Birding by Tree

Welcome to Central Park (Photo from Wikimedia)

Most people who enjoy birding tend to rely on their eyes and ears to find birds, but did you know that plants can be helpful too?

They won’t do the seeing or the listening for you but the plants, more specifically the trees, in an area can give you a pretty good idea of the avifauna that you’ll find around. “Birding by tree” is a strategy created by a man named Ken Chaya. He’s a New Yorker and a botanical expert with a particular love for birds. He started out like everyone else, wandering through Central Park with only his binoculars and his ears for guidance, but his profound understanding of bird habitat preferences allows him to know what birds are around without even looking up.

Red bellied wood pecker (Photo by Ivan Ellison)

There are 183 tree or woody shrub species in Central Park and he knows every single one of them and he knows which birds like which plant species. He has even created a tree map of the park, detailing the distribution of every species across the 843 acres. Here’s a link to that project.

So if you’re wandering Central Park looking for red bellied woodpeckers, black locusts are the place to find them. These trees have hard, durable wood with deeply ridged bark that makes for a prime place to cache food and carve out nesting cavities. Maybe you want to find a yellow-rumped warbler. Look no further than the bayberry tree. These trees bear fruits that only these warblers can digest.

Having an understanding of birds’ specialized habitat preferences and of the plant life in your area can make you not only a better birder, but a better naturalist as a whole.


“How to Go Birding by Tree.” Audubon. N.p., 29 July 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016. <>.

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