While it is common knowledge that large metal “birds” are easily seen around airports, many people are surprised to learn that feathered ones are often equally as abundant.
One of the busiest airports in the world, our very own John F. Kennedy International Airport, is home to a wide variety of species that can be easily spotted just outside the airport’s restricted grounds. For many reasons the surrounding scrub, marsh and waterfront remains undeveloped, providing ideal habitat for waterfowl and land birds alike.
Hook Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, just to the northeast of the airport across Rockaway Boulevard, is home to a great diversity of marsh birds despite the frequent plane traffic just overhead. On a recent visit I spied a Northern Harrier scanning the salt marsh for potential prey, while Black Ducks paddled in the many ditches that crisscross the sanctuary.
Another great site for birding near JFK is Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. This preserve has more open water than Hook Creek, and is home to large numbers of waterfowl and breeding wading birds that can easily be spotted from shore.
As large jets depart and arrive from all over the world, many birds similarly use this part of Queens as a place to refuel on their annual migration. Large numbers of migrating songbirds can be found in both the spring and fall darting through the scrub forests and copses that surround the airport.
Fall and winter brings impressive numbers of geese and a wide variety of ducks, not to mention the steady stream of raptors overhead. The open habitats are full of wintering sparrows and several hardy warbler species.
So, next time you have a flight out of JFK, get to the airport a few hours early and enjoy easy access to one of our region’s premiere birding sites.
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