Sanctuary Birds & Calls

The pictures, descriptions and calls of birds are designed to give you a quick overview and help you locate them as you tour the Sanctuary.  For more detail, you are encouraged to go to the following website sponsored by Cornell University:

Black Crowned Night Heron

Truly the “crowned” jewel of the Sanctuary, the Black-crowned Night Heron is stocky and short compared to its other heron relatives.  Adults tend to be 23-26 inches long and weigh around 25-36 ounces with a wing span of 45-47 inches.  They are as the name suggests, most active at night foraging the wetlands for food.  During the day, they tend to roost in colonies around Paul’s Pond, on the northern side of the Sanctuary.  If you stand by the fence on Second Avenue, you may see these beautiful birds with their striking red-orange iris eyes and blue-black and gray plumage or you can watch these birds real time from April to September via our streaming video Night Heron Cam thru our website or the Borough of Stone Harbor website.  Please do not disturb these birds because they tend to disgorge their food when approached or scared to flight.

Blue Jay

A very common song bird with a distinct voice, this blue, black and white intelligent bird is smaller than a crow but larger than a robin.  You will find the Blue jay around the edges of the Sanctuary where it will forage for food, stuffing it in its throat pouch to eat later.

Brown Thrasher

The only thrasher east of Texas, you are likely to hear the Brown Thrasher’s exuberant call before you see them.   You will often find them in and around the vine covered areas of the Sanctuary.  The Brown Thrasher is fairly large for a song bird, with a long legs and tail and a slightly down-turned but long bill.  These foxy brown, black streaked birds with yellow eyes, white wing tips and up-turned tail are noted for their loud, complex phrased songs which are usually sung twice and often copied from other birds.


Officially called the Northern Cardinal, these birds are notable for the bright red color of the male and the fact that they can be seen in the Sanctuary all year because they do not molt or migrate.  These sharp-crested birds tend to sit low in shrubs and trees while foraging in pairs on the ground nearby.  You will see them inside the Sanctuary on occasion, but most often on the fringe areas where they nest in the heavy shrubs and tangled vines.


Officially called the Gray Catbird, these relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers are distinguished by their “mew” call.  They are medium sized, slender, gray with a black cap and bright rusty feathers under their long black tail.  Catbirds are energetic, hopping from branch to branch among dense tangles of shrubs and vine covered trees on the edges of the Sanctuary.

Eastern Phoebe

This brownish-gray, plump songbird appears to have large head for its size and can on occasion raise its head feathers up into a peak.  Their short, thin bills are ideal for catching flies and insects.  The Eastern Phoebe is very energetic, making frequent flights and forth among tree branches and fences on the perimeter of the Sanctuary looking for insects.  Watch for them to wag their tails up and down.

Glossy Ibis

A dark iridescent purple-green colored bird with a distinctive long, down-curved bill.  You are likely to see one or more Glossy Ibis in the marsh around Meadow Walk or Heron Overlook and swimming in Paul’s Pond.

Great Blue Heron

Majestic and stately on the ground or in flight, this large blue-gray bird with the long legs can be found standing motionless in the marsh grass by the edge of channels along the Meadow Walk or Heron Overlook paths waiting to make a lightning fast strike on a small fish or rodent.  When in flight, this largest of North American Herons are unmistakable with slow, graceful wing beats, neck tucked into an “S” like shape and long trailing legs.

Great Egret

These elegant, svelte, large white birds with long yellow bills and long legs can be seen in the marshes around and in the Sanctuary.  Like the Great Blue Herons, the Great Egret tends to stalk its prey patiently standing or wading through shallow waters in the wetlands.  On occasion, you can see these egrets in the evening roosting high in the trees facing Third Avenue.

Green Heron

You may see the Green Heron from a distance hunched on its slender yellow legs at the water’s edge around the Meadow Walk, Heron Overlook, and Paul’s Pond or behind Egret Espy.  These small herons crouch patiently to snatch small fish with their sharp bills.  It is not unusual for the Green Heron to lure fish using twigs or insects as bait.  Should you be lucky enough to see them up close, you will be impressed with their beautiful velvet green back, rich chestnut body and dark cap which can rise into a short crest.

Hermit Thrush

This small bird with a melancholy song, rich brown upper body, spots on its breast and a reddish tail can be found on the edges, path openings and interior of the Sanctuary foraging in the leaves on the Sanctuary floor for insects.

Laughing Gull

A summer visitor whose sight and sound evokes summer at the shore, the Laughing Gull is distinguished by its call and a crisp, black head.  If you are on the 3rd Avenue side of the Sanctuary look up or back toward the bay to see them.  While on the 2nd avenue, side look up and east toward the ocean to see them glide by.

Mourning Dove

Graceful, plump, and small-headed with short legs and a slender, long pointed tail, the Mourning Dove is noted for their soft, long drawn out calls that sound like laments.  They are buff colored with black spots on their wings and black bordered, white tipped tail feathers.  Mourning Doves are most frequently found on telephone wires around the Sanctuary and on occasion, along the borders of the paths.  They tend to eat seeds, wild grass grains and berries.

Northern Flicker

Flickers are large brownish woodpeckers with a white rump patch, black spots, bars and crescents.  When in-flight, the undersides of the wings and tail feathers of the eastern version of the Northern Flicker are bright yellow. As you walk through Egret Espy and Holly Path you may see them perched upright on horizontal branches or you might scare one up from the ground because they eat insects like ants and beetles, digging for them with their slightly curved bill.

Northern Mocking Bird

These slender grey birds sing almost constantly.  They can often be seen harassing other birds that intrude on their territory by flaunting their wings or prancing toward them. The mockingbirds will sit on vegetation, fences and telephone wires, sometimes hopping along the ground around the edges of the Sanctuary. They eat insects in the summer and switch in the fall and winter to fruits and berries.


These large, brownish hawks with the white heads and a brown stripe across their eyes are a common site around the Sanctuary.  They can be seen hunting for fish off the beaches of Stone Harbor or in the back-bay, diving into the water feet first to grab a live fish.  It is common to see an Osprey with a fish in its talons flying back to its perch.  You may see Osprey perched in trees on the western border of the Sanctuary off Third Avenue.

Red Bellied Woodpecker

These pale medium-sized woodpeckers are common in the Sanctuary.  They are distinguished by the black bars on their backs and their red caps.  The Red-bellied Woodpecker can be seen in the interior of the Sanctuary climbing across branches and hugging the trunks of trees picking at the surface bark for insects.

Red Winged Black Bird

The Red-winged Blackbird is our harbinger of spring.  The male has a shiny black body with red and yellow shoulder patches.  The female is streaked with a dark brown appearance and a somewhat pale breast.  The males can often be seen high in the trees on the edge of the Sanctuary while the females tend to fly closer to the ground and marsh vegetation off Third Avenue looking for insects, seeds and waste grains.  Red-winged Blackbirds can often be seen swaying on top stems of phragmites and rushes as they sample seeds.


The American Robin is one of the most common birds in the Sanctuary.  They are gray-brown birds with warm orange underparts and dark heads.   The male’s head contrasts much more sharply with its gray back than does the female’s head.  The Robin can be found along the edges as well as along the interior of the Heron Overlook, Egret Espy and Holly Paths.  The Robin eats earthworms, insects, snails as well as a variety of fruits and berries.

Song Sparrow

A rich, russet and gray bird with bold streaks down its white chest, the Song Sparrow is one of the most common birds in the Sanctuary.  You are likely to see the Song Sparrow on the outer edges of the Sanctuary and along the Meadow and Heron Overlook paths.  They tend to flit through low vegetation in open areas with an occasional trip to the ground in search of various seeds, grain and insects.  You might also see them perched on low shrubs, leaning back and singing a clattering song.

Swainson’s Thrush

The Swainson’s Thrush is a slim, medium brown bird with a spotted chest, large puffy eye rings, a round head and a short-straight bill.  You are most likely to see this bird on the interior of the Sanctuary along Egret Espy or Holly Paths, foraging for berries or plucking bugs from leaves close to the ground.  If you listen carefully, you can hear their flute-like songs on summer mornings and evenings.

Tree Swallow

About the size of a Sparrow, these birds are metallic blue or blue-green above and white below. They tend to feed on bayberries, nest in tree holes and hang around water. Look for them in the marshes around the Heron Overlook and Meadow Walk Paths.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Occasionally, the Yellow-crowned Night Heron can be spotted in the Sanctuary.  Like the Black-crowned Night Heron, they roost during the day and forage for food in the nearby marshes at night.  These herons are medium sized with a black face and bill, a yellowish crown stripe, gray body and yellow legs.   They tend to nest and roost with other herons in trees bordering marshes where crustaceans are plentiful.  You are most likely to see them around Paul’s Pond or at the end of the Meadow Walk.