5 Questions with Birding Expert & Harlem Local Ruben Giron

Central Park is more than a pretty park for Harlem resident Ruben Giron, who lives just two blocks away on 112th Street. His coveted proximity to New York City’s backyard allows him to regularly enjoy birding, an activity that attracts visitors to Central Park from both near and far. For Ruben, who started his local birding practice almost 13 years ago and frequents the Park three to five times a week, it was his appreciation for Central Park’s blooms that initially enticed him to explore and take photos. He can now be found photographing birds and sharing his knowledge with inquisitive Park visitors.

The Park attracts over 210 species of birds year-round and has been designated as one of New York State’s Important Bird Areas by the National Audubon Society. Central Park’s Harlem landscapes are particularly ideal for birding, with varied habitats including bodies of water and 40-plus acres of woodland, meadows, and rocky crags. After the successful restoration of the North Woods’ Ravine in 2017, the Central Park Conservancy remains dedicated to year-round efforts aimed at nurturing a habitat that continues to attract birds to the Park. This commitment entails actively maintaining the plant species and landscapes that offer refuge and provide an abundant supply of food.

We spoke to Ruben about his passion for birding and why he believes Central Park’s north end is an ideal location to engage in this increasingly popular pastime.

How did you learn about and start birding in Central Park?

One day while I was taking pictures of flowers, I started to notice that there were birds all around the Park. When I saw a cardinal, I wanted to get a picture of this beautiful bird. I started to realize that there were a great number of birds in the Park that I had never seen before. I found a book on birds and started the joy of learning how to ID them.

Great Egret Ruben Giron

A great egret and red-winged blackbird at Central Park’s Harlem Meer
Photo by Ruben Giron

Why do you enjoy birding in Central Park's Harlem landscapes?

Central Park’s Harlem Meer is home to a great variety of birds. I have found great blue herons, great egrets, black-crowned night herons, ospreys, red-winged blackbirds, a variety of waterfowl, and many other birds at the Meer and in the surrounding areas. The North Woods has the perfect environment for many of the migrating birds—trees, bushes, and other fauna that attract insects and different types of small life forms that in turn provide these birds with the necessary food that they need to survive, reproduce, and then return south. Of course, we have our wonderful all-year-round birds like the blue jays, northern cardinals, and house sparrows that enjoy the type of food they need in the North Woods.

your "lifer" (a first-time sighting for a birder) and where in Central Park did you spot it?

A few years ago, one of the most exciting birds that I had never seen before was the scarlet tanager. While I was by the Loch, I looked up and saw this fire-engine red bird land in a tree. I gasped at how beautiful this bird was. That was one of my most exciting experiences. Equally beautiful, the prothonotary warbler visited us at the Pool and the Loch. Its bright yellow, sun-like coloring put me in a state of awe. I couldn’t believe just how beautiful this bird was.

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Scarlet tanager

How has birding helped you to build community with fellow Park visitors?

Whenever I’m out birding, I have someone ask me what I’m doing or looking at. It’s usually someone who is not a birder. They’re often visiting from another country or visiting Central Park for the first time. I find it great fun to share my passion about birds. I enjoy pointing out the birds, and I love telling them a little bit about the birds I’m watching. If I can entice a Park visitor to gain an interest in nature and the different life-forms here, then I feel that I am successful. I also like telling them about the Central Park Conservancy and how valuable it is to get involved in their care of the Park.

Prothonotary Warbler Ruben Giron

Prothonotary warbler
Photo by Ruben Giron

What are you most excited about when it comes to the Central Park Conservancy’s work in the Park?

The Central Park Conservancy staff members are dedicated to caring for the plants and trees that provide the birds with the food that will help sustain them, as well as helping make the Park beautiful.

They’re in the process of some exciting renovations in the area of the Park that I frequent, for the new Harlem Meer Center and the restoration of its surrounding landscape. I’m excited that the original stream will be uninterrupted and connected directly to the Harlem Meer, as it was originally. I feel that this will provide us and the wildlife with a more beautiful way to connect with nature.

Samantha Hunter is a freelance writer and professional copy editor who has written for Forbes, Martha Stewart, Better Homes & Gardens, and Sweet July.

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