Finger Lakes Birding
A guide written by Laura Kammermeier of Birds, Words, & Websites.
Visitors can find plenty of top-notch bird watching opportunities in the Finger Lakes region. Any hike through its rugged, rural landscape is sure to reveal a diverse assemblage of Eastern birds, with enough surprise finds—wild turkeys, drumming grouse, secretive thrushes, flitting warblers—to make it seem as though you’ve stepped into the wildness of days gone by.
The Finger Lakes region is located in the Atlantic flyway—a key migratory route for North American birds. Indeed, the area contains so many migration stopovers, breeding territories and overwintering sites that more than 20 "Important Bird Areas," have been identified in this region alone. Birding and ornithology have a storied tradition in the Finger Lakes, with institutions such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and numerous bird clubs, nature centers, and land trusts peppered across the region.
Birding in the Finger Lakes!
Open every day from dawn until dusk, the Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary in Ithaca is a birder’s paradise. In addition to being home to the world-famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the 230-acre sanctuary offers over 4-miles of walking trails and a multitude of overlooks and boardwalks to view wildlife. Explore Sapsucker Woods in any season for rich sights from the meandering Fall Creek to the old pine forests, hike or snowshoe the scenic trails, or take in even more of the scenery with a guided bird tour from the experts at Cornell. Over 200 recorded species of birds, as well as deer, fox, red squirrels, and other wildlife make their homes within the forests, ponds, and ferny swamps of the sanctuary. Learn more about visiting Sapsucker Woods.
Wildlife abounds within the massive wetlands complex that spans Seneca, Cayuga and Wayne Counties. The complex is home to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, which provides sanctuary for enormous numbers of wintering waterfowl (e.g., snow geese, wood duck, gadwall, green-winged teal, American wigeon, northern shoveler, northern pintail and blue-winged teal). In late summer/early fall, mudflats and shallow water areas crawl with migrant shorebirds, such as: killdeer, spotted sandpiper, greater and lesser yellowlegs, dunlin, common snipe, American woodcock, short- and long-billed dowitcher and more. The refuge is also a great place to see marsh birds (herons, night-herons, rails, bitterns), bald eagles, osprey, and other raptors. Be sure to stop in at the Montezuma Audubon Center, located one mile north of Savannah, at 2295 Route 89.
At 11,045 acres, Connecticut Hill is the largest Wildlife Management Area in New York State. The rough, rugged terrain is populated with mature forests, open meadows, open fields and stands of evergreen. Excellent hilltop views reward a steep hike. Connecticut Hill is famous for a seminal study on Ruffed Grouse, and is managed to a state of succession that ensures Ruffed Grouse and other wildlife are plenty. White-tailed deer, Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, cottontail rabbit, beaver, mink, muskrat, grey squirrel, red and grey fox, eastern coyote, waterfowl and numerous songbirds also reside on the Hill. A free map-brochure is available from the New York Department of Environmental Conservations’s Region 7 office in Cortland at (607) 753-3095. The Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area is located between the Tompkins-Schuyler County lines.
Salmon Creek birding area is a one-mile stretch of Salmon Creek Road between French Hill Road and Brooks Hill Road in Ludlowville, New York. Salmon Creek flows into Cayuga Lake at Myers Point, which is also a good birding site. Salmon Creek’s claim to fame is its sizable population of breeding Cerulean Warblers, plus other uncommon breeders, such as Orchard Oriole, Acadian Flycatcher and Yellow-throated Vireo. Now protected by the Finger Lakes Land Trust, this site also supports birds such as Red-bellied Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Veery, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting and Baltimore Oriole. Salmon Creek is located in Tompkins County.
Though the shoreline of Conesus Lake is mostly developed, the swampy areas surrounding its southern inlet (south of Sliker Hill Road and north of Guiltner Road) attract a variety of interesting birds. In summer, birders enjoy a breeding colony (rookery) of Great Blue Herons and a nesting pair of Bald Eagles. Red-headed Woodpeckers, which are losing ground in the state, also breed here. The inlet is a good place to see migrating ducks, geese, and shorebirds. Conesus Lake Inlet is located in Livingston County.
The infrequently mowed agricultural fields along Nation's Road from Avon to Geneseo in Livingston County are home to several species of grassland birds, including Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Bobolinks, and sparrows such as savannah, grasshopper, field and vesper. The state-threatened Henslow's Sparrow is a rare and thrilling find in spring. In winter, Nations Road is an excellent area to find Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, Northern Harrier hawks and the state-endangered Short-eared Owl. Visit an hour before sunset to see these two raptors circling above the fields hunting for prey.
Letchworth is an obvious choice for bird watchers. With 14,000 forested acres lining the Genesee River and 225 bird species, birding in the park can be a lifetime pursuit. Turkey Vultures, Chimney Swifts, and other swallows are regularly seen in the gorge during the warm months. Dishmill Creek basin and the parade grounds, near the south end of the park, are great spots to find up to 25 species of nesting warblers and other songbirds. The Genesee River acts as a migratory funnel, so any location in the park has the potential to show good birds during spring and fall. Letchworth State Park is located in Livingston and Wyoming Counties.
Palm Warbler. Photo: Laura Kammermeier