The 1,146 acres of Van Cortlandt Park have been a favorite destination of mine for many years in all seasons. They offer a great change of pace from life in the big city with relatively easy access. I have seen at least 185 species of birds here over the last 20 years.
The park’s old-growth native woodlands are home to a great diversity of bird, plant, and insect life, making the birding more challenging than other well-known parks in New York City. I most often bird a short loop around the Tibbett’s Brook wetland area, Van Cortlandt Lake, Vault Hill, and the Parade Ground.
A hilly walk in the Northwest Forest is good for more woodland species, and if you really want to take in the park’s diversity, make the lengthy trek through the Croton Woods section to the Northeast Forest. It’s a great spot to see Scarlet Tanager, Veery, and other migrant songbirds. — Tom Fiore
Tom Fiore is a former bike mechanic who lives in New York City. He has studied birds, plants, butterflies, and most anything alive in 22 countries and 29 states. In 1998, Fiore and three birding companions were held hostage by guerillas in Colombia. He escaped and the others were released after weeks in captivity.
Mostly wooded. Several forest types and freshwater marshes. Superb native plant diversity, including seasonal wildflowers.
Hills and ridges. Trails 1 to over 5 miles in length. Ground may be rough; limited wheelchair access.
More than 220 species recorded, 70 or more have bred. Spring migrants in Northwest and Northeast Forests, especially in May. Wood Duck, April to November, Rusty Blackbird regular at marshes November to April. Great Crested Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee breed. Check Parade Ground for Horned Lark, American Pipit, various sparrows, and Snow Bunting. Past rarities include King Rail, Yellow-headed Blackbird. Pileated Woodpecker rare in early spring.
When to go
Mid-March to May best, June to July for nesting species, September to November also good. Early morning usually best.
Nature center open Wednesday through Sunday, 10-4, Memorial Day to Labor Day; restrooms available (if open). Small restaurant at Van Cortlandt Golf Course clubhouse; food and restrooms also along Broadway, including delis across from park at Mosholu Ave.
City park. No fees. Open year-round, daylight hours. Parking free near horse stables, at Van Cortlandt Golf Course lot, and on nearby streets. Spaces can fill quickly on weekends. For subway or bus access, visit tripplanner.mta.info.
Scope useful at Parade Grounds. Poison ivy in spots. To be safe, bird in groups.