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From the February 2014 Conservationist

Two elaborate stone staircases in Central Park in winter

Photo: Central Park Conservancy

Watchable Wildlife Site: Central Park

Central Park, Manhattan

Best big-city wildlife viewing-size: 843 acres
A premier watchable wildlife site

It might come as a surprise that one of the most wonderful and accessible natural areas in the state exists in the heart of New York City. Even when snow and ice cover its woodlands, meadows, lakes and ponds, there are still many kinds of birds that overwinter in the park. Central Park is an important stop on one of North America's major bird migration routes, and in spring and fall, more than 275 migratory bird species have been sighted passing through.

Impressive rock outcroppings of Manhattan schist, the bedrock that supports the city's many skyscrapers, are located throughout the park. One of the largest surviving stands of American elms grows along the mall between 68th and 72nd Streets. During the warmer months, visitors can enjoy a colorful display of native wildflowers in the meadow at 100th Street, just off East Drive.

The Central Park Conservancy has a website (see Site Features) where you can find a list of which flowers should be blooming each month.

Wildlife to Watch

Two balck ducks and a mallard sit on the ice
Two black ducks and a mallard (Photo:
Laurie Dirkx)
Two people walk on a bridge over a frozen pond in winter
Photo: Central Park Conservancy

Harlem Meer, a lake in the northeast corner, attracts overwintering mallards, black ducks, Canada geese and mute swans. Watching mallards in the winter can be quite entertaining, as courtship behavior begins and males' plumage is bright. Enthusiastic birders and park rangers assemble daily at Belvedere Castle to share their knowledge with visitors. Red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons are often spotted from the upper terraces of the castle. The wooded 38-acre Ramble in the center of the park offers the best birding. Turtle Pond is also an excellent birdwatching area. Cardinals, jays, tufted titmice, snowbirds, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers flit among barren trees and hedgerows. Large flocks of starlings fill leafless branches with a cacophony of clicks and whistles. Ubiquitous pigeons and house sparrows gather around park benches, competing with the park's ever-present gray squirrels for handouts. If the ground is snow-covered, look for tracks of mammals, like raccoons and rabbits, as you go for a pleasant walk, or glide through the park on cross-country skis.