Texting while Flying? No Problem!

NYC Audubon’s Susan Elbin and colleagues Nellie Tsipoura and John Brzorad share an exciting new partnership project:


Great Egret "Clare" with Her Transmitter © NYC Audubon

Great Egret "Clare" with Her Transmitter © NYC Audubon

A new era of technology has been added to the NYC Audubon/NJ Audubon Harbor Herons foraging surveys. For the past several years, dedicated citizen science volunteers have spent hundreds of hours collecting data on Harbor Heron foraging locations in New York City and NJ. Now two of our birds are part of a larger study being done by scientists at Lenoir-Rhyne University (Dr. John Brzorad), Friends University (Dr. Alan Maccarone), and NJ Audubon (Nellie Tsipoura). (Note: John and Al did some of the original Harbor Herons surveys in the mid-1980s).


On June 25 and 26, two adult great egrets were captured at Wolf’s Pond, Staten Island, and fitted with solar-powered GPS/GSM (Global Positioning System/Global System for Mobiles) transmitters. The birds’ transmitters send text messages indicating their location, which are then displayed on virtual maps at Movebank.org. The two birds, Clare and Edward, have been “adopted” by local classrooms on Staten Island (Mrs. Theresa Kutza, New Dorp High School and Mrs. Mary Lee, St. Clare’s School) and by citizen scientist volunteers. Clare is definitely part of our breeding population:  She frequently sends messages from Hoffman Island. Edward spends his time on the Jersey side of the river, but just at press-time, has also visited Hoffman. You can see for yourself what Clare and Edward have been up to by clicking here.  (If you click on either “Clare” or “Edward” on the left-hand side, the name will turn blue, and the bird’s flight path will appear on the map. Zoom out to see the entire area the birds have traveled. Note that due to a technical glitch, at the moment both birds are labeled as great blue herons.)

This work was funded by the US Forest Service, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, and private donations to NJ Audubon, and done in cooperation with the New Jersey Audubon Society, New York City Audubon, and the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.





Birds & Blizzards: Adaptations of Wintering Birds

NYC Audubon Director of Conservation and Science Susan Elbin shares how birds are able to handle the more severe conditions of the winter season


Dark-eyed Junco © Laura Meyers

Dark-eyed Junco © Laura Meyers

After several recent snowstorms (with more predicted for this weekend), maybe some of us have been wondering about the birds: my feeders were full of birds, but now they are deserted. What do birds do in bad weather?


First let us reassure you: birds have been around for more than 60 million years! They have adapted to different climate regimes and have learned how to survive inclement weather. Most birds deal with the cold weather by migrating south. The birds that come to New York City or stay here through the winter have a variety of behaviors that keep them warm and dry. A few things they do:


  • Fluff up their down feathers and keep their body feathers waterproof. Some birds molt additional down during the winter.
  • Cover exposed skin with feathers. Some birds will tuck their bills under a wing or tuck one leg up close to its body. Some birds can stand on ice without freezing their feet because of specially adapted circulatory system called “counter current.”
  • ‘Hunker down’ in a protected spot until the storm passes.
  • Huddle! Birds will often sit close together – closer than they would in temperate weather.
  • Produce their own body heat by shivering.
  • Eat a lot of high-calorie food.
  • Chill out: some birds slow down their metabolism and go into a state of torpor.


Unfortunately, despite all of these adaptations and behaviors, some birds don’t make it. While wintering birds have evolved to survive without the help of supplemental feeding by people, if you do feed the birds in the winter time, make sure to keep your feeders consistently stocked until spring. If you can provide fresh water, that’s all the better.

Project Safe Flight Update: Fall 2014


Research Assistant Debra Kriensky provides an overview of this fall’s Project Safe Flight results:


Fall migration has come to an end, and we have now tallied up our findings from this autumn’s Project Safe Flight efforts. In all, a total of 78 dead and injured birds were found by our dedicated Project Safe Flight volunteers this fall, who go out every week during migration rain or shine to help us determine where birds are colliding with glass around the City. Monitoring took place at several sites this fall, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), Bryant Park, and the Richard Meier building on Prospect Park. Several new sites were monitored this year as well, such as Lerner Hall on Columbia University’s campus and the Ford Foundation Building. The MET and Bryant Park continue to be collision hotspots for migrating birds. Even with fencing obstructing parts of the route at the MET for the first few weeks of migration, our volunteers still found 50 birds there over the course of 10 weeks.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet © Alison Rea


In addition to our Project Safe Flight data, our new online data entry tool, D-Bird, provided us with information about dead and injured bird sightings from all over New York City and for the first time, we were able to combine that information with our Project Safe Flight data. What we found was alarming: a total of 237 dead and injured birds from August to early December. Continue reading ‘Project Safe Flight Update: Fall 2014’ »

Hooked on Herons: Confessions of a ‘Citizen Scientist’

The Author Surveys Jamaica Bay's Marshes for Wading Birds © Janet Jensen

The Author Surveys Jamaica Bay's Marshes for Wading Birds © Janet Jensen

By Gail Karlsson, Harbor Herons Foraging Study Volunteer


When I first stopped by  NYC Audubon this past May, I didn’t realize I was in danger of developing a serious addiction problem. You may scoff, but first hear my story.


I was initially exposed to herons in the Caribbean, and soon found myself searching for sources closer to home. Not so easy in Manhattan, though I did once spy a couple of great egrets by the pond at the south end of Central Park.


Then one day a friend passed me a copy of the NYC Audubon newsletter and I saw a notice about a Harbor Heron Foraging Study training—that very night! Hours later, with high expectations and a sense of destiny, I found myself in a small room cluttered with bird books. About 15 of us sat quietly on folding chairs, nervously checking each other out, not sure what to expect. Continue reading ‘Hooked on Herons: Confessions of a ‘Citizen Scientist’’ »

2014 International Coastal Cleanup Day Report

Volunteers Picking Up Trash at Jamaica Bay's North Channel Beach © Adriana Palmer

Volunteers at Work at Jamaica Bay's North Channel © Adriana Palmer

On September 20, NYC Audubon took to the shores of New York City for this year’s International Coastal Cleanup Day. The annual event is a global volunteer effort uniting hundreds of thousands of volunteers from across the globe to help clean up our shorelines and oceans. For this year’s Cleanup Day, we organized not one but two different cleanups of City beaches that are vital for migrating and nesting shorebirds: Jamaica Bay’s North Channel Bridge Beach (with American Littoral Society and National Park Service) and Pelham Bay Park’s Orchard Beach (with New York City Parks and Recreation).


Volunteers came out in record numbers for this year’s New York City cleanups: 111 volunteers worked long hours diligently picking up trash from the beaches. The Boy Scouts of America, Girls Scouts Troop 4623-4587, Hunter High School Environmental Club, the Mitsubishi Corporation, and Volunteer for Wildlife were among the groups lending a hand at Jamaica Bay, while CubScout Pack 304 based in PS304 Bronx was instrumental in our cleanup of Orchard Beach.


Between the two cleanups, this year we were able to remove 1,726 pounds of trash. That’s almost a ton! At our North Channel cleanup alone, we picked up 321 plastic grocery bags, 454 plastic and glass bottles, 730 cigarette butts, 2,302 glass pieces…and one teddy bear!


Thanks again to everyone who made this year’s International Coast Cleanup Day our most successful ever. New York City shorelines provide valuable habitat to wildlife, including migratory and beach nesting birds. The dedication and hard work of all those who volunteered this year will improve City shorelines for birds, and people too.

International Coastal Cleanup Day Group Photo © Adriana Palmer

International Coastal Cleanup Day North Channel Group Photo © Adriana Palmer


Finally, these cleanups could not have happened without the hard work of Adriana Palmer and Terra Weiland, our beach captains for the North Channel and Orchard Beach cleanups, respectively. Thanks to both of them for organizing these two very successful events.


-Andrew Maas

Tribute in Light 2014: A Problem-Free Night for Bird Migration

Tribute in Light Beams © Debra Kriensky

Tribute in Light Beams © Debra Kriensky

On September 11, 2014, NYC Audubon staff members were joined by 19 dedicated volunteers for the annual monitoring of the Tribute in Light memorial. Every year from 8pm to 6am the next morning, our monitors watch the light beams carefully to make sure migrating birds are getting through safely. On heavy migration nights, it’s possible for hundreds or even thousands of birds to be seen circling the lights at a time, disoriented and likely to exhaust themselves or suffer injury. When such high numbers of birds are seen ‘caught’ in the lights, the Municipal Arts Society of New York, which founded the Tribute, cooperates with us and turns off the light beams for a brief period to allow the birds to pass through and continue their migration safely. Thankfully, this year we only counted a handful of birds at any one time throughout the night, and the lights were kept on the whole time.


Even with all the modern technology available today, it’s still difficult to accurately forecast the weather, not to mention bird migration! For days and even hours leading up to the Tribute in Light monitoring, we were not sure what to expect that night. Weather reports earlier in the week had called for rain all night on September 11th, which though less than ideal for the volunteers is actually a good thing for the birds. Heavy rain overnight would likely mean that migrating birds would stick around another day to wait for better weather to continue their journey south. By Thursday morning, however, the forecast had changed and aside from a chance of rain early on in the night, it was beginning to look like we would see clear skies instead. At the same time, migration forecasts were predicting moderate to heavy migration activity in the Northeast, including in New York City.


TowerObservers © Beryl Goldberg

Observers Monitoring the Light Beams for Bird Activity © Beryl Goldberg

Everyone on the ground was prepared for a situation like those seen in years past, when we have had to request that the lights be shut down several times due to thousands of birds circling in the light beams. As typically happens though, conditions can change at a moment’s notice. While it did end up being a clear night, only a few birds—and bats—passed through the lights. In fact, the highest number of birds counted in the lights at any one time was only 18. It was a great relief to hear mid-monitoring that while it was still a heavy migration night, the birds had flown just west of New York City, missing the lights almost entirely.


-Debra Kriensky



Greenpoint’s McGolrick Park Transformed into an Urban Oasis

NYC Audubon Intern Melanie del Rosario reports on the planting of a quarter-acre native plant garden in McGolrick park, and how the garden will benefit birds, wildlife, and the Greenpoint community:

A group of NYC Audubon staff and a team of dedicated volunteers got their hands dirty in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on June 28 and 29, planting a quarter-acre native plant garden in McGolrick Park. After much planning and hard work by NYC Audubon Research Assistant Kaitlyn Parkins, the previously sparse, grass-covered southwest corner of the park has been transformed into an urban oasis designed to attract a variety of wildlife species and promote biodiversity within the park. The new garden, funded by the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund, is an ongoing project that will engage the local community in caring for the park and increase quality of life for both people and wildlife in Greenpoint.

 © Chris Kreussling, http://flic.kr/p/nRuyoQ

© Chris Kreussling, http://flic.kr/p/nRuyoQ

About 40 volunteers from the Greenpoint area came out for the weekend planting event, and put over 4,000 plants into the ground! We planted native wildflowers such as New York asters and black-eyed susans, along with shrubs such as lowbush blueberries, ferns, and grasses (including the broomsedge pictured on the right).

© Chris Kreussling, http://flic.kr/p/o8FWat

© Chris Kreussling, http://flic.kr/p/o8FWat

We carefully selected plants native to the New York City area that will provide food and habitat for birds as well as beneficial insects, pollinators, and bats. Many migrating songbirds are experiencing population declines due to poor quality stopover habitat. Some of these birds travel over 1,000 miles without stopping, so providing them with sufficient food and water is crucial for their nesting success when they reach their breeding grounds. The McGolrick Park garden will provide high-quality habitat and food sources for both permanent residents and migrating birds throughout the year.

Wilson's Warbler © Linda Tanner, http://flic.kr/p/9LfBtr

Wilson's Warbler © Linda Tanner, http://flic.kr/p/9LfBtr

In addition to benefiting wildlife, the garden will also enhance the Greenpoint community for anyone who enjoys getting in touch with nature. We hope that everyone who passes through McGolrick Park will enjoy the natural beauty of the garden while learning about the importance of native plants and wildlife.

Although native plants are relatively maintenance-free once they are established, our new plants could use extra help to ensure they survive their first year. If you are interested in helping care for the garden, email volunteer@nycaudubon.org to learn more.

Terns on Governor’s Island: a Habitat Enhancement Success

NYC Audubon Director of Conservation and Science Susan Elbin and Elizabeth Craig, PhD Candidate, Cornell University, share how their recent habitat enhancement work for common terns nesting on Governor’s Island has already paid dividends


Common terns are colonial nesting seabirds: white with a black cap, gray back and wings, and a black-tipped red bill. In New York City, they nest in Jamaica Bay. But for about the last seven years they have also been nesting on the decommissioned piers at Governor’s Island, Manhattan. Since 2013 NYC Audubon has been monitoring that colony. In New York State they are classified as a threatened species. Conservation threats include habitat loss, disturbance, and flooding.


Lima Pier Before © NYC Audubon

Lima Pier Before © NYC Audubon

In 2013 we discussed doing some enhancement of the nesting sites on the piers to provide better support and protection for the eggs. This year we made our first site visit of the season to Governor’s Island on May 22. If we wanted to do any habitat enhancement work, it had to be done immediately: the terns were returning and starting to build nests!


We are currently only permitted on Lima Pier because the other two piers are not safe for human access, so the habitat work was to be done there. A group effort made the habitat enhancement work possible. The Harbor School generously donated oyster shell, and shell crunching was done by heavy machines under Jim Reed’s direction at Governor’s Island.


Lima Pier After © NYC Audubon

Lima Pier After © NYC Audubon

We spread the shells to about a 3” depth between the edge of the pier and the barriers—enough to provide a buffer between the eggs and the hard concrete. By the time we were done moving the shells and admiring the newly created habitat, the birds had already returned! A few days later, National Park Service volunteer Annie Barry spread some hay (thank you Marisa Dedominicis and Earth Matter!) on the shells for the birds to use in their nest building.


Banded Least Tern © Elizabeth Craig

Banded Least Tern © Elizabeth Craig

On June 22, we returned to Lima Pier to work with the terns. NYC Audubon Finance Director Barbara Lysenko and NY State DEC biologist Barbara Saunders joined our bird banding team for that day. What we found was awesome: 32 common tern nests – three times the number of nests observed at this time in 2013 before habitat enhancement! A true measure of success.


Our team banded four chicks with federal and field-readable color leg bands. We also banded 14 adults. Common terns have high fidelity to their nest site. We found two (out of four) birds we had banded on Lima in 2013 had returned to the pier.


A third previously-banded adult was not one of ours: this bird had been banded in Argentina! We are in the process of contacting the bander so we can learn when and where that bird was tagged.


Keep your eyes open for common terns sporting black leg bands with white digits — they could be the terns from Governor’s Island.



Meet New York City’s Harbor Herons!

Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron Chicks © Kenneth Cole Schneider (Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License)

Harbor Herons Nesting Survey Coordinator Tod Winston reports on one of the more unusual wading bird colonies in New York City:



“Momma don’t play,” said Viola, resident of Far Rockaway’s Redfern Houses, west of JFK airport. “Momma” being a yellow-crowned night-heron, nesting just outside Viola’s fifth-story window. Apparently another yellow-crowned night-heron, not Momma’s mate, had momentarily landed on Momma’s nest. Momma hadn’t liked it one bit, and had quickly sent the intruder packing. I spoke to Viola last Friday morning, as Kaitlyn Parkins and I surveyed the nesting colony of several dozen yellow-crowns that in recent years have unexpectedly made the willow oaks and honey locusts of the Redfern Houses’ wind-sheltered courtyards their home. Viola described how every year she watched the parent birds feed each other during courtship and bring nesting material, and then regurgitate crabs and crustaceans for their chicks. Viola clearly is very fond of her birds. Her only complaint? The night-herons puff up and threaten her if she opens the window closest to their nest. Viola laughed as she told how she instructed anyone in the home to open another window if they wanted to cool off. (Truth be told, another Red Fern resident complained that the night-herons can “really stink” on a hot summer day: “I’m always happy to see them come… and happy to see them go,” he good naturedly proclaimed.)


We were happy to find a total of 41 yellow-crown nests in the Redfern colony this year, one more nest than our 2013 count—and pleased to see that Redfern residents seem to appreciate “their birds.” Red Fern’s nesting colony is just one of eleven wading and waterbird nesting colonies that NYC Audubon has been surveying these last two weeks of May, adding to more than 30 years of survey data on New York City’s colonies of herons, egrets, ibis, and other waterbirds. Unlike Redfern’s unusual and very urban colony, the rest of our nesting colonies are located on wild island preserves in New York Harbor: South Brother Island, Huckleberry Island, U-Thant Island, and Mill Rock on the East River and Long Island Sound; Hoffman and Swinburne Islands of off Staten Island; and various island in Jamaica Bay. Teams of surveyors have been doing careful nest counts of these island colonies of great and snowy egrets, black- and yellow-crowned night-herons, little blue and tricolored herons, and glossy ibis, along with double-crested cormorants, gulls, and other waterbirds. This year’s survey data is not yet complete and has yet to be analyzed, and will be reported later this year. To read more about the Harbor Herons nesting surveys, please click here.


Though our surveying teams must access the harbor heron islands with special permits and survey the colonies under challenging conditions (imagine wading through poison ivy with angry cormorants vomiting fish onto your head!), you have the opportunity to see the island colonies firsthand and in complete comfort on NYC Audubon’s Sunset Ecocruises to the Harbor Heron Islands. Departing from Pier 16 at South Street Seaport selected Sundays from June 1 through August 17, the tours explore three different routes: Sail up the East River to the fascinating Brother Islands, down under the Verrazano Bridge and past the Statue of Liberty to the large egret and cormorant rookeries of Hoffman and Swinburne Islands—or visit the vast, wild expanses of Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Click here to register.




New Parent Red-Tails Come to Tompkins Square Park!

Two eggs are visible in Chris and Dora's nest. Photo © Sandrine Lee

Two eggs are visible in Chris and Dora's nest. Photo © Sandrine Lee

The morning of Monday, March 31 started off slowly, but took a quick turn for the exciting when we received a call about the pair of red-tailed hawks nesting next to Tompkins Square Park. After a few years of hosting juvenile red-tails, Tompkins Square Park is finally home to two nesting adults! Karen Waltuch and Leni Stern reported that they have been excitedly watching the hawks from inside the Christodora Building, where the hawks have taken up residence on a 7th-floor air conditioning unit. This young pair is very active—they’ve been flying about the park and putting on quite a show for onlookers in the East Village.


Monday’s call from Karen came, however, due to concern that building management and the tenant of the apartment where the hawks have chosen to nest might want to remove the nest. Many people are unaware that hawks, along with their nests and eggs, are federally protected, and that removing them is illegal. In response, NYC Audubon communicated with the building manager to ensure that this nest remains undisturbed, and we have since gotten word that the tenant is in fact delighted to have the hawks nesting right outside the window.


The Tompkins Square hawks (we’ve heard that they’re being call “Chris” and “Dora” in honor of their chosen building’s name) are already famous. They’ve been the subject of several blog posts and news articles since they started nest-building in February. Bruce Yolton, who runs the website urbanhawks.blogs.com, had been observing the birds closely along with other City hawk watchers, wondering when the female would finally start laying eggs and brooding, as she is several weeks behind some of the more established nests in the City. Well, yesterday morning we received a lovely photo from Karen and Leni looking down on the nest—and two eggs are clearly visible! We wish Chris and Dora a successful nesting season.


Click here to read more about red-tailed hawks in New York City, and learn what you can do to help protect them.


– Kaitlyn Parkins