Helping Birds Migrate Safely Through New York City
© NYC Audubon
Visit D-Bird.org to record observations of dead or injured birds
What to do if you find an injured or baby bird
Birds encounter many challenges in New York City: Light from buildings at night. Trees and plants behind glass. Reflection of trees in glass windows. Many species of birds, including such beloved songsters as warblers, tanagers, orioles and thrushes, migrate at night. In spring, these birds come from South and Central America on their way to their breeding grounds in the boreal forests of Canada and the tundra of the Arctic. Many pass through New York City along what ornithologists call the Atlantic Flyway. In the fall, the migrating birds pass through our city again, now with inexperienced youngsters, and head back to the distant south.
Located at the nexus of several migratory routes, New York City’s tall buildings and reflective glass pose a serious threat to over 100 species of migratory birds, some of which are experiencing long-term population declines.
The threat that urban areas present to migratory birds is two-fold:
Nocturnally migrating birds can be disoriented by light and become “trapped” by illuminated structures. Throughout modern history, clouds of birds have been observed fluttering around lit-up structures, such as lighthouses, bridges and skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
Death by Collision
by F. Portmann
When lit-up skyscrapers project into birds' migratory airspace, the birds are attracted to the glow. Trapped like moths at a porch light, they are vulnerable to colliding with the structures or even each other. Under certain weather conditions birds have been seen fluttering around lights for hours! Some perish. Some continue to struggle until daylight breaks. Then, these exhausted birds land in whatever trees or shrubs they can find along our city streets… where they encounter other perils in an inhospitable environment.
Death by Collision
by F. Portmann
Migrating birds may mistake a dangerous building for a safe resting place. This can occur in two ways. A building that has plants or trees behind glass can actually attract birds. As they fly around looking for food and perches they can injure themselves or even die by crashing into the glass. A second way a building can be perilous to migrating birds is by presenting highly reflective glass near the greenery found in parks large and small. Again, birds see a safe haven where there isn't one, and will collide with the building.
The problem is that birds cannot perceive the solid nature of the glass in either of these situations, and attempt to fly through. Some experts maintain that after habitat destruction, glass poses a greater threat to birds than any other human effect or activity. A conservative estimate puts the number of birds killed annually in the U.S. from striking windows at 100 million. We estimate that anywhere from 90,000 to 230,000 are killed each year just in New York City alone
In short, death or injury for migrating wildlife occurs all too frequently in our city.
All Window Strikes
© NYC Audubon
NYC Audubon's Project Safe Flight
Project Safe Flight was started by a few dedicated volunteers in 1997 to work to protect these birds. Continuing every year since then, Project Safe Flight's conservation efforts focus on collision prevention, rescuing injured birds and counting those that have perished. This work is performed by many diligent and dedicated volunteers.
During spring and autumn migration periods, volunteers patrol the streets of New York City in search of dead and injured birds that have collided with buildings. Injured birds are brought to animal care centers or rehabilitators and are released in the wild after their recovery. Dead birds are collected and transferred to various natural history museums and research institutions. All the collected birds (dead or injured) are entered in our database, providing a powerful tool for understanding the geography and dynamics of urban bird collisions.
Project Safe Flight Injured Warbler
© NYC Audubon
Since the program’s inception in 1997, over 6,500 dead and injured birds have been collected and documented in our database. Project Safe Flight’s Research Program improves our understanding of the causes behind urban bird collisions, and studies ways to prevent bird collisions from occurring. Our successes include the retrofitting of the Morgan Mail Processing Facility (421 8th Avenue), and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (655 West 34th Street), where collisions have since dropped dramatically. We have also collaborated with the American Bird Conservancy on the widely distributed Bird-Friendly Building Design (an update of our previously published Bird-Safe Building Guidelines).
In 2014 we added an important tool to Project Safe Flight: D-Bird. An online crowd-sourcing data collection tool, D-Bird provides a way for the public to enter records of dead or injured birds, contributing to our Project Safe Flight research. Crowd-sourced data can help to provide context and guidance for more scientifically rigorous research efforts, such as the traditional Project Safe Flight monitoring protocols. If you find a dead or injured bird, you can click here to submit a report through D-Bird. Periodically, NYC Audubon staff will analyze these reports and work to integrate and relate these results to existing Project Safe Flight research.Below you can see a frequently updated map of the data already submitted through D-Bird. You can view specific entries by placing your mouse over each data point on the map .
Overall Research Findings
Since the inception of Project Safe Flight, we have found that the white-throated sparrow is the species with the most collisions in New York City:
And we have learned that the 12 species with the highest collisions make up 58 % of all the species involved in collisions.
. Click here to see our report on the spring and fall 2015 seasons.
Lights Out New York
Project Safe Flight’s affiliate program, Lights Out New York, promotes education and outreach by encouraging owners of tall buildings to turn off lights during the two migration seasons to help save night-migrating birds while reducing energy costs. A twofold win!
Turning off the lights and drawing the blinds can help save thousands of birds from over 100 different species every year!
Birds "Trapped" in 2016 Tribute in Light Memorial's Beams
© NYC Audubon
Tribute in Light Monitoring
As part of our job as guardians of migrating birds, NYC Audubon staff and volunteers have monitored the Tribute in Light memorial since 2002 to ensure that night-migrating songbirds, which in some years are attracted in huge numbers to the Tribute’s powerful light beams, are not exhausted and injured during the all-night event.
The evening of September 11, 2010 was significant because there were times when thousands of birds were drawn to the lights and "trapped." Similarly, in 2015 the lights had to be turned off a record of eight times to allow thousands of birds to migrate safely over New York City. NYC Audubon has worked closely with the National September 11 Memorial and Museum (previously the Municipal Art Society of New York) to minimize the impact on these birds by turning out the lights when necessary.
Chestnut-sided Warbler at Our Bronx Zoo Testing Tunnel
© NYC Audubon
Since 2014, NYC Audubon has been working with partners at the American Bird Conservancy, Ennead Architects, Fordham University, New Jersey Audubon, and Wildlife Conservation Society to test bird-friendly glass at our glass-testing tunnel located at the Bronx Zoo. Wild birds that are caught during spring and fall migration are flown through the test tunnel, to determine whether various glass treatments and patterns are more visible to birds than clear glass. A fine net in front of the test glass prevents birds from any harm during this experiment.
Through this research, many different glass treatments and patterns have been scored for their “bird-friendliness.” This work will allow us to make informed recommendations to building managers, architects, and others about how to make buildings safer for birds. Funding for this project was provided in part by the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. To see National Geographic’s video on our research, please click here.
In addition to reducing light and collisions to make New York City safer for birds, it’s important to ensure migratory birds have quality stopover habitat while they’re here. In 2014 and 2015, NYC Audubon installed a native plant garden in a 0.25 acre section of McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn called the Urban Oasis. With native plants such as lowbush blueberry, common milkweed, and Canadian serviceberry, the garden provides quality food and cover for migrating birds and also attracts bees, butterflies, and other insects. Bird surveys have demonstrated that many migratory and breeding birds use this relatively small park, highlighting the importance of quality habitat especially in areas lacking in green space. Funding for the Urban Oasis and bird surveys were provided by the Office of the New York State Attorney General and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation through the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund.
In addition to improving stopover habitat, we can also increase the green space for birds in New York City. Green infrastructure, in particular green roofs, provide novel and much needed habitat for birds in dense urban settings. NYC Audubon has been working with the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center since 2014 to monitor their green roof (the second largest in the country) for birds, bats, and arthropods. The results so far have been very interesting, with the green roof providing foraging habitat for American kestrels and barn swallows, and nesting habitat for a small but growing colony of herring gulls.
Resources and References
Bird-Friendly Building Design: Based on NYC Audubon's Bird-Safe Building Guidelines, this new 2015 update by the American Bird Conservancy in partnership with NYC Audubon is the most authoritative resource on this issue. Click here to order a print copy of Bird-Friendly Building Design, or click here to view or download a PDF.
LEED Pilot Credit in Reducing Bird Collisions: NYC Audubon, Bird-Safe Glass Foundation and the American Bird Conservancy successfully worked with the US Green Building Council to create this pilot credit for sustainable buildings.
Light, Glass, and Bird-Building Collisions in an Urban Park by Kaitlyn L. Parkins, Susan B. Elbin and Elle Barnes
Windows and Vegetation: Primary Factors in Manhattan Bird Collisions by Yigal Gelb and Nicole Delacretaz
Bird Collisions with Windows: An Annotated Bibliography
by Chad L. Seewagen, Dept. of Ornithology, WSC
Lights Out Chicago!
Bird Conservation Network
New York City Audubon's conservation programs are made possible by the leadership support of the Leon Levy Foundation.