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Niagara USA Photo Gallery

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Getting Around

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Birding

Niagara Falls Bird Watching

Between its geographic location, numerous waterways and thriving ecosystem in which to perch and nest, it's no surprise the Niagara River Corridor is recognized internationally as an "Important Bird Area" (IBA.) You'll find many birds near Niagara Falls, including bald eagles, numerous species of ducks, geese and swan, and the most diverse selection of gulls on the continent-19 species. With so many great vantage points from which to view our abundance of birds, birders travel to our Falls, Canal, River and Lake Regions year-round for an ever-changing show!

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States and populations of nesting pairs have been increasing in New York. Bald eagles were reduced to only a single pair in NY in 1972. Restoration efforts by US Fish and Wildlife Service, and NYS DEC were successful, and in 2014, 254 pairs of nesting bald eagles were counted in NYS, with 32 pairs of nesting bald eagles located in Western NY. They are one of the largest birds of prey (raptors) found in North America. Eagles can be sighted throughout Niagara County in places like the Niagara River corridor and Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. During the winter, as many as 5-10 eagles can be seen along the Lower Niagara River, and a nesting pair, along with 10-13 wintering eagles, can be observed in the Upper Niagara River. They hunt waterfowl and readily take fish, which they catch themselves or rob from the osprey that also nest along the Niagara River.

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcons were extirpated east of the Mississippi by 1962, however enthusiastic restoration efforts proved successful. By 1986, falcon chicks, which had been released to the wild in the Adirondacks, were found nesting there, as well as on bridges and buildings along the Hudson River in New York City. By 1996, Buffalo had its first nesting pair on City Hall, and now 10 pairs can be seen in Western NY. These falcons can be spotted year round, along the waterfront, hunting the abundant waterfowl, gulls and pigeons found there. Peregrines are the fastest animal on the planet, achieving diving speeds of over 230 mph, and they feed exclusively on bird prey, which they take in flight. Two nesting pairs of falcons can be seen in the Niagara Gorge-one at Niagara Falls and one at the NYPA power plant in Lewiston.

Black-Crown Night Heron
Black-Crowned Night Heron

The black-crowned night heron is the most widespread heron in the world, existing on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. A wetland-dwelling wading bird like the great egret and the great blue heron, this species also shares similar migration habits, habitat and food preferences. A short, stocky, wading bird, this species forages in the evening along the shoreline of the Niagara River. Black-crowned night herons eat small fish and frogs found in the shallows of an aquatic environment, and often hunt on the nesting colonies of other colonial water birds, eating the eggs and young of gulls and terns. A boldly patterned black and gray bird, black-crowned night herons are a species of greatest conservation need in New York, and often are found stealthily perched in trees and shrubs overhanging the shoreline. 

Great Egret
Great Egret

The great egret can be found in freshwater, estuarine and marine wetlands across North America. Western New York boasts the distinction of playing host to a large great egret colony on Motor Island Wildlife Management Area in the upper Niagara River, where these majestic white birds can be seen nesting in trees alongside great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, and double-crested cormorants. Great egrets were nearly eliminated from New York at in the early 1900s when they were hunted extensively for their beautiful white plumes which were used to decorate women's hats. This 4-foot tall, all-white wading bird is a spectacular site, whether observed on a pond or wetland or along the shoreline of the Niagara River.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Like the great egret, the great blue heron is also a migratory species and a colonial breeder with very similar habitat and food preferences. A large wading bird, the great blue heron stands nearly five feet tall with a wingspan of five to six feet. They nest on Motor Island in the Upper Niagara River. This is the most common heron in Western New York, occurring inland in wooded swamps, on golf-course ponds and along inland creeks. It will patiently sit and wait until a fish or frog swims close and then, with lightning strike speed, grab fish up to 12 inches long. Long-lived, this heron is the most resilient of the nesting herons in Western New York, often over-wintering rather than migrating south in September when most of the other water birds depart.

Double-Crested Cormorant
Double-Crested Cormorant

The most widespread cormorant in North America, it is the only one of six species of cormorants that live in Western NY. The double-crested cormorant is a large brown/black water bird with a yellow/orange throat pouch that expands to help it swallow the fish prey it eats. Cormorants capture their fish prey in dives that can go as deep as 150 feet, and they favor fish that are from 3 to 5 inches in length-primarily gobies and minnows in WNY. They form colonies containing hundreds of large stick nests in trees, and both adults share in the care of the young. They are often seen drying their feathers on buoys, moored boats or docks, and their long narrow wings and small heads give them a prehistoric appearance. Known for their large feeding flocks, these birds are a common sight on any water in WNY, flying in large v-formations, or sitting low on the water in groups of thousands of individuals. They migrate south in October, and return to WNY in April.

Canada Goose
Canada Goose

Perhaps the most recognizable bird seen near the water, large flocks of Canada geese are the iconic symbol of spring and fall migration in Western NY. Although once only seen during their passage north to breed in Canada, or south to winter in the Chesapeake, resident populations of this large goose have been increasing dramatically. They can be found throughout WNY, nesting in town parks and playgrounds, around urban ponds and throughout the agricultural fields common in WNY. Their honk is an unmistakable sound, and their skeins of v-shaped flocks are a common sight 12 months of the year. Geese feed mainly by grazing, whether that is on grass in parks, or gleaning food from the shallows of ponds or canals. 

Ring-Billed Gull
Ring-Billed Gull

This handsome gray and white gull is the most commonly seen gull in Western NY, spotted as often on the water as it is in fields, refuse dumps or parking lots scavenging for food scraps. This familiar, medium-size gull is an agile flier, and is distinguished from other gulls by the black ring around the end of its slim bill. It has a typical gray colored mantle above and is white below, and the yellow legs it acquires once it becomes an adult help distinguish it from the 19 species of gulls which can be seen in Western NY in numbers over 100,000 individuals. The best time to view a panoply of gull species in Western NY is in the winter, when many arctic and western gulls species can be seen in Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.

Common Tern
Common Tern

The common tern is a state-listed threatened bird species. This is true despite the fact that the largest Great Lakes colony of this delicate, attractive colonial water bird lives in Western NY. Terns are a monomorphic species, which means the male and female look alike, and both adults share in the care of the young and defense of the nest. These petit members of the gull family can live to 25 years old and they migrate to the southern tip of South America each fall, enduring one of the longest migrations of any bird that returns to nest at the same spot they occupied the year before, which is primarily on rugged breakwalls in the Buffalo Harbor of WNY. Their white plumage appears almost translucent as one gazes up to view these graceful, delicate 'sea-swallows' when they fly overhead or plunge-dive for minnows near the surface in marinas or off-shore.

Mallard
Mallard

These ducks are everywhere, from the Niagara River to the Erie Canal to any place that there is standing water. The most common duck in North American, they are easy to identify-an unmistakable green head helps to identify the male of the species, as well as its distinctive curly-Q tail, while the hens are a subtle light brown in color and responsible for the 'quack quack' call commonly thought of as the universal call made by ducks. They feed in agricultural fields on waste grains and, when on the water, they skim the surface, filtering out food with small strainers built into their bill structure, and will even 'tip up' stretching their necks to feed on mollusks and invertebrates in the sediments.

Tundra Swan
Swans

Both mute swans and tundra swans are spectacular large white birds dotting the waterways of Western NY. Each species can weigh over 25 pounds and the two have many similarities, such as mating for life and feeding by upending in waters approximately the depth of their long, white necks. Mute and tundra swans are both common on the lower Niagara River in the winter and can be distinguished by the color of their bills. Mute swans have a large head with a bright orange bill, and tundra swans have more rounded shaped heads with all-black bills. Mute swans are a nonnative, introduced species from Europe and are considered a prohibited species in NYS, because of the damage they do to native waterfowl habitat and aggression toward native waterfowl. Tundra swans, formerly called whistling swans, are a native species, which breeds north of Western NY. They are most commonly seen here in the winter, with numbers of 400-600 being recorded around Grand Island and Motor Island Wildlife Management area starting around December, 

Canvasback
Canvasback

A large diving duck, canvasback ducks can be seen with frequency in the Upper Niagara River every winter. In fact, their large wintering flocks in Upper Niagara were one of the reasons for designating the 32 miles of the Niagara River an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. The wintering population of this majestic waterfowl species can be up to 32% of the total statewide population of this species. This species is a large diving duck, identified by the sloping forehead and handsome nearly white back and chestnut head of the male canvasback. Females are a subtle gray brown in color, but also exhibit the characteristic sloping forehead. Canvasback breed on prairie potholes of the United States and Canada, and eat both the fish and vegetation they obtain in deep dives.

Common Merganser
Common Merganser

Common mergansers are streamlined ducks of large-size and spectacular coloration. They have bold iridescent dark green heads, with bright red bills and white bodies. Their serrated bills make them efficient fish-eating, diving ducks that winter each year in the open water of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the Niagara River. They feed on the minnow and goby population all winter, when many species have departed for southern habitats. The gray-colored females are recognizable by a short crest. Common mergansers nest north of Western NY, and are actually the largest cavity nesting bird in North America, nesting in hollow trees, then taking their fledgling ducklings to feed in the streams and creeks along which they nest. Up to 31% of the state's entire population of common mergansers has been recorded as wintering on the Niagara River IBA.

Golden Eye Bird
Goldeneye

A hardy, medium sized fish-eating diver, this beautiful green-headed duck is one of the most common wintering waterfowl in WNY, with up to 29% of the entire state population of Goldeneye spending the season on the Niagara River. Goldeneyes are also known commonly as 'whistlers' for the sound their wings make in flight, and the males have a circular white spot on its head.

Greater Scaup bird
Scaup

Both greater and lesser scaup are often combined as 'scaup' or 'bluebills,' although the most numerous species in WNY is the greater scaup once the winter arrives in earnest. The greater scaup has an iridescent dark green head, black chest, white flanks and gray back. It is an attractive waterfowl species, much like its smaller relative, the lesser scaup. They nest on the prairie pothole region of the Canadian prairies, and only spend the winter on the Niagara River and its headwaters hear the Buffalo Harbor. This area supports 6% of the entire statewide population of this medium size diving duck, and it is one of the most common ducks taken by hunters on the Niagara River. Although mussels and snails are its typical diet during the breeding season, and like so many of the diving ducks on the Niagara, they rely on the bountiful population of emerald shiners to sustain them through three harsh winter months spent on the open waters of WNY.

Long Tailed Ducks
Long-Tailed Ducks

Long-tailed ducks (formerly, old squaw) are a true 'sea-duck,' being more common on the eastern coast of North America. However, in WNY the waters of the Niagara and Lake Ontario provide large numbers of long-tails as it provides an excellent wintering habitat. This duck looks and acts like no other waterfowl that is seen during the winter in WNY. It is black and white, and the male is known for his handsome long central tail feathers. The constant calling (sounding like a baby owl) that you will hear if you are anywhere near the lower Niagara River, or lucky enough to be in a boat at the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario, will be coming from these vociferous ducks. They breed on the high arctic, nesting on the ground around small ponded areas of the tundra. People come from all over the country to see the long-tailed ducks, which you'll find in the lower Niagara River all winter long.

Special Credits: NYS DEC Region 9 and the National Audubon Society

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10 Rainbow Boulevard
Niagara Falls, NY 14303
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