Nature’s Winter Wonderland

While Coley enjoys resting and hunting in Colombia this winter, we thought we’d periodically check back in on his summer nest site: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. The bay is rich in wildlife; one of many reasons Coley and his mate may have chosen it in the first place; here, Ranger Colleen Sorbera discusses what’s alive in the Bay during these colder months.

If you’re willing to brave the cold, a midwinter walk through the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge can be a beautiful escape from city life.  If you’re lucky, a dusting of snow will lend an air of enchantment to the scene, and the wonders of nature are never far away here.

Though many birds (including our osprey Coley) are enjoying the southern skies and chipmunks are resting underground, lots of wildlife remains to be discovered.  Cardinals, house finches, sparrows, and juncos cluster at the bird feeder behind the Visitor Center.  Flocks of starlings fill the branches of one tree at a time, chattering to each other before flying off all at once.  A great blue heron, a regular winter sight, is also a reminder of summer days.  A bald eagle was reported just last week soaring silently overhead.

The West Pond was breached by the Bay during Hurricane Sandy and is now higher in salinity and affected by tidal flow, but some birds continue to visit. Northern pintails, ruddy ducks, black ducks, and Canada geese can be seen, while on the bay side herring gulls, greater black-backed gulls and brant geese seem at ease on the frigid water.

The breach has separated the West Pond trail into new segments of unequal length.  Walking the long way at a steady moderate pace takes about an hour, while the short way takes less than twenty minutes.  Patches of snow sparkle in the sun and reveal the tracks of raccoons and squirrels.  The upland forest in winter provides a sense of peace and stillness not found in summer.

The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge continues to be a sanctuary for wildlife and visitors all year long.  Enjoying the quiet wonders of the refuge in winter will enrich your relationship with this special place. Visit us in 2013 and have a Happy New Year!


  1. My daughter (aged 10) has a question about Coley and his fellow-ospreys:

    She asked if they have salt glands, or will the West Pond have been ruined for them by Sandy?

    She is concerned that the ospreys will return to the West Pond and find they lack water and food.

    Thank you!

    • Ospreys have no trouble living in areas where fresh water is limited. Much of the water they need comes directly from the food they eat either from the water in the food itself or from the use of nutrients that when processed by the bird’s cells gives off water and carbon dioxide. This last source of water is called metabolic water, and this is the water that most desert animals rely on to survive where water is not present. Many birds have a specialized gland in the base of the bill, called the Salt Gland, that helps them eliminate excess salt from the body. So even though the West Pond now has more salt in it than before, Coley will still catch fish from the pond and he will not be affected by the increased salt content of the water. The ecology of the pond will change but it will eventually go back to becoming a fresh/brackish pond.

      Thanks for the question.

      Dr. Bob


  1. Sheepshead Bites » Blog Archive Update On Coley The Osprey, Hangin' In His Winter Habitat] » Sheepshead Bay News Blog - January 11, 2013

    […] his prey while the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is frosted over, according to an update by the team tracking Coley’s […]