Watson Road Bird Preserve

IMM Photo

by Rachel Nelson

North America’s conservation movement gave wings to a bird habitat conservation trend, led by the Audubon Society in the early 20th century. Established in 1925, Watson Road Bird Preserve, 900 Watson Road (approximately 3700 N. Guilford Ave.), is the oldest and, at nearly four acres, one of the largest bird sanctuaries in Indianapolis.

Like many cities, Indianapolis was becoming more urban at that time, and builders had begun marketing the value of neighborhoods to potential buyers. In the Watson-McCord Neighborhood, a unique approach was taken. The developer, Watson Hasselman, included both McCord Park and the Watson Road Bird Preserve for residents to enjoy as greenspace, Having a park at each end of a residential area remains a rarity in urban development.

When the Watson Road park land was deeded to the City, it was on the condition that it be utilized as a conservation space for bird habitat, or the properties would revert back to private family ownership. In honor of this stipulation, it remains a passive park to this day—one of the few remaining urban bird parks in the nation.

Photo © Rachel Nelson

A first-time visitor may be perplexed by the park’s unusual landscape, but it is very intentionally maintained by the City’s land stewardship team, which manages about 1,600 acres of habitat in 35 parks, or about 14 percent of the City’s parks and greenways. The team has implemented numerous improvements in recent years to promote the park’s unique function as a bird habitat. The outer edges of the park are mowed up to a center zone that is left as woodland prairie for ground-nesting birds. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and a host of neighbors have worked to remove invasive plant species and help maintain the park’s native landscape.

IMM Photo

Trees on the site include chinquapin, red oak, serviceberry, American beech, buckeye, hackberry, and ash. Bird watchers have sited migratory warblers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, woodpeckers, finches, wrens, cardinals, a few red-tailed hawks, and a Cooper’s hawk. For butterfly enthusiasts, the park is a sight to behold when flowers are in bloom. Take heed not to pluck a bouquet for yourself—residents in the surrounding neighborhood are the ever-watchful guardians of their park and won’t hesitate to correct your behavior. Remember the admonition to “leave no trace” and allow this peaceful space to remain preserved for the next generation of nature lovers.

Photographer Rachel Nelson is secretary of the Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association.