The Wilds Of Green-Wood Cemetery

Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News
Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News

Many who live in South Slope take Green-Wood Cemetery for granted. But while Green-Wood is still an active cemetery, it has become something of a tourist attraction due to the rich history, lively events programming, and beautiful vistas at Brooklyn’s largest cemetery.

But did you know that Green-Wood Cemetery is also an ecological hot spot? Green-Wood is roughly the same size as Prospect Park, and crowded with about 8,000 large healthy trees and several bodies of fresh water. This combination, with relative quiet and isolation, has allowed for Green-Wood Cemetery to become one of the most diverse ecological zones in Brooklyn, even having a few features absent at Prospect Park!

The next time you’re looking for a nature-break, come to Green-Wood to enjoy the following wildlife — and be sure to pick up a free highly detailed color map at the Cemetery entrance.

Flowing Flora

Green-Wood Cemetery is home to about 8,000 trees  — it was recently awarded arboretum status — along with many flowers, shrubs, and aquatic plant life. While Hurricane Sandy did cause some damage to about 300 trees, you’d never realize it strolling along the nearly car-width trees that surround you. Green-Wood’s trees are particularly large and well leafed due to prime conditions, and being away from hordes of people and dogs.

Photo by Daniel Frazer/ South Slope News
Photo by Daniel Frazer / South Slope News

See if you can find the huge sassafras tree in Green-Wood, touted as one of the best examples of its species — it’s located west of Cedar Dell and the Dutch Reformed Church lot. You might notice that this tree smells strongly of root beer!

Furry Mammals

Green-Wood Cemetery is one of the best places to get your dose of cute. During the day, look up the trees to see if you can spot racoons. While pests to our suburban neighbors, New Yorkers delight in these little furry bandits — unless they’re getting into your trash cans…

Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News
Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News

Green-Wood is also home to voles, white-footed mice, both black and gray squirrels, many rabbits, and my personal favorite, woodchucks! Woodchucks are beefy, small-dog-sized rodents that are far more common to Brooklyn than realized, and Green-Wood is one of the best places to see one. Before noon or closer to early evening, take a stroll along one of the many ponds in Green-Wood Cemetery to see these cuties stuffing their faces.

Fancy In Feathers

Green-Wood Cemetery is home to at least 216 different bird species throughout the year and serves as an excellent migratory stop over. With the many healthy trees and other flora, one could expect to see more than 40 species on a given day during peak migration in the spring and fall.

Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News
Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News

Green-Wood Cemetery is especially noted for the wide-range of sparrows and finches that gather here from fall to early spring, feeding on the many seed pods and berries. Green-Wood would not be complete, though, without mention of the huge Quaker Parrot colony that resides here. Having built their funnel shaped twig nests into the main entrance of the cemetery, you can’t miss these noisy, bright green revelers painting the sky above you.

Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News
Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News

Finally — highly elusive and still quite rare for Brooklyn — at least two Great-Horned Owls have been living in Green-Wood Cemetery for quite some time now. While incredibly difficult to find, check in the inner trunks of pine and other coniferous trees to possibly see these elusive beauties. Great-Horned Owls and all owls are easiest seen in the winter when the landscape is more barren, however, keep in mind that owls and all birds are sensitive, nervous animals that you should never harass, stalk, or follow, lest you potentially put the birds and yourself in danger.

Down By The Water

Turtles, frogs, and even snakes also call Green-Wood Cemetery home. Walk slowly along the many ponds and you’re very likely to see American Bull Frogs, Painted Turtles, and Red-Eared Slider Turtles.

Photo by Daniel Frazer/ South Slope News
Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News

While I’m yet to see one myself, there have been reports of Garter Snakes and Black Racer snakes at Green-Wood. Have no fear, these shoe-lace-sized snakes are absolutely harmless and move so quickly and inconspicuously, that you’re pretty unlikely to even see them.

Batty For Bats

Few realize that NYC is home to many bats, since we’re rarely in parks at night. However, some species of bats will show themselves in the day time. Green-Wood Cemetery, with its multitude of excellent hiding places, is probably one of the best locations in Brooklyn to see them.

Most often we’re seeing Little Brown Bats, however, New York is home to nine different species. Walking along the perimeter of Green-Wood at night (the grounds themselves are closed) in the summer, you’re likely to see the many bats feeding off pesky insects. Bats are pretty remarkable animals. They are the only truly flying mammal and are able to locate their prey using sonar-like systems.

Bowing For Butterflies

Late summer is prime time for butterflies, and Green-Wood Cemetery is filled with them! From the tiny Eastern Tailed Blue to the large, almost bird sized Tiger Swallowtail, the Cemetery is one of the best places to view a large variety of butterflies.

Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News
Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News

Look for them along grave hedges on bright warm days, and remember to leave those beautiful flowers where they are so the butterflies can keep feeding. In order to best view butterflies, a set of binoculars is helpful, as is remembering to not let your shadow cross over them. Butterflies have no real defense besides fleeing, and they will instinctually bolt should they detect sudden darkness.

Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News
Photo by Daniel Frazer/South Slope News

The Sweetest Residents

The newest residents of Green-Wood are creating a lot of buzz — the cemetery recently started keeping bees, and has six hives on the property, with hopes of selling the honey they create at their future gift shop. It’s cool to spot them in action, and there’s no reason to be afraid of these little guys — just be sure to give them their space if you spot them hard at work.

beehives at green-wood cemetery
Photo by South Slope News

When viewing wildlife at Green-Wood Cemetery or anywhere in Brooklyn, remember to give all animals, from the mundane to the miraculous, their right to space, safety, and preservation. Not only is it less stressful for the animals, it’s much easier to view them. Green-Wood Cemetery remains an active cemetery, and while extraordinarily popular to use binoculars and cameras within the grounds, remember to remain respectful and aware that people may be paying their respects around you.

Green-Wood Cemetery is one of many essential wild spots in Brooklyn and can provide an incredibly rewarding day of nature blended with history. See what you can find the next time you visit!

Daniel Frazer is an amateur naturalist and birder born and raised in Southern Brooklyn. Daniel spends an inordinate amount of time birding around Brooklyn and is hoping to see every bird species this city has to offer. He writes a “wildlife and nature” column for our sister site, Bensonhurst Bean. See more of his articles and photos here.

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