Hanging with the Birds at Constitution Gardens

At Constitution Gardens, you can sometimes see Great Blue Herons fishing for their supper. This one also ordered a side salad.

But this is only one of the park’s many delights.

With Constitution Avenue to its north, the Reflecting Pool to its south, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the west, and the Washington Monument to the east, Constitution Gardens in a surprising pastoral refuge in the heart of our busy city.

eBird’s Constitution Gardens checklist lists an amazing 188 species of bird sighted in the area, from pedestrian sparrows and robins to more unusual varieties.  How does the park attract so many winged wonders? The Maryland Ornithological Society has an explanation: “Located right in the middle of the Washington, DC capital area, Constitution Gardens is a 50-acre migrant trap. The wide area of green space in the middle of this urban city attracts birds moving through the area.”

Pretty much any time of year, what you’re likely to see right away are Canadian geese. Some of our birding friends refer to the island in Constitution Gardens’ pond as Goose Poop Island, and with good reason. Be sure to wear sensible shoes when you visit. The goose dropping situation in the Gardens and the Mall generally got so bad that in 2015 that the Park Service brought in a pack of border collies in order to keep the area “100 percent goose-free, 95 percent of the time.” Needless to say, the geese won that particular battle.

Mallard ducks are also common, year-round residents. And, in the Spring, there are lots of little ones around.

Duckling, Duckling…

Seagulls (okay, that’s not really a species… most are likely ring-billed gulls) can also be seen, even at the least hospitable times of year.

But, we’ve hardly gotten started, even among the waterfowl that make Constitution Gardens their sometime-home.

Double-Crested Cormorant

The American Coot looks like a duck, but does not quack like a duck, because it’s not a duck.

American Coot

Killdeers (that unusual name comes from the sound of their call) are another species of shorebird that sometimes frequents the park.

And, if you get tired of looking at all the avian life at Constitution Gardens, you can always admire the dragonflies that flit around the pond.

A Halloween pennant rests on — what else? — a goose feather

But, whatever you do, don’t let those dragonflies out of your sight, or they might be snatched up by birds for supper.

An Eastern Kingbird feeds her chick a dragonfly

Constitution Gardens Facts

  • A Little History: (Borrowing heavily from Wikipedia) What is now Constitution Gardens was underneath the Potomac River until the early 20th Century, when the area was dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers. Starting in 1918, it served as the site for the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings. The buildings were demolished during the Nixon administration and, in the bicentennial year of 1976, Constitution Gardens was dedicated as a “living legacy American Revolution Bicentennial tribute.” In 1982, on the island in Constitution Gardens pond, a memorial to the signers of the Declaration of Independence was dedicated.
  • New Citizens: Each year, the Gardens host a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens.
  • “Tractor Man” Standoff: In March 2003, North Carolina tobacco farmer Dwight Watson drove his John Deere tractor to Constitution Gardens and occupied the island. As WETA reports, “Heading up Constitution Avenue, he suddenly jumped the curb and drove straight into the pond at Constitution Gardens between the Vietnam Memorial and the Washington Monument. Watson began playing patriotic music and then climbed onto the tractor, which he adorned with an upside-down American flag – a traditional sign of distress – and a yellow flag with a tobacco leaf on it.” Watson claimed that he was carrying bombs made with ammonium nitrate, though they turned out to be only bug spray. He surrendered to authorities after 47 hours.
  • Future Renovations: In 2012, the Trust for the National Mall announced winners of a competition to redesign portions of the National Mall, including Constitution Gardens. Rogers Marvel Architects & Peter Walker and Partners (a landscape architectural firm) were selected to redesign Constitution Gardens. The design includes a new pavilion and paths. The Trust emphasizes that the plans were created with environmental sustainability in mind. However, we admit that the artist renderings (available here) — which include clear glass windows that our feathered friends might collide into, and use of the pond as a skating rink in the winter —  give us pause.

Join the Conversation


  1. Love the bird images. One thing I’ve learned about goose poop is that dogs love the way it tastes. After a few hours, though, they leave really smelly souvenirs in the form of farts.

    1. Thanks! We’ve actually never taken any of our dogs near geese, so didn’t know the outcome of their love of goose poop.

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