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209. Sterling Nature Center, Sterling, New York

A great spot to see Hooded Warbler, grosbeaks, buntings, and other birds on the shore of Lake Ontario.

A rich diversity of habitats draws me to Sterling Nature Center year after year. Two miles of lakeshore gently rise into sandy dunes and a maritime forest, and a mixed hardwood forest, complete with tangled hanging vines, berry bushes, and an occasional apple tree, provides lots of bird-friendly spaces. The property is reminiscent of the more famous Magee Marsh in Ohio and Point Pelee in Ontario.

Not far from the parking lot, you’ll find several small ponds and a large tree-ringed meadow that attracts grassland species. A small creek nearby feeds an open marsh that is home to a Great Blue Heron rookery; visitors can watch the herons from a small observation deck at the edge of the marsh. Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Great Horned Owl also nest in the area.

Roughly 10 miles of well-marked trails snake through the nature center. In spring, they attract more than two dozen warbler species, many of which are easy to spot at eye level. On one visit, I discovered three male Hooded Warblers, a specialty here, singing from bare branches just a few feet from each other. At the forest edges, it’s possible to find grosbeaks, buntings, bluebirds, cuckoos, vireos, thrushes, and much more.


209. Sterling Nature Center, Sterling, New York


Sterling Nature Center is a 1,400-acre preserve on Lake Ontario in upstate New York. From Fulton, take Hwy. 3 westbound for 10 miles to Hwy. 104A. Turn right, go 2.8 miles, make a slight left onto Irwin Rd., and then turn left onto McFarland Rd. Drive 1.3 miles, turn right onto Jensvold Rd., and continue 0.75 miles to the parking lot.

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At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
43°22’40.79″N 76°39’29.49″W


Lakeshore, maritime forest, ponds, hedges, large meadow, mixed hardwood forest, creek, and marsh.


Mostly flat trails with a few exposed roots. Not wheelchair-accessible. One or two descents and uphill climbs.


Year-round: Pileated, Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers. Spring: Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Cape May, Orange-crowned, Magnolia, Yellow, Nashville, Blackpoll, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Canada, Wilson’s, Cerulean, Black-throated Blue and Green, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, American Redstart, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-throated, Blue-headed, Red-eyed, and Warbling Vireos, Swamp and Lincoln’s Sparrows. Breeding: Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle, Hooded Warbler, Ovenbird, Willow Flycatcher, Veery, Wood Thrush.

When to go

Late April through May, from sunrise through late morning best.


Next to parking lot is large kiosk with trail map and, sometimes, descriptive brochures. Portable toilets near nature center building. Occasional owl prowls.


County preserve. No fees. Open daily from dawn to dusk.


A canoe launch into Sterling Creek off McFarland Rd. offers the chance to paddle through woodlands and open cattail marsh.

For more info

Sterling Nature Center
Sterling Nature Center on Facebook
New York State Ornithological Association
Friends of Sterling Nature Center, (315) 947-6143.

Sites nearby

Fair Haven Beach State Park
Three miles west of Sterling. Bluff Nature Trail skirts lakeshore and extensive marsh. Waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, gulls, and terns.

Chimney Bluffs State Park
20 miles west of Sterling on Sodus Bay. Unusual and picturesque sandstone stacks along shoreline. Trails excellent in spring.

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Jerry Uhlman

Jerry Uhlman is an inveterate birder and traveler who lives in Richmond, Virginia. His tales of travel to discover and explore birding sites throughout North America have appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including BirdWatching.

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