Sapsucker Woods

Home of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Sapsucker Woods is a 220-acre sanctuary that offers more than four miles of trails for birding or just walking. The birdwatching here is best during migration in the spring and fall, but there is a nice selection of birds present throughout the year. During the winter months, the Morgens Observatory inside the Lab is a great place to watch common feeder birds like Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, and American Tree Sparrow. If it happens to be a winter finch year, Evening Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, and Common Redpoll are also possibilities in the feeder garden. A Hoary Redpoll was even seen here during February and March 2004 (a year that witnessed unprecedented numbers of this species in New York State). The observatory also looks out onto a pond that is home to a motley assortment of Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Black Ducks. Towards the back of the pond there is a tall dead tree that is known as "The Snag." Always a good spot to look for birds, during the cold-weather months The Snag might play host to a Northern Shrike or Red-shouldered Hawk, two species that have wintered in the area in recent years. In the early spring, several duck species, including Hooded Merganser, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, and American Wigeon, put in brief appearances on the pond. Brown Creepers are often vocal and relatively conspicuous along the trails at this time of year (late March-early April), as are other resident breeders. The sanctuary's namesake, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, arrives back in early April, and can usually be located by its distinctive drumming.

While Rusty Blackbirds and Eastern Phoebe are first seen at Sapsucker Woods in mid to late March, spring migration really starts to pick up here in mid-April, when migrants like Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Palm Warbler are found out on the trails. Late April marks the return of breeding Northern Waterthrushes to the sanctuary. The easiest place to observe this rather secretive species might be along the Woodleton Boardwalk, on the east side of Sapsucker Woods Road. The trails on this side of the road receive less birding coverage than those on the west side, but can often be very productive. The best covered trail at Sapsucker Woods is the Wilson Trail, which starts at the visitors' parking lot. The stretch of trail between the Johnson Center and the Sherwood Observation Platform is a great place to look for migrant songbirds throughout May. Just about any species of warbler is possible as a migrant; commonly seen species during migration include: Nashville Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, and Common Yellowthroat. Two migrant sparrows to keep an eye out for during warbler migration are White-crowned Sparrow and the more elusive Lincoln's Sparrow. Finally, be sure to scan The Snag at Sapsucker Woods whenever visiting in mid or late May--this is a preferred perching spot for Olive-sided Flycatchers briefly pausing on their northbound migration.

Season Rating

Northern Waterthrush breeding habitat at

Sapsucker Woods.

Bird diversity at Sapsucker Woods diminishes as spring migration winds down at the end of May, but the sanctuary is home to a nice array of breeding species during the summer. Some of the more notable breeding birds are: Wood Duck, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Veery, Wood Thrush, and Scarlet Tanager. By late August, the woods are relatively quiet, except for the occasional calling of an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and migrant songbirds are beginning to pass through. Wilson's Warbler is usually fairly easy to see along the Wilson Trail during September, along with the common spring warblers mentioned above. Philadelphia Vireo, a relatively rare migrant in the spring, is still uncommon in the fall, but more likely to be seen then. Identify this species with care, though, as the similar Red-eyed Vireo and Warbling Vireo are much more abundant.

To reach Sapsucker Woods:

Sapsucker Woods is located about three miles from the Cornell campus, and can be reached by foot, bike, and bus, as well as by car. The TCAT bus route that provides service is Route 31, which also includes a stop at the Tompkins County Airport. From Cornell University's North Campus, the easiest way to reach Sapsucker Woods on foot or bicycle is as follows: starting at the entrance to the Hasbrouck Apartments (intersection of Pleasant Grove Road and Jessup Road), proceed into the Hasbrouck parking lot (the U-shaped paved area near the bottom of the map) and go around to the back until you are opposite the entrance to the Hasbrouck Community Center. Go away from the community center, through an opening in a chain-link fence, and onto a gravel path that cuts across the Robert Trent Jones golf course (be sure not to disturb the golfers). The trail comes out on Warren Road. Turn left on Warren Road, proceed for a little more than a tenth of a mile, and then turn right on Bluegrass Lane. This rough road runs straight for about two tenths of a mile, and then curves left, passing a small pond called Bull Pasture Pond. This can be a good place to look for Spotted Salamanders on wet evenings in April. Proceed past the pond to an area with a number of buildings. Pass through this area, and follow the road along a sharp right turn and then a sharp left turn. A final straightaway on Bluegrass will take you to Hanshaw Road. Turn right on Hanshaw, and in less than a mile, Sapsucker Woods Road will be on your left. Turn left off of Hanshaw onto Sapsucker Woods, and proceed about a mile. If you are driving to Sapsucker Woods, do not take the shortcut on Bluegrass Lane. This is a rough road with low levels of traffic. Instead, take Warren Road until it intersects with Hanshaw Road, and then proceed as above.