The wood thrush can be seen probing through the leaf litter in the forested sections of the Bronx Zoo. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society
Each spring, hundreds of migrating birds fly by the city's soaring skyscrapers to share grounds with lions, tigers and bears at the Bronx Zoo.
"It's an opportune spot," said David Oehler, curator of ornithology at the zoo.
Sitting on 265 acres of hardwood forest transected by the city's only freshwater river, the Bronx Zoo is an ideal environment for wood thrushes, warblers, green herons and dozens of other local and migratory bird species.
To connect New Yorkers with this "birder's paradise," the Wildlife Conservation Society will host the first-ever Bronx Zoo Birdathon on Saturday during the peak of the migration season.
"You have millions of birds coming up the East Coast on the Atlantic Flyway and this is a great spot for them to come in if they need to take a break," Oehler said.
Birds from as far away as South American and the Caribbean will arrive in the Bronx and New York area just as forests begin to wake up after the winter, providing a means for sustenance and rest during the long spring migration.
Birdathon organizers David Oehler and Steve Zack watch for birds at the Bronx Zoo. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society
"The timing is centuries old," said Steve Zack, senior conservation scientist and coordinator of bird conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo.
Zack added that the migration makes for great birding.
"The East Coast is really singular on the planet for the dramatic migration of colorful birds," he said.
Zack and Oehler organized the Birdathon as a way to celebrate the variety of winged creatures at the zoo and highlight the organization's conservation efforts.
"We want to show what you can do to save or help birds that migrate through or are endemic to this area," Oehler said.
The green heron migrates to the Bronx Zoo and other New York parks from Central America. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society
Birders will have a chance to see hundreds of species at the zoo, both in and out of captivity.
"It's a novel event that no other institution can hold," Zack said. "The Bronx Zoo has such great natural habitat and such an amazing wild bird collection."
Birdathon attendees will get a checklist of species in and around the zoo. Staff, including Zack and Oehler, will be available to answer questions, talk about the organization's conservation programs and offer birding advice.
But don't worry: Both said bird-watching doesn't take much more than observational skills.
"You don't have to go to exotic places either," Zack said. "Right here and now, one of the great spectacles of nature is passing by millions of people in New York."
If you go
The Birdathon begins at 7 a.m. Saturday for experienced bird-watchers and 8:30 a.m. for families. Tickets are $15 for children and $30 for adults.