Located in the City of Dunkirk, Dunkirk Harbor is easy to access, and facilities, including restrooms, convenience stores and restaurants, are all nearby. The main pier, reached by turning toward the lake off NY 5 at Central Avenue in Dunkirk, is the main vantage point for birdwatching. From the pier, scan the water and both inner and outer breakwaters, using binoculars or ideally a spotting scope. Other good vantage points include Memorial Park (west of the pier), the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club (at the foot of Mullet Street, west of Memorial Park), the foot of Deer and Main Streets (east of the pier), and Lakeside Boulevard (which runs from Main Street to Wright Park, 12 blocks to the east).
Natural History Interest
Dunkirk Harbor is primarily known as a birding destination. In winter and when it is in operation, warm effluent from the coal-fired electric power plant keeps Dunkirk Harbor free of ice. This serves as an attractant to diving ducks when the rest of Lake Erie freezes.
Large groups of waterfowl invariably attract oddities and rarities, and this includes gulls, shorebirds, and raptors as well. Migration on Lake Erie, including birds, butterflies, and dragonflies, can be recorded from Dunkirk Harbor in the spring as well as the late summer and fall season.
Who To Contact
If you would like more information on Dunkirk Harbor contact the City of Dunkirk by visiting their website or calling 716-366-0454.
How To Get There
Dunkirk Harbor is located in Dunkirk, NY, just off NY 5. From exit 59 (Dunkirk/Fredonia) off I-90, turn right onto NY 60 (Bennett Road). Go approximately 2.0 miles to NY 5. Turn left onto NY 5 and proceed approximately 0.3 mile to Central Avenue. Turn right onto Central Avenue, and proceed onto the pier. The Google Map below shows the pier immediately to the lower right of the pointer.
What To See
To view the eBird hotspot of the site complete with recent bird sightings click on this link. To view an eBird bar chart page of all recorded sightings click on this link. As mentioned above, when the power plant is online and keeping water open in the immediately vicinity impressive flocks of Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, Buffleheads, and diving ducks such as Canvasback and Greater and Lesser Scaup can be found here. Twenty species in one day are not uncommon. A few White-winged Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks often join the more common waterfowl, and rarities like Eared Grebe, Harlequin Duck, and King or Common Eider should be watched for.
Uncommon gulls that occasionally occur include Glaucous and Iceland. Black-legged Kittiwake is rare, but regular and Franklin’s, Sabine, and Black-headed Gull can all be recorded. One or more Little Gulls often appear among the large flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls that stay until the onset of severe winter weather. Snowy Owls and Purple Sandpipers appear nearly annually on the breakwater, and Peregrine Falcon can be spotted hunting these large groups of birds as well.
In spring huge rafts of migrating Red-breasted Mergansers occur in the harbor, along with Common and Caspian Terns. Late summer brings Forster’s Terns and limited numbers of shorebirds to the area, from Willets to Baird’s Sandpipers. During fall migration good flights of Double-crested Cormorants, Red-throated Loons, Red-necked Grebes and good flights of Common Loons may be observed, and a brief flight of Brant occurs in late October or early November. Surprises may turn up at any time of year at such a location. Northern Gannet, American Avocet, and Great Gray Owl have all been recorded at Dunkirk Harbor.
Why It’s Important To Conservation
Dunkirk Harbor’s main importance stems from the fact it is situated on Lake Erie, and while the harbor and associated human development are not of particular conservation importance they help to allow us to study the life that utilizes one of the largest and most vital lakes on the planet. Millions of birds use Lake Erie every year and as many species come under pressure it is important for conservationists to study their populations and monitor fluctuations in numbers, behavior, feeding and more by recording them at locations such as Dunkirk Harbor.