Ornithologists flock to Tokyo bird sanctuary

By Charles Glover

Tokyo hardly seems like a welcome home for wildlife, let alone a peaceful bird sanctuary. Yet Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park manages to attract flocks of resident birds and migrant feathered creatures from around the world. Even some long-term city dwellers may be surprised to find that such a haven exists on Yashio Island, a chunk of reclaimed land that juts into Tokyo Bay just north of Haneda Airport.

The area was originally broad shoals of muddy tidal flats where fisherman harvested seaweed and seafood and where flocks of birds gathered eagerly. In the ’60s, a landfill project was undertaken to provide more room for Tokyo, but in the process it destroyed the bird’s habitat. Luckily for the wildlife, just as the project was completed, the energy crisis halted further development and the area fell into disuse. Ponds formed and grass grew, eventually attracting birds and animals — and people, who found it an ideal place for nature walks. The municipal government eventually responded to increased public pressure by creating what is today a 24.4-hectare nature preserve that is still being added to, largely through volunteer efforts.

The bird park, which opened officially in 1989, is located in an unlikely area — squeezed between giant warehouses, a shinkansen yard and a major artery of the Shuto Expressway. Yet once inside, you’ll quickly forget where you are. The area near the entrance is extremely lush, with dense foliage, bamboo groves and a winding, gurgling brook leading to a secluded freshwater pool. As you climb into an observation blind, you feel as though you are peeking behind Mother Nature’s private screen, transported to a distant mountain pond lined with reeds in a thick forest with songbirds flying about. Keep an eye out for herons, finches, owls and the odd peregrine falcon.

Crossing the nearby bridge takes you to the wide expanses of the park’s eastern regions. Again trees tightly ring the area like green ramparts around a castle, as the path opens up to a lake that abounds with freshwater fowl, particularly in spring and summer. It is not uncommon to see five or six types of ducks splashing around, with many of them year-round residents.

Continuing south, you’ll see some buildings outside the park seep into the horizon, but the tidal plane before you makes up for it; you can enjoy a third distinct habitat, again with different birds to look for. The mud flats are constantly changing as the brackish water rises and falls with the tide, providing an endless feeding ground for long-legged herons and egrets. Brightly colored kingfishers flit around, as well as a number of delicate sandpipers investigating the mud flats. A resident colony of long-necked cormorants, lazily perch atop tree stumps, holding their wings open to dry their feathers or just soak up some sun.

Over half the park is inaccessible by foot, which makes it, well, for the birds. But there are four bunker-type blinds and a wide covered fence with slots at different heights, which generally hides you from the birds while offering a chance to observe them almost unnoticed. One nice feature is that all of the viewing areas have free, high-quality scopes.

Another attraction is the nature center in the eastern part of the park. Its entrance is barely visible, hewn out of the ground like a long-lost war bunker, yet it opens up to a four-story structure with an expansive indoor viewing area and lounge. This makes a nice refuge when the weather turns nasty, or if you just want to take a rest. The basement has special metal grates that allow you to venture out onto the mud flats — even if you happen to be in high heels.

The nature center also contains a library, an audiovisual room and a learning center, making it an excellent destination for school field trips. Possibly due to all the greenery around, everyone seems to be in a very mellow state of mind. Many of the staff are volunteers, and quite friendly. You may not be guaranteed to find an English speaker every time, but staff certainly are keen to try and communicate.

Entrance to the park is a bargain at 300 yen for adults and 150 yen for middle school students; younger kids get in free. Staff claim that over 150 different species of bird can be seen, with 80 on hand at any given time of the year. The birds certainly feel at home there — and you will too.

The Tokyo-ko Yacho Koen wild bird park ( is a 15-minute walk from Ryutsu Center station on the Tokyo Monorail. It is also easily accessible by bus from Shinagawa station (take bus 98 from stand 1 or 2) or by car (free parking available). Open Tue-Sun 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Mon.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (

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Yep, it's great to be a bird, especially in an earthquake-prone area! (Note the sarcasm)...

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I visited the park in the late 1980s before it officially opened. There was only one blind then, near the pond, and I was the only visitor and in fact saw no one on the way to and from the station, aside from a few drunken horse-racing enthusiasts loitering and huge trucks speeding through the streets not anticipating pedestrians. Even so, it was worth the trip. I am happy to hear how nice it has become! I found Tokyo overall to be surprisingly rich in wildlife.

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