Bird Watching in Central Park: A Great Escape

If the media and social media is anything to go by, the world is in chaos. That’s why I encourage you to disconnect for a while. If you just listen to the “news” all day, you’ll never find mental peace. Think of the last time you had complete and total peace of mind. You didn’t have a worry in the world. You stopped judging and enjoyed the present moment. If you don’t stop “keeping up with the news,” you’ll never get that feeling again. Often, that feeling of total peace and ease is as a result of the simple things, and bird watching in central park is one such thing.

I use Central Park for many purposes. I can get more work done there (the atmosphere helps to clear your head), I can use it as a funnel to meet a lot of women, I can even take pictures to sell. Though I’m a native of the city and thus the “concrete jungle” doesn’t really affect me the way it might others, Central Park is a treasure.

Bird watching involves taking a lot of pictures. You may ordinarily think that bird watching is a kind of passive activity. Not so. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt. It requires you to improve your powers of observation to see if you can find anything interesting. It also forces you to focus on how to get the best kinds of pictures, find the best angles to shoot from, etc. These powers of observation can be transferred over to other areas in life, most specifically decoding body language.

You may think that going to Central Park and doing some bird watching is just a way to relax, but even so, finding those birds can sharpen other crucial skills you’ll need.

Even a hobby as simple as bird watching can transfer over to other, more important areas, if you use it right.

You’d be amazed at just how many different kinds of birds live in this 843 acre outpost in the middle of Manhattan. Aside from the omnipresent pigeons and sparrows (the most common birds which you find all over the city), Central Park is also home to the following kinds of birds:

Great Egrets

Statistically, this is the rarest bird (at least in my own travels). I’ve only ever seen one of these in my impromptu bird watching expeditions. I first suspected this may have been a Mute Swan, but it isn’t. The length of the legs, the beak, and the lack of black markings on its face said it was a different kind of bird. I learned later that it’s a Great Egret.

Mute Swan Great Lawn Central Park

This one was spotted on the lake on the southern end of the Great Lawn (around 79th street) on April 2nd, 2015, so in the transition period between Winter and Spring. I haven’t seen one since. Keep your eyes open. If you spot this bird, you’ve found a rarity. Take as many pictures as you can.

American Robins

These are fairly common in Central Park, particularly during the warm months. They’re also easier to spot than other birds because of their distinctly bright crest.

American Robin Central Park bird watching

This one, taken in mid-April last year, was a loner, but in Central Park there are often flocks of them. You’ll usually find them congregating in grassy areas. The areas around Wollman Rink (on the southern end of the park) are sure to be full of them.

Blue Jays

You’ll be watching these birds somewhat rarely, but not as rarely as others. I’ve found that Sheep Meadow and the area around it seems to be their central spot in the park. They are hard to photograph, as they’re very easy to scare and are always moving. Consequently, some of your images might turn up blurry.

Blue Jay sheep meadow
Also note: the Common Grackle in the lower portion of the photo.

Blue Jays central park bird watching

Tufted Titmouse

At first I thought I spotted a group of baby Blue Jays this January. They looked similar but smaller, and were just as nervous, making it hard to get a good picture. Actually, what I saw was a group of Tufted Titmouse birds by a Sheep Meadow that’s closed for the winter.

Tufted Titmouse Central Park
Only one seemed friendly for the camera.

They are very small, and their dull colors can make them very, very hard to spot. You may only spot them in winter. Keep your eyes open. Finding a Tufted Titmouse on a bird watching outing is a great way to test and enhance your powers of observation. If you do manage to find them, keep your distance because, as I said, they scare very easily and you’ll wind up losing your shot.

Canada Geese

These are fairly ubiquitous, and their large size certainly makes them easy to spot. With the Canada Goose, it’s not so much a matter of watching as having it stare you in the face (literally). You can find these birds in the park all year. Many are permanent residents, much to the displeasure of the people who maintain Central Park. They’re so ubiquitous that sometimes you’ll find massive squadrons of them prowling the lakes. The geese are also remarkably tolerant. You can get right in their face and they won’t care.

Canada goose Central Park

Canada Geese Central Park
If you’re observant, you’ll see this particular goose a lot. His neck scar gives him away. He’s become a friend of sorts.

But the real treat is that sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll come across a pair of Canada Geese with goslings in tow.

Canada goslings Central Park bird watching

This shot was taken in May and it’s possible you’ll only see goslings in the spring. They roamed around the central lake in the park for the spring and early summer months. Now they’re grown. Even with young, the Canada Geese are very docile around people…just don’t bring a dog near them when they have goslings. Then they start to hiss and signal unmistakably that they’re prepared to attack. It can be the smallest, wimpiest dog and they still won’t care. Your pooch has been warned.

Gray Catbirds

When going over all my bird watching pictures, at first I thought this was another Tufted Titmouse, but it’s actually a Gray Catbird.

Gray Catbird Central Park bird watching

These guys are very small. You’ll have to keep a sharp eye out if you want to find one, especially since they can easily hide anywhere that’s dark or even on the roads and walkways because of their color. They may only be present in the warm months (this shot was taken in May 2016 by the Conservancy Water on 74th street).

They’re nimble, but they don’t scare as easily as Blue Jays or Tufted Titmouses, so you’ll be better positioned to take your pictures of them.

Ducks

Although common, the ducks in Central Park are one of my favorites. I believe that they’re Mallard strains. You’ll usually be watching them roam all over the park in pairs – males with green heads, females with a general brown color and blue stripes on their wings.

The ducks are pretty tolerant in general. They’ll let you get in real close to take pictures.

Female duck Central Park bird watching

You’ll find big flocks of them all year round, but in the winter they seem to come out in legion, arraying themselves in great squadrons with more ducks than you can count.

Ducks Central Park New York City NYC
Taken at the southern end of the park. How many ducks are in this picture?

Common Grackle

Do you remember watching this one in that picture with the Blue Jay? That was your first sighting, but there are a lot of these in Central Park. You can find them all over and because of their size, they are much easier to see than gray catbirds. Sometimes they form massive flocks. I’ve often found them in the same locations as American Robins in general. Wollman Rink is a good spot to see them, but they can be found everywhere in the park.

Common Grackle bird watching Central Park

These birds are also pretty tolerant, so you can get good pictures of them.

Northern Cardinal

Though rare, the Northern Cardinal is fairly easy to spot when you do come across it, because of its brilliant coloring.

Northern Cardinal Central Park bird watching

When you see a Northern Cardinal, chances are you’re spotting a male, because only the males have the bright coloring. Females are duller.

Would you believe my luck though, that on a September day last year, I spotted a male and female pair together?

Northern Cardinal pair male and female Central Park

If you’re lucky enough to spot a Northern Cardinal (Bethesda Fountain/Terrace or the Great Lawn are good places to try), be careful. They aren’t as jumpy and nervous as Blue Jays or Tufted Titmouse birds, but they will be on edge if you get too close for comfort.

With regards to small, jumpy birds, you may wish to try getting a wide-angled lens or one with extra zoom. That way, you’ll be able to keep a healthier distance while not compromising your shots.

Red-Tailed Hawks

I saved the best for last. If you only do bird watching on a casual basis when you happen to be in the park, you’ll only come across these soaring raptors every once in a blue moon, so when you do, be prepared to get a lot of pictures! Fortunately, since these birds basically rule all the others in Central Park and tend to stay high up in the trees, you won’t have to worry about jolting them when you get close.

They seem to be out more in the winter, or at least they’re easier to spot. Most of my sightings have been in winter.

Just a couple of days ago, I came across not just one, but a pair that flew together! Unfortunately I only managed to capture one on camera up close.

Red Tailed Hawk Central Park

This guy was actually flying real low on the street just yesterday (a day of record warmth for a February 7th). He came very close to my own head!

I followed him into the park, where he met up with his companion and started to fly from tree to tree. They lost me a bit of a ways in (toward Sheep Meadow). Lo and behold however, about an hour later, I saw three big birds that looked very likely to be Red-Tailed Hawks, two of which soared high into the sky, almost like they were planes.

Red-tailed hawks flying New York City NYC
Can you spot them?

Central Park seems to be home to a robust population of Red-Tailed Hawks. The different birds are fairly easy to distinguish because of their different coloring and spot patterns. In 2016, I thought I would go a year without seeing a Red-Tailed Hawk. Then on December 27th, I saw one by the Great Lawn, about a year after I saw one at the end of 2015, but this was a different bird.

Red-Tailed Hawk bird watching Central Park

Pale Male bird watching Central Park

Pale Male Central Park

Do you note the distinctive coloring of this Red-Tailed Hawk? This may very well be the most renowned bird in Central Park, the world-famous Pale Male.

When you see the Red-Tailed Hawks in your bird watching, you really appreciate the power and majesty of these creatures, and at the same time you feel totally at peace, almost with them in a way, masters of all you survey.

Again, these sightings are where a specialized lens for enhanced zooming can be very handy.

There are more birds than this in Central Park of course. Bird watching can find you owls and more exotic species still. These are just the ones I’ve found in my relatively casual strolls.

It’s important in life to disconnect and stay in the moment. Bird watching in Central Park has improved my observational skills and my focus. It’s an exercise in getting out of your head and focusing with laser precision on acting, on getting that perfect shot. All the bullshit of the world fades out of your mind and you and those birds may as well just be the only things in the world.

And then when you’re done, you’re rejuvenated and focused on working hard. Give it a try.

If you liked any of these pictures, I’ll be happy to sell you some or take custom ones for you.

And now that your bird watching has focused you, it’s time to take that focus and apply it to learning new skills. See what the combination of focus and persuasion can do for you! You’ll be soaring like a hawk when you grab hold of the skills in Stumped.