Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Sitting quietly on one of the many chairs looking out of the massive glass wall onto the Ornitholoy-23pond with its geese, ducks, water lilies and hundreds of birds of every description flitting about while a gentle rain falls, I am reminded of what “peace” is. Nature is continuing on its path as it should, with every creature going about its task as ordained by its species. Some are busy, some are sleeping, the goslings are stretching their long necks and all seems right with the world.

How have I ignored this little piece of heaven for so many years?

Ornitholoy-28This is Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. None of the birds I see are captive – they live here, and come and go as they please. Four miles of trails allow for some exciting and curious birdwatching – and giving the little ones an opportunity to get their wiggles out.

Recently celebrating its 100’th anniversary, the lab has become the world’s “go to” place for information on everything avian, while remaining open and accessible to anyone who wishes to see and experience.

What can people expect when they visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology? I asked spokesperson Pat Leonard. “First of all, they can expect to not pay any admission.”

The 75,000 to 80,000 worldwide members support the not-for-profit lab and its complement of over 200 scientists, interns, students and more.  99% of its operating expenses are generously covered by donations and memberships.

Inside the facility, in addition to the expansive and quiet observation area is a library open to the public for research or just to satisfy curiosity – though you can’t take any books out, you are welcome to read there.

Ornitholoy-25A small self-operated theater (with HD and Surround sound no less) invites you to learn about all sorts of subjects. I recommend you watch the one about the creation of the magnificent mural in the 3 story hallway. The project, as part of preparation for the Lab’s Centennial celebration, took a year and a half, and you will be amazed at the stunning detail in each of the more than 240 individual paintings.

Ornitholoy-27And there is a library of another kind as well, a SOUND library where you can hear sounds of a fantastic range of birds and other creatures. The Macauley Library archive of sounds has been instrumental in providing Hollywood with sounds for their birds and other creatures, notably the Hippogriff from the Harry Potter series of movies. While listening to the tremendous range of sounds, you can see the waveforms – and try to imitate them if you like. Our guide remarked that a lot of laughter comes from that room.

Ornitholoy-24There is some history here as well. “The Louis Agassiz Fuertes Room was recreated at the lab to highlight the Ithaca-born artist’s most important body of work. The pieces feature Fuertes’s favorite birds in their most appropriate habitat and season.” (from the “Plan your visit” flyer) The Fuertes room is adjacent to the auditorium where you can attend the long-running “Monday Night Seminar series, a tradition established decades ago by Lab founder Dr. Arthur Allen. Speakers include Cornell Lab staff, book authors, and distinguished scientists from around the world.” (from the Lab web site)

Outside the facility, the miles of trails wind through the Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary, on boardwalks over the wetlands, to secluded observation platforms and trails that bring you almost nose to beak with well over a hundred different species of birds. Patience is almost always rewarded. Sit quietly and the birds, in going about their daily business, will make themselves apparent to you.

Ornitholoy-22The Lab isn’t only for birds, birdwatching or study. It is a quiet, contemplative spot where you can bring a book, listen to your music, meditate or just contemplate nature and your place within our world.

For more information – and there is a LOT of “more information” available, visit,, or call 1-800-843-2473

Better yet, just visit the Lab at 159 Sapsucker Woods Rd, Ithaca, NY 14850. It’s free, and well within reach. It’s open daily 10 till 4, and the trails are open dawn to dusk.


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