Harbor Herons

[b]Great and Snowy Egrets[/b][br]© Yigal GelbGreat and Snowy Egrets
© Yigal Gelb

Project Overview

The purpose of NYC Audubon’s Harbor Herons project is to monitor the population status of wading birds (including herons, egrets, and ibis) and other waterbirds (cormorants, gulls, and terns) on select islands in the New York/New Jersey Harbor and surrounding waterways, while also noting the presence of other nesting bird species and current nesting habitat.

Our conservationists have mustered an enthusiastic corps of citizen scientists to survey and monitor these birds. We have accumulated more than 30 years of data on their nesting and foraging behavior. This research helps NYC Audubon determine what species or habitats are most in need of protection. Through our tireless advocacy, we have helped to preserve important Harbor Heron habitats like the Brother Islands and Arlington Marsh. To learn about our conservaion work in Western Long Island Sound, including the preservation of the Brother Islands, click here.

There are two components to the Harbor Herons project: the nesting survey and the foraging study.


Nesting Survey

NYC Audubon has been formally monitoring Harbor Heron nesting behavior since 1982. This survey focuses on finding Harbor Herons’ breeding grounds.

In Fall 2004, NYC Audubon made a decision to shift the Harbor Herons Nesting Survey from an annual to a triennial schedule; the last complete survey was conducted in 2013, and was part of a larger, regional effort from Maine to Virginia. In the years between our full surveys, we conduct interim surveys on islands where nesting occurred in the prior year.

The US Army Corps of Engineers and The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey draft “Comprehensive Restoration Plan for the Hudson-Raritan Estuary” and the Harbor Herons Subcommittee of the Harbor Estuary Program’s “Harbor Herons Conservation Plan” together provide historical perspective of Harbor Herons and their breeding and foraging habitat, identify threats to the persistence of these species in the harbor, and lay out a plan of action for protecting these birds in the future. 

Below, see reports from our 30-year-old Harbor Herons project to identify, monitor and protect the nesting islands of herons, egrets and other long-legged waterbirds throughout New York Harbor:

Click here for the 2019 Full Report.
Click here for the 2018 Interim Report.
Click here for the 2017 Interim Report.
Click here for the 2016 Full Report.
Click here for the 2015 Interim Report.
Click here for the 2014 Interim Report.
Click here for the 2013 Full Report.
Click here for the 2012 Interim Report.
Click here for the 2011 Interim Report.
Click here for the 2010 Survey Summary.
Click here for the 2010 Full Report.
Click here for the 2009 Interim Report.
Click here for the 2007 Full Report.
Click here for the 2006 Interim Report.
Click here for the 2005 Interim Report.

 Click here for Powerpoint presentations from the 2014 Harbor Herons and Waterbirds of the Greater NY/NJ Harbor

Foraging Study

A more recent project, known as NYC Audubon Harbor Herons Foraging Study, focuses on identifying Harbor Herons’ foraging areas. Our goal is to see if birds nesting on different islands forage at unique sites, or if all birds in the harbor forage in the same general areas.

Since 2003, NYC Audubon has conducted off-colony monitoring surveys with the help of volunteers. These citizen scientists observe and chart the birds’ flight lines from the breeding colonies to the foraging sites, recording this information for analysis by NYC Audubon conservation staff.

With this information, we can work to conserve not just their nesting grounds but all sites that are important to the birds’ survival. NYC Audubon’s surveys have found that many of the Harbor Herons’ foraging grounds are located outside of New York Harbor, which reinforces the idea that our conservation efforts should focus on the region as a whole rather than on breeding grounds or foraging grounds separately.


How You Can Get Involved

Are you interested in helping with the Harbor Herons project? NYC Audubon offers many exciting ways for volunteers to get more involved in our fieldwork. Please visit our Volunteer! page for more details.

NYC Audubon would not be able to carry out our Harbor Herons project without direct contributions from foundations, government agencies, and individuals like you. To make a donation on behalf of Harbor Herons, please click here.

New York City Audubon gratefully acknowledges the support of:
The Eppley Foundation for Research
The Bay and Paul Foundations

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