New York: Animals of the Hudson River

Discover the diverse plants and animals of the Hudson River

The Hudson River Estuary, its tributaries and the lands that feed them are home to more than 200 types of fish, 19 kinds of rare birds and 140 rare plants (one of which — the Hudson River water nymph — grows nowhere else on earth). That's why in 2015, the Conservancy helped convene Hudson River stakeholders to identify more than 200 opportunities for habitat restoration, community infrastructure and recreational access along 300 miles of shoreline. Meet some of the plants and animals that depend on this iconic water body. 

Diamond Back Terrapin

The Diamondback Terrapin is a unique aquatic turtle that lives in brackish water. Unlike sliders and coots which inhabit freshwater or sea turtles which only inhabit salt water, the diamondback terrapin lives in the estuary and marshes where there is a mixed salinity. The brackish and freshwater tidal wetlands of the Hudson River provide essential habitat for them.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a rare breeding and wintering resident of forested areas in the Hudson River Valley. This is a small owl with a short body and tail, and a large rounded head. It vocalizes during the breeding season, usually between March and May, and is silent for the rest of the year. The northern Saw-whet Owl is restricted to estuaries along the Hudson River from south of Albany to a little north of the Tappan Zee Bridge. It inhabits moist coniferous or mixed forests as well as alder thickets, northern white cedar swamps, and tamarack bogs.

Hudson Water Nymph

Animal, vegetable or mineral? You would be correct if you answered vegetable – an aquatic plant to be exact. The water nymph is a lacy, aquatic plant that lives nowhere else on earth. It has long, flexible, string-like branches and leaves that are about one inch long with microscopic teeth along the margins. During low tide, you may find a few plants stranded on the tidal mudflats; otherwise, you are only likely to see this plant when your canoe paddle catches a few stems.


Oysters were once plentiful in the mouth of the Hudson River. In 1911, records show a peak harvest of almost 25 million pounds! In the ensuing years, oysters virtually disappeared from the Hudson, victims of pollution, dredging and over-harvesting. Decades after their disappearance, the oyster may be poised for a comeback – native oysters have been found at the Palisade Boat Club in Hastings-on-Hudson!

Bald Eagle

In the late 20th century bald eagles were on the brink of extirpation in the continental United States. Their numbers were decimated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries due to hunting, loss of habitat and DDT, a powerful pesticide. After DDT was banned in 1972, eagles, along with many other birds, began a slow comeback. And in 2002, bald eagles were reintroduced to Inwood Park at the northern tip of Manhattan along the Hudson River. They are now sighted with some regularity along the Hudson, and even flying over Manhattan. Bald eagles migrate here in search of unfrozen water bodies with a healthy supply of fish. In winter, the Hudson River along northern Manhattan is an ideal destination for bald eagle as a unfrozen water bodies with a healthy supply of fish.

Atlantic Sturgeon

Prior to 1900, Atlantic sturgeon were abundant in the Hudson River estuary, especially south of Hyde Park. Nicknamed the "Albany Beef," people once caught large numbers of these huge fish for their delicious meat and caviar. The sea-going Atlantic sturgeon may grow to a weight of 800 pounds and a length of fourteen feet. Years of overfishing have caused Atlantic sturgeon numbers to decrease dramatically. Currently they are federally endangered.

Red Salamander

Red salamanders are most often found in the lower Hudson River valley from Albany south, on Staten Island, and within a few western countries that border Pennsylvania. They migrate from the stream to terrestrial habitats on warm rainy nights in early April in New York and return to the streams for breeding in the late summer or fall. Most activity of red salamanders occurs in the evening.

Grass Pink Orchid

Grass pink or Calopogon, is a genus of terrestrial orchids and one of the regional rare or uncommon plants with specific habitat requirements found in the wetlands along the Hudson River. The generic name is from Greek and means "beautiful beard", referring to the cluster of hairs adorning the labellum. Like many other orchids, Grass pink is an indicator species for good remnant hydrology. This means that their presence is an indication of high-quality ground and surface water. Most species of Calopogon frequent wet, sunny swales, bogs, and the edges of marshy areas, and associates with ferns, sedges, grasses and forbs.

Lined Seahorse

Where salt and fresh water mix, it makes a salty “brackish” home for creatures like the lined seahorse. Yes, the seahorse is a fish! It uses gills to breathe and fins to swim. Its long tail helps it to swim upright and cling to underwater grasses along the riverbank. Sometimes seahorses use their tails to cling to each other and mate. In the warmer months, you can find seahorses in the river’s shallow water around piers and in grassy areas from Staten Island to the Tappan Zee Bridge in Westchester.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcons are listed as an endangered species in New York State. They were nearly eliminated in the 1960s, due mainly to pesticide residues in their prey. The release of young captive bred birds from 1974 to 1988 helped bring them back. Peregrines currently nest on buildings or bridges in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Binghamton and Buffalo, with about twenty pairs present in the Adirondacks. The Department of Environmental Conservation has set up several web cams to monitor the animal’s activities.