Riverside Park Bird Sanctuary

The Riverside Park Bird Sanctuary, a wooded area extending from 116th St. to 124th St. in Riverside Park, was founded in 1926 when the Women's League for the Protection of Riverside Park planted 65 trees as a patriotic memorial dedicated to unknown soldiers and American heroes. For its exact location, click here. Over the years, its value to birds declined as alien plant species such as Norway Maple and Mugwort migrated in, but in recent years a group of volunteers has been restoring it.

Under the leadership of local naturalist Jeff Nulle, inappropriate species have been removed and replaced by bird-friendly plants like Chokeberry, Shadblow, Viburnum and Dogwood. Funding has been received from the New York City Environmental Fund and from Citarella Fine Foods. A group of volunteers from KPMG Peat Marwick has worked with Riverside Park Deputy Administrator David Bruner and Riverside Park Fund Volunteer Director Carol Bennett Gerber to plant Sumac, Witch Hazel, and other ground-covering species that birds like. A restoration plan for the sanctuary has been drawn up by Dr. Paul Kerlinger of the NY Audubon Society. Planned future improvements include the addition of soil to counter erosion, an informational sign, the installation of a drip source of water for the birds, and re-marking of the main pedestrian path through the sanctuary.

During migrations up the East Coast, millions of birds fly over Manhattan every night. Come daybreak, they look down for a patch of green large enough to be a likely site for food and with enough cover to hide from predators. A remarkable number of them choose Riverside Park. The best time to see birds in the sanctuary would be a windless, sunny morning in mid-May after a night when headwinds from the north have encouraged birds to stay put. A public bird-count is held every year around Christmas time. The last one revealed 52 species, including 17 types of warblers. Highlights included an American Kestrel, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a Scarlet Tanager and a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Common birds include Northern Mockingbirds, American Robins, Northern Cardinals, Wood Thrushes, Brown Thrashers, American Crows, Northern Flickers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Peregrine Falcons nest in the nearby tower of Riverside Church.

Other animals seen in the sanctuary include racoons, cottontail rabbits, chipmunks, woodchucks, opposums, and a coyote (!) The coyote was adopted by several police officers, who fed it chicken parts and named it "Izzy." And when the fields east and north of the 119th St. tennis courts are at their optimal height, they are one of the best butterfly gardens in New York City, with Monarchs, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Cabbage Whites, Clouded Sulphurs, Question Marks, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails and others.

For more information about the sanctuary, call 870-3070. The photograph below was taken in March of 1999 and shows the cleared pedestrian trail.

P.S. This just in: birds seem not to be the only flying creatures that are nurtured locally: here's a story about a local beekeeper.

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