This self-guided birding tour will take you along the Schuylkill River Trail from Shawmont to East Falls, discovering a diverse range of habitat and birds. Use the Seasonal Bird Checklist to record your sightings, or the photo and sound gallery to familiarize yourself with some of the birds you may see and hear.

The riparian edge along the Schuylkill River that stretches from the Shawmont train station in Roxborough to the parking area below the Route 1 overpass in East Falls is comprised of various habitats, sharing many similarities yet unique in their own ways. For the purpose of this tour, this 4 mile stretch of trail has been divided into 3 sections: the Flat Rock Dam area, which begins at the head of the Manayunk Canal Towpath and ends at Leverington Avenue in Manayunk; the middle canal area, which continues from Leverington Avenue past Venice Island, ending at the mouth of the Wissahickon Creek just below the SEPTA transfer station; and finally, the Falls Bridge area, which includes the much more heavily wooded region adjacent to the confluence of the Wissahickon and the Schuylkill, ending on Kelly Drive in East Falls.

Flat Rock Dam Area

The uppermost section surveyed includes a fairly heavily wooded flat riparian buffer zone, containing many mature deciduous trees such as box elder, sycamore and white ash. These tall shade trees provide excellent nesting habitat for many bird species such as: Baltimore orioles, warbling vireos, red-eyed vireos, American robins, eastern kingbirds and eastern wood pewees. Because of human development from years ago—construction of the R6 rail line, the water department’s old pumping station and infrastructure, PECO’s right-of-way area and the Manayunk Canal and towpath itself—the original riparian (riverside) habitat was deeply disturbed and continues to be disturbed from its natural state by frequent human use. Many invasive plant species have been able to take hold along the riverside because of human disturbance. While it is true that numerous mature trees stand in place along the upper part of the trail, they are not OLD trees, and there is little native understory or forest floor habitat to support a great deal of biodiversity. Nonetheless, cyclists, boaters and walkers can find many species of woodland and water birds. Gray catbirds, northern cardinals, eastern towhees and yellow warblers can be found nesting each spring in the tangles of vines present along the canal towpath.

Below the wooded region that extends as far as the Flat Rock Dam, on the river itself one can frequently see double-crested cormorants plunging beneath the surface or drying their extended wings on the rocks, ring-billed gulls, red-tailed hawks or turkey vultures wheeling overhead, an occasional belted kingfisher scouting for fish and an eastern phoebe perched on a branch above the bank, pumping its tail as it watches for insects to hawk. In the shallows beside the riverbank one might also spot a great blue heron or a green-backed heron stalking a meal, or perhaps a few wood ducks quietly seeking refuge under overhanging branches. In the open region along the canal during the spring, walkers might spot the rough-winged swallows that nest among the chinks in the canal’s stonework bulkheads, mellifluous song sparrows and scolding common yellowthroats darting back and forth across the path, and walkers and cyclists alike should watch carefully for faithful pairs of Canada geese defending their fuzzy yellow goslings.

Middle Canal Area

The middle section of the trail adjacent to the formerly heavy industry of Venice Island and the newly established residential area contains the least natural habitat because of the extensive human development of the space. This region consists of some ornamental plantings and some semi-mature trees, but non-native and invasive species of plants dominate over our native plants that are needed to support a greater variety of native wildlife. One can easily spot European starlings, house sparrows, house finches, rock pigeons and mourning doves in this section, along with familiar mallard ducks, tuneful northern mockingbirds, while cigar-shaped chimney swifts wheel overhead in the spring and summer months.

Falls Bridge Area

The 3rd section surveyed focuses on the riparian zone along the uppermost section of Kelly Drive, just below the moth of the Wissahickon Creek. Here the Schuylkill River is readily visible, even though its banks are contained by human-made stone bulkheads. Along here grow mature native trees and many native and non-native wildflowers, making this habitat attractive to orioles, crows and jays, American robins, catbirds, song sparrows and yellow warblers. One should watch for belted kingfishers in the riverside overhangs, double-crested cormorants and, in the fall and winter months, various species of wintering ducks, such as hooded and common mergansers.

At any time during the spring and fall months, one might expect to spot the occasional osprey or bald eagle in migration, following the path of the river on their journey north or south, depending on the season. The woods may contain any of the wood warbler species mentioned as they wing their ways toward their breeding and their wintering grounds, resting along our riparian buffer zone along the way. Riverine habitats offer safe haven for many species of wild creatures, and therefore offer rich possibilities for wildlife viewing, especially birds, to those who choose to invest the time to watch and listen along the Schuylkill River.

Thanks to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education for their help in developing this tour. Visit to find out more about the Schuylkill Center Birding Club and special programs related to birding.