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Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways

The Atlantic Flyway - Idlewild Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The bald eagle, a national symbol of strength and freedom, was formerly listed as an endangered species. Although this majestic bird no longer nests here, it can still be seen soaring through the skies of New York City, thanks to the city’s position along the Atlantic flyway. Every year, many birds migrate to avoid overpopulation in their breeding grounds and to find more abundant food supplies. Along the way, the city’s parks provide an ideal area for the migrating birds to rest and refuel.

Stretching along North America’s eastern coast from Florida to Nova Scotia, the Atlantic flyway is one of the four main American flyways, along with the Mississippi (which follows the Mississippi River), Central, and Pacific (ranging from California to Alaska). Millions of songbirds, seabirds, birds of prey, and waterfowl follow the Atlantic flyway every fall and spring. The Atlantic flyway is not limited to birds alone; the route is also used by butterflies, as well as some species of bats and dragonflies.

Migrating birds use a variety of methods to navigate the flyway. Topographical cues, such as coastlines, river courses, and mountain ranges, help to guide the journey. Astronomical and physical signposts, such as the stars, the sun, and the earth’s magnetic field, also aid in the steering of migrating flocks towards their destinations. Since many songbirds prefer to migrate by the stars, large flocks routinely show up on nighttime radar scans at JFK airport. During the day, they descend upon the green areas of the city, providing spectacular opportunities for birdwatching.

Over 270 species of migrating birds have been spotted in Central Park alone; on a single day in the spring it is possible to see over 100 species. In the fall, the Hawkwatch in Central Park has tallied over 8,000 migrating hawks, and on a single day, 48 bald eagles appeared at Belvedere Castle. On a single day in the Bronx, 1,000 broad-winged hawks were once spotted crossing the Hudson River into New Jersey. At the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, large flocks of tree swallows, sometime over 10,000 per flock, stop on their way to the Carolinas in the fall.

Warblers, flycatchers, swallows, orioles, sparrows and thrushes, as well as ruddy ducks, black ducks, snow geese, tundra swans, Canada geese, and Atlantic brants are all common visitors. Birds of prey, such as peregrines, golden eagles, northern harriers, osprey, sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, and northern goshawks are also frequently seen.

Migrating birds often go unnoticed. Hawks fly out of sight, high above the streets and skyscrapers, while songbirds migrate at night and roost in trees during the day. But to the careful observer, New York City is one of the best places to observe migrating birds along the Atlantic flyway, boasting a high diversity and abundance of species to enjoy.

Directions to Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways

Know Before You Go

There are currently 2 service interruptions affecting access within this park.

PlaygroundsSeba Playground

Seba Playground will be closed to reconstruct the current Seba Tot Lot into a playground for children of all ages. The new design will enlarge the toddler area by adding a custom spray shower, seating, and two new tot play units. Additional play spaces will also be added for 5 to 12 year olds, and will include a large accessible play unit, a second spray shower and seating area. These two play areas will be joined by 15 additional swings for both age groups. The site will also feature an accessible drinking fountain, attractive plantings, and a bicycle rack.

BeachesRockaway Beach and Boardwalk

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has resumed pumping sand onto Rockaway Beach in efforts to repair and restore the beach. Access to the beach area from Beach 61st Street to Beach 19th Street may be limited while the pumping operation continues. The Corps expects sand placement work to be completed by the end of October, weather permitting. Swimming is not permitted at Rockaway Beach, or any NYC beach, after Labor Day. Please visit the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ website for more information.

Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways Weather

  • Mon
    Partly Sunny
  • Tue
    Chance Showers
  • Wed
    Rain Likely
  • Thu
    Rain Likely

7-day forecast

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