Birding or bird watching is becoming more popular than ever, and it’s a fun and flexible hobby that can be enjoyed anywhere from your own backyard to a large variety of public spaces. Birds can be a simple and easy way to connect with nature in our increasingly busy and tech-filled lives. Seeing and hearing birds can indicate the passing of the seasons and be a source of great joy and anticipation as we journey around the sun each year. Located within the Niagara River Corridor, a globally significant bird area, the Blueway draws a huge diversity of birds for you to enjoy at a variety of publicly accessible natural spaces.
To get started, all you need is a pair of binoculars, a field guide and a place to go outside! When purchasing binoculars, search for reviews and articles to direct you to the right fit for birding. For field guides, the Peterson or Kaufman Guides are great. You can also download the Merlin Field Guide app for free on your smartphone.
Not sure you want to dive in quite yet? Maybe join a birding walk led by a local group. Search for Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Buffalo Audubon Society or the Buffalo Ornithological Society, which all lead birding walks from time to time in the Blueway. Binoculars are usually provided to try, but you might get hooked and want to get your own!
Gulls, ducks, geese, shorebirds, herons and many other birds that live on and around the water can be found throughout the Blueway. You’ll see the greatest variety of ducks and gulls in the winter, as they’re drawn to the open water where they can feed easily. Shorebirds and herons are most abundant in the summer when they stay and breed for the season.
A dazzling variety of warblers, vireos, thrushes, sparrows and swallows start arriving in the Blueway in the spring. These tiny living miracles travel every year from destinations as far away as the Amazon Rainforest. Some, such as the pine warbler, just make a brief stop to rest and feed before continuing their journey farther north, and migration peeks in mid-May most years. Others, like the yellow warbler and many of the swallows, nest in our region and can be spotted all summer long.
Birds of prey
Also known as raptors, birds of prey can be seen throughout the Blueway all year long. Like songbirds, some are migrants, summer residents or year-round. Redtail hawks can be seen soaring year-round, scanning for their mostly rodent diet. Osprey return in spring and can be spotted fishing or gathering twigs to help build up their nests. Cooper’s hawks have been seen nesting along the Buffalo River. And make sure you look up to watch for the occasional bald eagle.
Like Buffalonians, some birds are able to tough it out during our winters and can be found all year long. Male northern cardinals are a dash of bright red against the snow, energetic black capped chickadees can be heard buzzing about and making their “chica dee dee dee” call, and white-breasted nuthatches will make their distinctive laughing call while walking beak-first down trees looking for hidden bugs.
Red Jacket Park
Red Jacket features varying terrain, some wet areas, a small pond and the Buffalo River shoreline. Scan the sky above the river and grain elevators for birds of prey—look for common terns or common mergansers on the river. Work the wet areas around the ponds on the east side of the park to possibly spot a swamp sparrow. On the east end of the park, look across the rail line toward the Buffalo Color Peninsula and you should see a variety of swallows fluttering everywhere in the summer.
With several acres of developing shrub and grassland habitat, Seneca Bluffs is a great spot for spring migration. Follow the looping path along the shoreline to watch sandpipers along the mud flats and shallow waters. A Coopers hawk could make an appearance looking for a meal at any time. In the grasslands, look for eastern meadowlarks and a variety of sparrows visiting during the summer. Cliff swallows nest along the shoreline and a variety of waterfowl can be found in the river at any time of the year.
Wilkeson Pointe and the Outer Harbor
This is the place to be during the peak of winter duck and gull migration. You’ll find large flocks of common goldeneye, common red-breasted and hooded mergansers, and bufflehead, depending on the month and conditions. Also look for the elusive snowy owls that make appearances during the winter, but be sure to keep plenty of distance. They’re used to the barren tundra up north and can be easily stressed by humans.
Birding while you paddle
A great way to see a variety of birds in the Blueway is on a paddle. Keep your binoculars handy while you cruise and keep your eyes on bare branches along the shoreline, where you might see eastern kingbirds and Phoebes buzzing around eating bugs. Pie-billed grebes also can be seen disappearing and reappearing in the channel as they dive for their fishy meal. You won’t even need binoculars to see majestic great blue herons as they perch or stalk their dinner along the shore. And you’ll most likely hear the rattle of a kingfisher before you see it following you down the river!
Enjoy birding on the Buffalo Blueway and remember that we need to keep restoring more natural habitat and providing ecological diversity so the bird populations can thrive in our region!