The 8 best wildlife activities in and around NYC
You may have thought NYC’s wildlife predominantly consisted of subway rats and the giant cockroaches that find their way into your apartment each summer, but it appears there’s more to this city’s animals than pests. Indeed, New York is actually full of unique birds, mammals, and insects that help contribute each day to our shared ecosystem. It’s also full of walking tours, boat tours, driving tours, and other activities that’ll give you an opportunity to get a good look at the wildlife around us, both in the city and just outside of it. Here are some of our favorites.
A redwing Blackbird, via Flickr/cc
1. Birding Bob
Budding ornithologists with limited travel capabilities flock to Birding Bob’s nature walks, which primarily take place in surprisingly wildlife-heavy Central Park. Birding Bob is actually Robert DeCandido, PhD, a biologist who has been studying NYC’s flora and wildlife for nearly 40 years. DeCandido’s walks mostly focus on the park’s birds and their migration patterns, with highlighted species including the Redwing Blackbird, the Black Throated Blue Warbler, and the Saw Whet Owl. The walks run only $10 per person, and you can rent binoculars for an additional $10 (or bring your own if you’ve got them.) If you can’t make it to Central Park, DeCandido also hosts guided walks in Pelham Bay Park, Jamaica Bay, and the New York Botanical Gardens.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, via NYC GO
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a protected 9,155-acre expanse that’s part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, located right by John F. Kennedy International Airport. The refuge is home to over 330 species of birds, in addition to a wide variety of plants and other indigenous wildlife. The refuge boasts two trails you can explore on your own, replete with heron-filled marshes, gorgeous wetlands, terrapin turtles, and resplendent views of the Manhattan skyline. There’s a nature center with exhibitions for visitors and rangers with the National Park Service who can give you tips and maps. The center also holds weekly bird walks and other guided walks for folks who’d like to learn about Gateway’s conservation efforts and local migration patterns.
Via NYC Audobon
New York City Audubon is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the city’s bird population. In addition to providing government officials with important information regarding local birds and their habitats, they offer educational programs for New Yorkers interested in learning how they can do their part to make sure the city’s birds stay safe and continue to thrive. Volunteers offer free birding walks in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Wave Hill in the Bronx, Van Cortlandt Park, the Battery, Central Park’s North Woods and the Queens Botanical Garden, to name a few; you can also sign up for overnight birding and whale-watching trips in places like the Adirondacks, Massachusetts’s Cape Ann, New Jersey’s Cape May, and horse-filled Assateague Island, for a fee.
High Line gardens via Flickr/cc
Though tourists appear to make up the majority of the High Line’s wildlife population, the elevated park actually contains quite a few bird and insect species, thanks to its lush plant life and Melt Bakery detritus. For folks interested in learning more about the birds and animals lurking above 10th Avenue, in the summer, he Friends of the High Line offers free wildlife walking tours with a local horticulturist Maryanne Stubbs on the first Saturday of the month. There’s only one left this season—on September 8th—but you can RSVP online, and spend the morning learning about the birds, bees, and High Line possums, before departing for brunch at Bubby’s.
A humpback seen on a Gotham Whale tour, via Flickr/cc
5. Gotham Whale
In New York City, “wildlife” as we know it typically consists of squirrels, mice, raccoons, possums, pigeons, rats, and the occasional stray coyote. But extensive cleanup along the New York Harbor has prompted a big return of humpback whales and dolphins, which once frequented our shores but departed when we started throwing all our trash in the water. The whale and dolphin resurgence is good news for Gotham Whale, a conservation group dedicated to protecting whales and educating New Yorkers about their whale neighbors. Gotham Whale holds whale-and-dolphin watching cruises onboard the group’s ship, the American Princess, where you can spot humpback whales having a jolly ol’ time in our waters. Tour season lasts from May to November, with trips leaving from Riis Landing in Rockaway and running $48-per-person.
At the Wolf Conservation Center, via Flickr/cc
If you’re willing to travel beyond the boundaries of the boroughs to espy some animals, consider the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY. Located about an hour’s drive from the city, the center is home to four “ambassador wolves”—Atka, Alawa, Zephyr, and Nikai—that you can meet and hang out with, in addition to over a dozen Mexican Gray and Red wolves the center treats before releasing back into the wild. The center’s staff will teach visitors about the U.S.’s wolf populations, wolves’ place in the ecosystem, and local conservation efforts, all while giving them an opportunity to get up close and personal with a few fanged doggies.
Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Drive via Flickr/cc
New Jersey is home to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, a 47,000 acre stretch of protected habitats located along the southern Jersey coastline. And though you might not think of Atlantic City as a good starting point for wildlife conservation, Atlantic City tourism company A1 Tours offers nature and eco-tours of the refuge, with a handful of Saturday dates left in August and September. The tours leave from the New Jersey Korean War Memorial in Atlantic City at noon, taking you on a drive through the refuge so you can spot water birds like egrets and piping plovers, along with turtles, butterflies, fiddler crabs, and other coastal creatures. Tours run $47 per person.
Inwood Hill Park, via Wiki Commons
Back in the city, urban naturalist Keith Michael leads wildlife tours through green spaces in all five boroughs, including Jamaica Bay in Queens, Great Kills Park and Mount Loretto State Forest in Staten Island, Fort Tryon Park and Inwood Hill in Upper Manhattan, and all over Central Park. Michael also offers quick trips to see wildlife in nearby spots like Bayonne, New Jersey, Jersey City, and Yonkers, should the local birds and possums not do it for you. The tours run $10-$50 per person, with wildlife and flora on tap including horseshoe crabs, butterflies, local birds, lethal mushrooms, and all sorts of other urban natural wonders, plus Michael will dig into each area’s cultural history in addition to its natural one, making each walk a real educational deep dive.