Lake Onondaga, located by Syracuse, is a magnet for bald eagles in the winter. Ride the rails on Amtrak’s Empire corridor between Syracuse and Buffalo and enjoy a view of the southern end of the lake from the train, which is exactly the portion of the lake where eagles congregate in the winter.
“It will be a quick look but you can sometimes see eagles from the train,” says Alison Kocek, President of the Onondaga Audubon Chapter.
Highly contaminated by decades of industrial and other pollution, Lake Onondaga has been the subject of extensive restoration efforts. In 2012, the Onondaga Lake Conservation Corps was established to encourage restoration with hands-on experience. Honeywell Corporation has pledged to plant over one million beneficial trees, shrubs and plants throughout the Lake Onondaga watershed. With improving water quality and expanding habitat, birds have flocked back to this important migration area in expanding numbers.
The eagles are the marquee attraction in the winter. Local photographers and birders look for them roosting in the tall trees on the southern end of the lake or soaring over the water in search of a meal. Discharged, treated water from the city’s treatment plant flows into the lake in this area keeping an expanse ice-free in the winter, ideal for eagles looking for a fish dinner.
Lake Onondaga is also a superb place to view migrating and wintering waterfowl from fall until spring. Common and red-breasted mergansers, pintails, gadwalls, redheads, and lesser seen species such as ring-necked ducks and pied-billed grebes have all been recorded on the lake. Spring and fall are also excellent times to see migrating songbirds in the trees and shrubbery there.
“There are also a few resident bald eagles outside the winter months,” says Kocek.
Grab your binoculars and camera and head over to Lake Onondaga. The winter eagle-watching is something you won’t want to miss.
“A beautiful place to go visit with family, to walk, to relax, and to get away that’s close to home.”
—Ally R., Google Reviews
Take Amtrak to Lake Onondaga
Birding access to this emerging hotspot from the Amtrak station in Syracuse is as simple as walking to the Destiny USA Mall (less than a mile) to look for bald eagles in the trees across from the parking lot in the winter or taking the bus from the mall to the stop at Vine and 1st Street and walking a short distance south of Vine Street to reach Onondaga Lake Park during the warmer months. Don’t forget to use the New York By Rail 15% Amtrak discount!
For current information about the lake restoration and habitat improvements for birds: LakeCleanUp.com
Where to Stay in Syracuse
Looking for a getaway opportunity? Spend the night and experience all Syracuse has to offer. Take a look at these great hotel options—some offering exclusive New York By Rail discounts!