info

Randall’s Island is accessible by public transportation, car, bicycle, and foot from a number of points, including five bridge walkways or all-pedestrian bridges. Please visit the very thorough Randall’s Island Park Alliance’s Transportation & Directions page for more information and directions. 
 
Visit the Randall’s Island Park Alliance website, which includes operating hours, facilities information, and other resource including a detailed description of the island’s natural areas
 
Visit the NYC Parks page for Randall’s Island for more information.rooseveltislandhs
The Dickcissel is one of the more unusual migrants that has been spotted stopping over on Roosevelt Island during migration. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/120553232@N02/" target="_blank">Isaac Grant</a>
The Dickcissel is one of the more unusual migrants that has been spotted stopping over on Roosevelt Island during migration. Photo: Isaac Grant
Roosevelt Island

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
 
Spring Migration** 
Warblers, vireos, orioles, and other land birds
 
Summer    
A few nesting land birds, double-crested cormorants, gulls
 
Fall Migration** 
Woodpeckers, Warblers, sparrows
 
Winter*
Some waterbirds, mixed songbird feeding flocks, possible Purple Sandpiper
 
Year-Round Highlights
Waterbirds, resident Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Common Raven


Get Oriented

 
FDR Four Freedoms Park provides some striking views, as well as stopover habitat for migrating birds. Photo: Gigi Altarejos "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> FDR Four Freedoms Park provides some striking views, as well as stopover habitat for migrating birds. Photo: Gigi Altarejos


Roosevelt Island, a 1.75-mile-long, 800-feet-wide toothpick of an island in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, is part of the borough of Manhattan, like its northern neighbor Randall’s Island. And like Randall’s, the island has a long and fascinating history. The Lenape people called the island Minnehanonck (translated in different references as either “Long Island” or “It’s nice to be on the island”). The Dutch called it Varkens Eylandt (Hog Island), and the English, Blackwell’s Island. (The Blackwell farmhouse, which dates from 1796, still stands.) 
 
By the early 1900s, this spit of land became known as Welfare Island due its “deep connection to disability and incarceration” (according to Wikipedia). Ruins of several asylums, penitentiaries, and poor houses remain today, including the landmarked ruin of a smallpox hospital at the southern end. The island received its current name in tribute to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1973, and was redeveloped in the 1970s to include residential housing and a FDNY facility.

Green spots and fields throughout the island may attract landbirds during migration. While birding activity is hottest at the southern end of the island, described below, at the island’s northern tip, Lighthouse Park provides another combination of green habitat and a vantage point to see waterbirds. From here, the cormorant, gull, and wader colony of Mill Rock Island is visible in the distance to the north.

During the colder months, Purple Sandpipers can sometimes be found on the rocky shoreline of Roosevelt Island. Photo: Karen Fung "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> During the colder months, Purple Sandpipers can sometimes be found on the rocky shoreline of Roosevelt Island. Photo: Karen Fung


Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms and Southpoint Parks

Roosevelt island hosts several green spaces that provide both stop-over habitat for migrating birds and views of waterbirds in the East River. The primary birding spot lies at its southern tip, where several adjacent green spaces, all opened to the public since 2011, provide a small but contiguous oasis. Southpoint Park, the most naturally maintained space, is bordered to the north by the greensward of the Cornell Tech campus, and to the south by FDR Four Freedoms Park. This park, preserved and developed by the Trust for Public Land, is made of meadows with groves of trees and native plantings accessible by a network of paths. 
 
The Smallpox Memorial Hospital ruins from the park’s southern end, adjacent to FDR Four Freedoms Park, which includes a more formal lawn and several rows of trees. eBirders have recorded an impressive array of species in these parks during migration, including a good variety of woodpeckers, flycatchers, 23 warbler species, and fall sparrows including Vesper and Grasshopper, as well as Dickcissel. Check the water’s edge for Spotted Sandpiper.
 
During the warmer months, the common gulls as well as Double-crested Cormorant are likely to be seen. In the distance, southwest of Roosevelt island’s southern tip, you will see a very small island with some low trees and other structures on it; this is U Thant (a.k.a. Belmont) Island. About 40 Double-crested Cormorant pairs nest here every year, along with a few pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls. (You will need a scope to see them clearly on their nests.) The winter may bring sightings of waterfowl such as Red-breasted Merganser and Brant, and even Purple Sandpiper on the rocky shoreline. Flocks of wintering White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos find shelter in upland areas.

A close-up of Double-crested Cormorants nesting on U Thant Island, which lies between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan. Photo: Don Riepe "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A close-up of Double-crested Cormorants nesting on U Thant Island, which lies between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan. Photo: Don Riepe


When to Go

See "Birding Highlights by the Season" above; the eBird links below also may be helpful. To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page. 

For park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for FDR Four Freedoms and Southpoint Park to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, a map of other nearby hotspots, and more. 
 

Personal Safety

FDR Four Freedoms and Southpoint Parks are generally well frequented and safe places to bird.
 

Directions and Visiting Info

Roosevelt Island is accessible by public transportation, car, bicycle, and foot. Public transport options include the Roosevelt Island Tram, the F subway line, and the Q102 bus, along with a local bus line. The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation page includes excellent directions and other information.
 
 
Visit the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation’s pages on Southpoint Park and Lighthouse Park.
 
 

Other Resources

Red-breasted Mergansers are frequently seen along Manhattan’s southeastern shore in the wintertime. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/120553232@N02/" target="_blank">Isaac Grant</a>
Red-breasted Mergansers are frequently seen along Manhattan’s southeastern shore in the wintertime. Photo: Isaac Grant
South East River: Carl Schurz, Peter Detmold, and East River Parks

Birding Highlights by the Season

(no star = birding is not very productive, * = somewhat productive, ** = productive, *** = very productive)
 
Spring Migration** 
Warblers and other songbirds
 
Summer    
A few common nesting land birds, double-crested cormorants, gulls
 
Fall Migration** 
Woodpeckers, Warblers, sparrows
 
Winter*
Waterfowl, mixed songbird feeding flocks 
 
Year-Round Highlights
Resident and wintering raptors


Get Oriented

View a Google map of Carl Schurz, Peter Detmold, and East River Parks.

Check sparrow flocks for White-crowned Sparrow, fall through spring. Photo: François Portmann "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Check sparrow flocks for White-crowned Sparrow, fall through spring. Photo: François Portmann
 
Several riverside parks below 92nd Street provide oases of bird habitat and vantage points on the East River: Carl Schurz Park, Peter Detmold Park, and East River Park. All three of these green spaces attract a good variety of migratory birds in spring and fall, such as woodpeckers, flycatchers, kinglets, and warblers. In the summer our common gulls and Double-crested Cormorants abound, but check for occasional visits by waders and less common waterbird species. Wintering dabbling and diving ducks may be seen in the wintertime. 
 
These patches of habitat can also be good spots to see our most common urban raptors--Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, and American Kestrel year-round, and accipiters in the winter. (The accipiters bay be drawn by wintering flocks of White-throated Sparrows, Juncos, and other land birds that find shelter in these parks.)

Carl Schurz Park’s terraced terrain and rich plantings make it attractive to birds and an interesting visit for birders. Photo: James Andrews (Shutterstock license) "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Carl Schurz Park’s terraced terrain and rich plantings make it attractive to birds and an interesting visit for birders. Photo: James Andrews (Shutterstock license)

Carl Schurz Park

 
This picturesque 14.9-acre waterside park of wandering paths lies across from the northern tip of Governors Island. It is the home of Gracie Mansion, which sits at its northern end. The park’s large variety of trees and shrubs (the park has created a tree map) may contribute to the surprising variety of birds (130 species and counting) that have been recorded here on eBird, particularly during migration. 
 
Over the years sharp-eyed birders have spotted a number of species unusual for Manhattan including Black Scoter, Bonaparte’s Gull, Black Skimmer, Summer Tanager—as well as 25 warbler species. The cormorant, gull, and wader colony of Mill Rock Island is visible in the East River, northeast from the park. Read more about Mill Rock Island and NYC Bird Alliance’s Harbor Herons Nesting Survey.)
 
Ring-billed Gulls are a frequent winter visitor to Carl Schurz Park, but are sometimes joined by rarer species such as Bonaparte’s. Photo: Drew XXX/CC BY-NC 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Ring-billed Gulls are a frequent winter visitor to Carl Schurz Park, but are sometimes joined by rarer species such as Bonaparte’s. Photo: Drew XXX/CC BY-NC 2.0


When to Go

See "Birding Highlights by the Season" above; the eBird link below also may be helpful. To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page. 

For park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.
 

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Carl Schurz Park to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, a map of other nearby hotspots, and more.
 

Personal Safety

Carl Schurz Park is well frequented and generally a safe place to bird, though some area of this park's varied terrain may be out of public view.
 

Directions and Visiting Info

The park is accessible from several entrances along its length from 84th to 90th Streets. View a Google map of Carl Schurz Park
 
Subway: Carl Schurz Park is three cross-town blocks from the N/Q/R 86th Street Station. 
 
Visit the NYC Parks page for Carl Schurz Park for operating hours, directions, and additional background information. 
 
Visit the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy page.


The upper portion of Peter Detmold Park, west of the FDR Drive, may attract warblers and other songbirds during migration. Photo: JJ/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> The upper portion of Peter Detmold Park, west of the FDR Drive, may attract warblers and other songbirds during migration. Photo: JJ/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Peter Detmold Park

 
This unusual little riverside park is worth visiting just for its unusual arrangement and geography, though it also can attract some surprising birds. As the entire park lies at the bottom of a steep cliff, it is not visible from street level. It consists of two parts—one on each side of the FDR Drive. West of the drive is a pretty, triangular park of paving stones, benches and tables for chess and checkers—and planting beds of shrubs and flowers, shaded by full-grown trees. Cross over the FDR Drive via a pedestrian bridge at the level of 51st Street to reach the second half—a waterside promenade that allows for unobstructed views of the river (and also includes a popular dog run). 
 
This little-known park provides evidence of how attractive patches of urban habitat can be to migrating birds (and is a testament to the observation skills of persistent birders). While you should not expect anything close to this total on one visit to this small park, a surprising 157 species have been recorded here on eBird over the years. Sightings have included 23 warbler species and unusual Manhattan sightings such as Northern Gannet, Iceland Gull, Philadelphia Vireo, and American Pipit. 
 
Many migrants including the rare Philadelphia Vireo have been spotted in Peter Detmold Park. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Many migrants including the rare Philadelphia Vireo have been spotted in Peter Detmold Park. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum


When to Go

See "Birding Highlights by the Season" above; the eBird link below also may be helpful. To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page. 

For park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.
 

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Peter Detmold Park to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, a map of other nearby hotspots, and more.
 

Personal Safety

Peter Detmold Park is well frequented and generally a safe place to bird. 

Directions and Visiting Info

You can access Peter Detmold Park at both its northern and southern ends. To enter at the northern end, follow 51st Street east to where it ends on a small plaza. Take the stone staircase down one level to enter the pedestrian overpass to the riverside promenade, or two levels down to access the western portion of the park. Or enter at the east end of 49th Street, where a small gated entrance sits right next to the FDR Drive.
 
 
Subway: Peter Detmold Park is four cross-town blocks from the 4/6 51st Street station. 
 
Visit the NYC Parks page for Peter Detmold Park for operating hours, directions, and additional background information.

The East River Park waterside promenade. Photo: NYC Parks "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" data-trix-attributes='{"frozen":true}' class="attachment attachment--content"> The East River Park waterside promenade. Photo: NYC Parks


(John V. Lindsay) East River Park

 
East River Park, known officially as John V. Lindsay East River Park, stretches from East 13th Street south to Jackson Street, right at the bottom right-hand “corner” of Manhattan. East of the FDR Drive for its entire length, it is crossed two-thirds of the way down by the Williamsburg Bridge. Conceived in the 1930s by NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses as a park for Lower East Side residents and constructed alongside the new riverside drive, it replaced a district that had been transformed over the previous 100 years from shipping yards to tenements and factories. 
 
Since the park opened in 1939, it has seen a number of ups and downs, including encroachments by development and several renovations, the last one in 2010. Unfortunately this refurbishment was followed in quick succession by Hurricane Sandy, which deluged the park and caused massive destruction in the lower East Side. Given the likelihood of future flooding, a complete reconstruction is planned between 2020 and 2025—though the nature of this project has been the subject of much disagreement between the City and local residents.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are among the more than 20 warblers species documented in East River Park. Photo: David Speiser "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Yellow-rumped Warblers are among the more than 20 warblers species documented in East River Park. Photo: David Speiser


Whatever the ultimate nature of the next reconstruction of East River Park, it is likely that for some time, the park’s bird habitat will be substantially diminished, as well as inaccessible. But the project is planned in stages requiring only partial closures. As is the case with other East River parks, the existing green spaces will serve as stop-over habitat for land birds, while the park provides view of waterbirds on the river.
 
Since 1998, East River Park’s 57.5 acres have been managed by the Lower East Side Ecology Center, which is located at waterside two blocks below the Williamsburg Bridge. The Center has increased native plantings in the park, enriching it for birds. Currently, the East River Promenade provides an easy way to walk the entire length of the park, survey the river, and check spots of upland habitat and clusters of trees for land birds. Birders have recorded 22 warbler species in the park on eBird; unusual sightings have included White-winged Scoter, Summer Tanager, and recently, Bald Eagle.

White-winged Scoter is among the unexpected species that have been spotted from East River Park. Photo: Mark Schroeder/Audubon Photography Awards "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> White-winged Scoter is among the unexpected species that have been spotted from East River Park. Photo: Mark Schroeder/Audubon Photography Awards


When to Go

See "Birding Highlights by the Season" above; the eBird link below also may be helpful. To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page. 

For park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.
 

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for East River Park to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, a map of other nearby hotspots, and more.
 

Personal Safety

Some areas of this long narrow park may be seldom frequented; birding with a friend is recommended.
 

Directions and Visiting Info

Please check the NYC Parks page for East River Park for current park status, as well as operating hours, directions, and additional background information. Normally, East River Park is accessible by seven entrance points along its length, which can be seen as fine green lines in this Google map of the park
 
Subway: The L train 1st Avenue stop is about a 20-minute walk from the northern end of the park, while the F/M/J/Z Delancey Street and Essex station is 20 minutes from the southern end.