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From the October 2012 Conservationist

A view of one of the larger waterfalls, surrounded by fall foliage

Letchworth State Park

Located in the Genesee River Gorge in Western New York - Size: 14,500 acres
A premier watchable wildlife site

Waterfall at the end of a gorge with steep,high rock walls
Photo: Joe LeFevre

This "Grand Canyon of the East" is one of the most scenic areas in the eastern U.S. The Genesee River roars through a deep gorge and over three major waterfalls between 550-foot cliffs surrounded by lush forests. With open water drawing thousands of waterfowl, forests sheltering high concentrations of migratory birds, and several great blue heron rookeries, it's no surprise that Letchworth is both a state Bird Conservation Area, and an Audubon Important Bird Area.

Letchworth is critically important for a number of individual bird species, particularly those designated "of special
concern" or "at risk." Birds associated with forest, river and shrub habitats find safety and sustenance in this natural fortress. The gorge is particularly important for raptors as they glide on cliff-face updrafts in search of food.

Upland forests of hardwoods and conifers make up a large portion of the park and are the preferred nesting areas for more than 60 species of migratory songbirds, many of them warblers. Shrub and grasslands are home to several species of ground-nesting birds. Waterfowl and wading birds are found in wooded swamps and river habitats.

Many species of mammals can also be found in the park's diverse habitats.


Wildlife to Watch

A beaver swimming in the water which reflects yellow fall foliage
Photo: Joe LeFevre

Bald eagles use the park year-round, as do many turkey vultures, which may not be revered national symbols but are equally impressive in size. Winter roosts of up to 20 vultures have been seen, and as many as 200 of these large raptors have been observed soaring in the gorge on a single summer day.

A doe and a fawn standing at the edge of the woods
Photo: Sue Shafer

Several great blue heron rookeries have been observed in the park's wetlands, and more than 100 nests have been counted. Open water below the Mt. Morris dam may attract in excess of 2,000 Canada geese in winter. Common mergansers and wood ducks are the most abundant of several species of ducks visible on the river.

Bird species listed as "at risk" or "of special concern" that can be seen here include sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper's hawk, northern goshawk, red-shouldered hawk, red-headed woodpecker, golden-winged warbler, cerulean warbler, vesper sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, American woodcock, willow flycatcher, wood thrush, blue-winged warbler, Canada warbler, yellow-breasted chat and rusty blackbird. Letchworth's grasslands are important as historical nesting sites for northern harriers, upland sandpipers and Henslow's sparrows.

Mammals that may be encountered include white-tailed deer, red fox, coyote, cottontail rabbits and woodchucks in woods, shrub and grasslands, and beaver in wetlands.

A visit to Letchworth is worthy in any season. See the Letchworth State Park web page for more information.

Photo: Ray Minnick