When discussing my birding plans for Sunday with some New Yorkers I was met with blank stares, queries about myGreat Blue Heron at Van Cortlandt Park sanity, and outright derision. Apparently, New Yorkers, at least non-birding New Yorkers, do not wake up very early on Sunday morning in Queens in order to take the F train all the way into Manhattan and then take the 1 train to its terminus in the Bronx next to Van Cortlandt Park. Why, I’ll never know, because I had an absolutely wonderful time birding up there and both train rides, the short walk between them, and a quick stop for provisions only took me an hour and twenty minutes which went fast due to the fact that I was reading until the 1 became an elevated train at which point I was looking for birds.

Now regular readers of this blog probably recall that I’ve birded Van Cortland Park a couple of times recently, once with Mike and once with both Mike and Charlie. And that same regular reader might ask why I would want to bird there again so soon considering that the bird life probably hadn’t changed all that much since two weeks ago. The answer, regular reader, is simple: I hadn’t seen Rusty Blackbirds and American Tree Sparrows without the use of a car and had to see them by train so I could count them for my Anti-Global Warming Big Year.

So I got off the train in the Bronx at 8 AM, stopped at a well-located Dunkin’ Donuts and headed into the park where I immediately heard the “rusty gate song” of the Rusty Blackbird, followed by Red-winged Blackbirds honk-a-rhee-ing and a Carolina Wren teakettle-teakettle-teakettle-ing. Unfortunately for me I could not find American Tree Sparrows in the marshy area they had been frequenting all winter, in fact, I would not find American Tree Sparrows at all. They must have headed north with the last blast of warm air we had before the cold winds came howling back from the north.

The expected waterfowl were on the pond, with three Common Mergansers joined their Hooded brethren. I spotted a Winter Wren, a cooperative Brown Creeper (though not as cooperative as the one in Forest Park), and a whole host of common birds. Then I got to the spot where, each time I go to Van Cortlandt Park, I wonder if someone has been feeding the birds because they all act as if they are expecting a handout. This time one Black-capped Chickadee in particular seemed very interested in my donut so I held my hand up to it with a couple donut crumbs in it and, lo and behold, it landed on my hand and took the crumbs!

Other birds noticed this generosity and suddenly I was surrounded. Not just by chickadees but by blackbirds, woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches and sparrows. Two Mute Swans and a host of Mallards swam over to investigate as well! I ignored the waterfowl and tossed a few more crumbs on the wooden walkway and wow!

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Northern Cardinal at Van Cortlandt Park

male Northern Cardinal

Common Grackle at Van Cortlandt Park

Common Grackle

Red-bellied Woodpecker at Van Cortlandt Park

Red-bellied Woodpecker

While I was a bit surprised at how willing the birds were to fly in so close for food I wasn’t surprised by the species makeup. After all, they are all birds I have seen at feeders before. I was amazed, however, when a couple of Rusty Blackbirds flew in for donut crumbs!


Rusty Blackbird in Van Cortlandt Park

Rusty Blackbird on its way into breeding plumage

Rusty Blackbird in Van Cortlandt Park

Rusty Blackbird already in breeding plumage

After getting such gorgeous looks at Rusty Blackbirds the rest of my birding at Van Cortlandt Park was kind of anticlimactic. I did track down my first Killdeer of the year in New York State when I saw eight on the athletic fields and I spent at least five minutes watching a Red-tailed Hawk and an American Crow in an aerial battle. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet Charlie, Mike and I saw a couple of weeks ago was still hanging around and American Robins were ubiquitous. After a couple of hours though, it was time for my next destination, Central Park!

Mourning Dove at Van Cortlandt Park

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.