Prospect Park and BBG

Prospect Park and Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The waterways of Prospect Park offer habitat for many bird species, including breeding Wood Duck and Green Heron. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Together, Prospect Park, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the adjacent Brooklyn Museum grounds create a nearly contiguous, easily accessible bird habitat of 64 acres in Central Brooklyn. The Prospect Park/BBG greenspace and nearby Green-Wood Cemetery can draw in spring and fall songbird migrants in absurdly high concentrations, as they seek to rest and refuel in the City after long nocturnal journeys along the Atlantic Flyway. Brooklyn birders know their territory well, and often spot rarities and vagrants: Rare bird sightings through the years have included Purple Gallinule, Red-necked Phalarope, Swallow-tailed Kite, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Varied Thrush, Western Tanager, Townsend’s Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler—and a particularly cooperative male Painted Bunting that made headlines across the City.
Prothonotary Warblers always attract attention when they show up in Prospect Park. (And this bird demonstrates why the species has also been known as the “golden swamp warbler.”) Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Prothonotary Warblers always attract attention when they show up in Prospect Park. (And this bird demonstrates why the species has also been known as the “golden swamp warbler.”) Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Birding in Prospect Park
Birding Highlights by the Season
(no star = birding is not very productive, = somewhat productive, ✸✸ = productive, ✸✸✸ = very productive)
 
Spring Migration ✸✸✸ 
Flycatchers, cuckoos, warblers, tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks, and other songbirds
 
Summer ✸✸    
Nesting species including possible Green Heron, Cooper’s Hawk, Acadian Flycatcher 
 
Fall Migration ✸✸✸ 
Raptors, kinglets, warblers, sparrows
 
Winter ✸✸
Wintering waterfowl including possible Common Merganser, accipiters, owls, mixed songbird feeding flocks
 
Year-Round Highlights
Great Horned Owls, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Red-tailed Hawk, woodpeckers
 
In 1865, several years after landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux completed Central Park in Manhattan, they were commissioned to design Prospect Park. They created a 526-acre public park, considered to be one of their finest works, with rolling meadows, rugged woodlands, and an artificial system of waterways. In 1980, the New York City Landmarks Commission granted Prospect Park scenic landmark status, and in 1998 National Audubon designated it an Important Bird Area in New York State.
 
The City of New York/Parks and Recreation manages Prospect Park in partnership with the Prospect Park Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy and preservation organization. The Alliance carried out a long-term reforestation project to revitalize and stabilize extensive woodlands which, combined with Prospect Lake, cover half the Park. Thousands of cubic yards of new topsoil were added, and thousands of native species of herbs, shrubs, and trees have been planted. The Alliance also partners with Audubon New York, the state office of National Audubon,  to operate the Prospect Park Audubon Center at the Boathouse, a land marked terra-cotta clad pavilion.
Prospect Park is one of the City’s principal migrant hotspots, attracting over 30 species of warbler each year, including the Cape May Warbler. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Prospect Park is one of the City’s principal migrant hotspots, attracting over 30 species of warbler each year, including the Cape May Warbler. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Prospect Park is a migration hotspot to rival any other in New York City. In spring the number of bird species on a peak day can top 100, including five species of vireo, Vesper, Lincoln’s, and White-crowned Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Bobolink, Orchard Oriole, and Baltimore Oriole, not to mention an incredible diversity of warblers (nearing 35 species yearly, with rare spring occasions on which 25 or more species have been seen in a single day). According to eBird records, 290 species have been recorded in Prospect Park.
 
Early in migration, look for Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hermit Thrushes, and Eastern Phoebes, and, later in migration, look for Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, the long-distance migrant Catharus thrushes (including Gray-cheeked, Swainson’s, and rarely Bicknell’s), and any of the eastern flycatchers, including Olive-sided and every eastern species of Empidonax. Songbird migration is equally good in the fall, followed by raptors, some of which stay the winter: In addition to year-round resident Red-tailed Hawks, other frequent sightings from late fall through spring include Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, and Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrel, and Merlin.
 
The Park also offers good birding during winter. Sightings are enhanced when feeders are up on Breeze Hill and when open water occurs in Prospect Lake, which can host a good variety of waterfowl including Common Merganser, and a healthy contingent of wintering Ring-billed Gulls sometimes joined by rarities such as Black-headed or Iceland Gull. Great Horned Owls can sometimes be found, and less common species such as Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls may roost some seasons. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count, conducted by the Brooklyn Bird Club, has occasionally recorded more than 60 species in Prospect Park, almost half of the number counted in the entire borough. (The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a long-time tradition in New York City. It has been held in Brooklyn since 1903, in the Bronx since 1902, and in Manhattan since 1900.)
An immature Cooper’s Hawk observes a group of Wood Ducks on the Prospect Park Lake; both species breed in the park. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> An immature Cooper’s Hawk observes a group of Wood Ducks on the Prospect Park Lake; both species breed in the park. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Nesting season offers rewards as well. In recent years, nesting species in Prospect Park have included Green Heron, Wood Duck, Great Horned Owl (though not every year), Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Great Crested Flycatcher, Acadian Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Carolina Wren, Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Yellow Warbler, and both Orchard and Baltimore Oriole. Periodically, The Brooklyn Bird Club collects nesting data during the month of June.
 
Some of the Park’s best birding locations are found in the woodland areas: Lookout Hill, The Midwood, The Vale of Cashmere, the Upper and Lower Pools (formerly called the Swanboat Pond), and the Ravine. Other prime sites include the Peninsula, the Lullwater, and the Nethermead and Long Meadows (though on the meadows, birders may compete with non-birders and their dogs). These habitats attract a wide diversity of birds.

People visit Prospect Park for recreation and cultural events as well as for birding. There are tennis courts, ball fields, bridle paths, a wildlife center/zoo(entrance fee), ice skating rink, the 9th Street bandshell, a carousel, and parade grounds. In addition to the Boathouse, notable buildings and architectural structures in Prospect Park include the Grecian Shelter, the Tennis House (currently under renovation), the Picnic House, Litchfield Villa (Prospect Park Alliance’s location and meeting place for the Brooklyn Bird Club), and Lefferts Homestead.
Acadian Flycatcher fledglings in Prospect Park. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Acadian Flycatcher fledglings in Prospect Park. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Start Your Birding Walk Here - The Vale of Cashmere, The Midwood, Long Meadow, and Lookout Hill
Your birding adventure starts at the Park’s main entrance (at its northernmost tip), which is at Grand Army Plaza, opposite the Memorial Arch. (There is a farmer’s market here every Saturday morning--even in winter.) Follow the footpath on the left toward the Park’s eastern side and go south past the Rose Garden to the Vale of Cashmere. Dense ornamental shrubbery in this area provides excellent bird habitat. 
 
Continue south across Nellie’s Lawn, checking for ground-feeding birds as you go, to the East Drive. Walk south and down the hill alongside East Drive through Battle Pass, where, in 1776, the Americans vainly tried to hold off the advancing British troops in the Battle of Long Island. At the bottom of the hill, you will arrive at the rear of the Wildlife Center/Zoo and near a large compost mulch area at the zoo's north end. Turn right (west) and cross East Drive and enter the Midwood. This is a particularly rich area for thrushes and warblers in the spring. 
 
First work the trail at the bottom of the ridge (part of the Harbor Hill terminal moraine that stretches along northern Long Island), and then work back toward the north. Climb the ridge, cross over Boulder Bridge, walk into the Ravine and turn right. Follow the footpath westward to Long Meadow. Turn left and walk past the Pools (also known as Upper and Lower Pools), checking it for Great Egret, Yellowed-crowned Night-Heron, and an occasional Wood Duck.
Green Heron frequently nest in Prospect Park. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Green Heron frequently nest in Prospect Park. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Continue southwest, checking the ball fields for ground-feeding birds, such as Killdeer (rare), Northern Flicker, and various sparrows, and scanning the sky for raptors. Go past the rear of the Friends (Quaker) Cemetery and walk southeast along the bridle path to Center Drive. In spring and fall these areas can be rich warbler habitats.
 
Cross Center Drive and ascend Lookout Hill, the highest point in the Park. Its prominence serves as a beacon for spring and fall migrants. On a good spring “wave day,” 25 species of warbler have been seen here. Covering Lookout Hill takes time. It is best to start from the top, then circle the hill along the lower paths several times, and return to the top. This can take a whole morning if there is a “fallout” of migrants. An alternative approach leads to the base of Lookout Hill from the Park entrance at 16th Street and Prospect Park Southwest, and this south slope of lookout hill, adjacent to the lake, is often exceptional.
Unexpected waterbirds, such as this Red-throated Loon, frequently show up on Prospect Park’s waterways. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Unexpected waterbirds, such as this Red-throated Loon, frequently show up on Prospect Park’s waterways. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum
The Peninsula and the Lullwater
Proceed down the south side of Lookout Hill, investigating its wooded slope, particularly the dense thickets above the Well House, for Carolina Wren and various warblers, including late fall Orange-crowned Warbler. Also check the forest immediately to the south of the Maryland Monument (commemorating the Maryland Four Hundred who faced the British Army and protected George Washington’s retreat). Then proceed down the hill and cross the road and meadow onto the Peninsula. Bird this area thoroughly and proceed to the “Thumb.” 
 
From the rustic, log-braced shelter check the water and Duck Island, directly across from the shelter, for roosting herons or raptors and interesting ducks, such as Wood Duck, and in winter or fall migration American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, and Bufflehead. The other islands—Three Sisters and West Island—are also excellent spots for roosting waterbirds or migrant songbirds. Work back along the north edge of the Peninsula, past the Phragmites thickets, to a footpath that leads under the Terrace Bridge. Black-crowned Night-Heron often roost in this area.
 
Proceed along the footpath under the bridge and along the Lullwater, a stretch of stream that widens and narrows. Green Heron have nested here in the past, and a variety of waterfowl, such as Wood Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, and American Coot, may be found, depending on the season. During migration, it is a great place to look for waterthrushes, Pine Warblers, and any number of passerine migrants.
A Varied Thrush, native to western North America, is among the rarities that have shown up in Prospect Park in recent years. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A Varied Thrush, native to western North America, is among the rarities that have shown up in Prospect Park in recent years. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum

In winter, there is a feeding station on the Breeze Hill slope of the Lullwater, which attracts Downy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers (and less frequently Hairy Woodpecker), Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Dark-eyed Junco, Fox Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, House Finch, Mourning Doves, White-breasted Nuthatch, and American Goldfinch. On years when various irruptive songbird species are around, you can also find Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, and Red-breasted Nuthatch, and one fall even saw a female Evening Grosbeak make an appearance! 
 
Proceed along the Lullwater trail to the Lullwater Bridge at the Boathouse. Cross the bridge, checking the surrounding trees as well as the water. Baltimore and Orchard Orioles have nested in the trees above the bridge; Barn Swallows in crevices beneath; and Green Herons in trees close by. From here, walk behind the Boathouse and bear right to return to East Drive. Walk past the Zoo and retrace your steps to Grand Army Plaza. Or, cross Flatbush Avenue and walk up Eastern Parkway past the public library to the main entrance of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. (To enter the Botanic Garden at Empire Boulevard and Flatbush Avenue, exit the Park just past Lefferts Homestead and the Carousel and cross Flatbush Avenue.)

An alternate route, particularly recommended in the fall, starts at the south end of Prospect Park at the LeFrak Center (formerly known as the Wollman skating rink). Facing Prospect Lake, bear left around the south side of the Lake, keeping it on your right. When you reach the northeast side, go to the Peninsula, and then work the watercourse northward along the Lullwater.
A migrating immature Broad-winged Hawk. Photo: Steve Nanz "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> A migrating immature Broad-winged Hawk. Photo: Steve Nanz

Instead of crossing the Lullwater Bridge, follow the edge of the Lullwater to Lily Pond (formerly known as Pagoda Pond), and on to Center Drive at the Nethermead Arches. Bear right along Center Drive to a footpath that takes you into the Midwood. Follow this trail north, through the Midwood, back to Park Drive East at the Zoo. Walk the drive south back to the parking lot at the skating rink.
 
In fall, check the Long Meadow from the west side of the ridge, particularly for migrating hawks. For large fallouts of flickers and robins, check the Long Meadow, the ballfields, and Nethermead (the smaller meadow on the other side of Quaker Hill) in the very early morning. Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, and Eastern Meadowlark have also been seen in these areas at daybreak, before the influx of dog walkers and their exuberant charges.
 
Because of the reforestation project, some areas along the glacial ridge are fenced off, limiting ability to cross the Park and the ridge. A walkway, known as “Rocky Pass,” allows access through the restoration area. It starts at the beginning of the ravine and ends at the Nethermead Arches. The fencing became permanent in 2000 to protect native plantings, but it does not obstruct birders from reaching the important sites.
One of Prospect Park’s most famous sightings, this male Painted Bunting appeared in the park in late 2015. Photo: ccho/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> One of Prospect Park’s most famous sightings, this male Painted Bunting appeared in the park in late 2015. Photo: ccho/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Special Notes

Dragonflies (15+ species) and butterflies (25+ species, especially prevalent at the buddleia bushes in Butterfly Meadow atop Lookout Hill) can be seen from July 1 to August 31. In addition to the birds and insects, mammals take to the air as well. At the Lake, Nethermead, The Pools, Lookout Hill, and Long Meadow, there are several species of bats, including little brown, big brown, red, hoary (rare), and silver-haired, that are present and can sometimes be seen at dusk from July 1 to September 30.
 

When to Go

To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page.

For Prospect Park operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Prospect Park to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more.

Personal Safety

 It is advisable to bird in Prospect Park with a companion, particularly in secluded wooded areas.
 

Guided Bird Walks

Visit our Local Trips page for information on other upcoming walks led by NYC Audubon.
a newsletter, The Clapper Rail. An active blog includes the latest news and bird reports.
 

Directions and Visiting Info

 Visit the NYC Parks Prospect Park website and the Prospect Park Alliance for operating hours, directions, and additional background information. Learn about the Prospect Park Audubon Center (run by National Audubon’s state office, Audubon New York).
 
 
Convenient entrances to Prospect Park include the Grand Army Plaza entrance (Grand Army Plaza 2/3 or 7 Avenue B/Q stations), Bartel-Pritchard Square (15 St – Prospect Park F/G station), south of the Zoo at Lincoln Road (Prospect Park B/Q/S Station), the southeast corner by the Lake at Parkside Avenue (Parkside Avenue Q station), and Machate Circle, southwest of the Lake (Fort Hamilton Parkway F/G station) 
 

Other Resources

The Brooklyn Bird Club, a private non-profit organization founded in 1909, publishes a checklist and Map for Birdwatchers for Prospect Park. It provides a number of other resources for birders as well, including The Prospect Park Alliance has published A Guide to Nature in Prospect Park and a map of the Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that can be purchased at the Litchfield Villa, 95 Prospect Park West (in the Park at 5th Street), Brooklyn, NY 11215, at Lefferts Homestead, or at Wollman Memorial Rink.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are sometimes seen in Brooklyn Botanic Garden during migration. Photo: Jenny K./CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are sometimes seen in Brooklyn Botanic Garden during migration. Photo: Jenny K./CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Birding in Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Located to the east of Prospect Park, across Flatbush Avenue, and to the south of the Brooklyn Museum lies the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Founded in 1910 as the research arm of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, it was built, like Prospect Park, on a portion of the Harbor Hill moraine that extends from Montauk Point in eastern Long Island to New York City. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden covers 52 acres featuring specialty gardens: the Japanese-Hill-and-Pond, Herb, Osborne, Shakespeare, Cranford Rose, and Fragrance (for the visually impaired) gardens, as well as the renowned Cherry Esplanade. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden conducts the New York Metropolitan Flora Project, an ongoing inventory of all the plants in the New York metropolitan area. As a semi-public institution, it has specific hours and suggests an entrance donation for adults, seniors, and students (free for children under 12). Picnics, radios, bicycles, and ball playing are not allowed.
 
Maps can be picked up at any entrance. The Steinhardt Conservatory serves food year round.
 
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a natural retreat for birds due to the concentration and diversity of its berry-producing trees and shrubs as well as several ponds. During spring and fall migration, many birds drop down in the Garden for shelter, food, and water.

The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is the strongest draw for waterbirds. A good number, including Pied-billed Grebe, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, and Northern Shoveler, are also found around Terminal Pond at the southeast end of the Plant Family Collection, and at the Lily Pool. Birding along the stream in the north section can also be productive. In summer, herons have been seen feeding on goldfish at the Lily Pool.
Black-crowned Night-Herons are sometimes seen fishing in the Japanese Hills and Pond Garden’s Lily Pool. Photo: Laura Meyers "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Black-crowned Night-Herons are sometimes seen fishing in the Japanese Hills and Pond Garden’s Lily Pool. Photo: Laura Meyers

Hummingbirds visit the Herb Garden during migration. Fruit bearing trees such as the crabapples northeast of Cherry Esplanade, the prickly ash along the path opposite the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, and the paper mulberry northwest of the Osborne Garden attract many resident birds and fall migrants, such as Red-eyed Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Cedar Waxwing. The year-round fruits even hosted a very unseasonable overwintering Baltimore Oriole during one winter. Resident species include Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Chimney Swift and Tree and Barn Swallows fly overhead during summer
 
Ground feeders, such as the Northern Flicker, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco, are found throughout the Garden during their migrations. The lawns and shrubby edges of the Systematic Collection, Osborne Garden, and Cherry Esplanade are prime locations for the sighting of these species. Despite its relatively small size, the garden has had a few impressive rarities seen over the years, including White-winged Crossbill, Yellow-breasted Chat, and the first New York City record of Bohemian Waxwing.
The Fox Sparrow may be heard singing in Brooklyn Botanic Garden in the early spring, when it passes through. Photo: Laura Meyers
The Fox Sparrow may be heard singing in Brooklyn Botanic Garden in the early spring, when it passes through. Photo: Laura Meyers

When to Go

To learn about bird migration times and get other timing tips, see the When to Bird in NYC guide on our Birding 101 page.

For Brooklyn Botanic Garden operating hours, see the “Directions and Visiting Info” section, below.

eBird

View eBird hotspot records for Brooklyn Botanic Garden to explore recent bird sightings, species bar charts, and more.
 

Personal Safety

 The Botanic Garden is an enclosed, limited-access park. In addition, guards regularly patrol the grounds. It is safe to bird alone.
 

Guided Bird Walks

Visit our Local Trips page for information on other upcoming walks led by NYC Audubon.
 

Directions and Visiting Info

View the Brooklyn Botanic Garden website for operating hours, a Garden map, comprehensive directions, and additional background information. 

Acknowledgments

Thanks to those who provided local birding expertise for this page: Douglas Gochfeld (2020); Peter Dorosh, Rob Jett, Peter Joost (2012); Robert Gochfeld, Paul Keim, John C. and Mary Yrizarry (2001)