Stories

Urban Birding along the Tidal Schuylkill

  • Tree swallows spotted at Bartram's Garden in 2011

It’s spring time in Philadelphia, so you should start looking up into the sky as often as possible.  If you do, you may see a Black-throated Blue Warbler fly by on its way to New York or a Great Blue Heron on the lookout for a spot to nest over summer.  Why is it possible to see so many different bird species in this region?  Because Philadelphia is located along the Atlantic Flyway! This is a north-south path that birds follow during their spring and fall migrations.  There are four flyways in the Americas – learn more about them hereGreat Blue Heron spotted along Grays Ferry Crescent in April, 2013.

The Atlantic Flyway spans over 3,000 miles – so park systems such as Schuylkill Banks, Fairmount Park and John Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum create dependable habitats for migratory birds to stop off to rest and refuel (just like we do during our own road trips!).  For some migratory birds, Philadelphia is their destination; learn about five of those birds here.

Philadelphia’s migratory bird habitats are not only good for the birds; they are also great for us!  Birding novices and experts alike can simply step outside and catch a glimpse of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo or Acadian Flycatcher or Brown Thrasher or Northern Shoveler on its way to its summer nesting grounds.  Plus, studies have shown that watching wildlife contributes to our enjoyment of the outdoors and mental health.

Mute Swan spotted along Grays Ferry Crescent in August, 2014.

If you haven’t gone birding yet, it is easy to get started.  First, get a field guide and binoculars.  You can take these out at the Free Library of Philadelphia through their Birding Backpack Program. Each backpack includes a bird guide, park map, binoculars and other resources.  Once you have your gear, head to Schuylkill Banks!  Grays Ferry Crescent and Bartram’s Mile are great areas for birding (and have great views of the city skyline!).  Also consider connecting with a local birding group or taking a guided bird walk.  Having a guide can help you locate other birding hotspots within the city and help with identifying different birds. Check out BirdPhilly for birding trips within the city limits.