Protecting Urban Habitat

Habitat Protection

Staten Island’s Freshkills Park includes varied types of habitat including grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands. Photo: James Dunham/CC BY-SA 2.0

The greatest global threat to birds is habitat loss and degradation. New York City, the most densely populated major city in the United States, is nevertheless traced by a vast network of viable bird habitat: 30,000 acres of forests, grasslands, wetlands, and islands, and 578 miles of waterfront. Over 350 species of birds—almost a third of all the species in North America—depend on this habitat during the year. Millions stop here during migration as they travel along the Atlantic Flyway, one of the world’s great bird migration routes. Many species nest here, while others journey here from the far north to find refuge in the wintertime. 

This link opens in the same window.

 

Both large and small green spaces in the City may provide critical migratory stopover, nesting, and wintering habitat. And such spaces have many additional benefits. They provide opportunities for connection to birds and nature often lacking in underserved communities. Green spaces, including green roofs, also reduce energy consumption and fossil fuel use by mitigating the “heat island effect” in our metropolis. Coastal habitats protect low-lying communities from flooding and storm surges—protection that is ever more urgent in our warming world. (All of our bird species and their habitats are being impacted by ongoing global climate change, in ways that scientists are still working to understand. Read about National Audubon’s research on the impact of climate change on birds.)

Both large and small green spaces in the City may provide critical migratory stopover, nesting, and wintering habitat. And such spaces have many additional benefits. They provide opportunities for connection to birds and nature often lacking in underserved communities. Green spaces, including green roofs, also reduce energy consumption and fossil fuel use by mitigating the “heat island effect” in our metropolis. Coastal habitats protect low-lying communities from flooding and storm surges—protection that is ever more urgent in our warming world. (All of our bird species and their habitats are being impacted by ongoing global climate change, in ways that scientists are still working to understand. Read about National Audubon’s research on the impact of climate change on birds.)
Both large and small green spaces in the City may provide critical migratory stopover, nesting, and wintering habitat. And such spaces have many additional benefits. They provide opportunities for connection to birds and nature often lacking in underserved communities. Green spaces, including green roofs, also reduce energy consumption and fossil fuel use by mitigating the “heat island effect” in our metropolis. Coastal habitats protect low-lying communities from flooding and storm surges—protection that is ever more urgent in our warming world. (All of our bird species and their habitats are being impacted by ongoing global climate change, in ways that scientists are still working to understand. Read about National Audubon’s research on the impact of climate change on birds.)
Both large and small green spaces in the City may provide critical migratory stopover, nesting, and wintering habitat. And such spaces have many additional benefits. They provide opportunities for connection to birds and nature often lacking in underserved communities. Green spaces, including green roofs, also reduce energy consumption and fossil fuel use by mitigating the “heat island effect” in our metropolis. Coastal habitats protect low-lying communities from flooding and storm surges—protection that is ever more urgent in our warming world. (All of our bird species and their habitats are being impacted by ongoing global climate change, in ways that scientists are still working to understand. Read about National Audubon’s research on the impact of climate change on birds.anchor
Both large and small green spaces in the City may provide critical migratory stopover, nesting, and wintering habitat. And such spaces have many additional benefits. They provide opportunities for connection to birds and nature often lacking in underserved communities. Green spaces, including green roofs, also reduce energy consumption and fossil fuel use by mitigating the “heat island effect” in our metropolis. Coastal habitats protect low-lying communities from flooding and storm surges—protection that is ever more urgent in our warming world. (All of our bird species and their habitats are being impacted by ongoing global climate change, in ways that scientists are still working to understand. Read about National Audubon’s research on the impact of climate change on birds.)

Great and Snowy Egrets in New York Harbor. Photo: Yigal Gelb
Great and Snowy Egrets in New York Harbor. Photo: Yigal Gelb
The Harbor Heron Islands
In the waters that divide New York City’s five boroughs, hemmed in by development and crisscrossed by bridges, ferries, and tunnels, lies an overlooked, scattered wilderness: the islands of the Harbor Herons. 
Learn More
A Bird’s-Eye View of Central Park. Photo: Stew Dean/CC BY-NC 2.0
A Bird’s-Eye View of Central Park. Photo: Stew Dean/CC BY-NC 2.0
Forests and Upland Parks
As millions of migrating birds fly over New York City in spring and fall, they encounter what must be a bewildering spectacle: an inhospitable landscape of cement, rooftops, and macadam streets. But this vast “gray-scape” is marked, here and there, with inviting shapes of dark green—the City’s forests. NYC Audubon works to protect these critical woodland habitats and encourages bird-friendly forest management throughout the City’s five boroughs.  
Learn More
Double-crested Cormorants, American Oystercatchers, Atlantic Brant, and more in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens. Photo: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/don.riepe.14" target="_blank" >Don Riepe</a>
Double-crested Cormorants, American Oystercatchers, Atlantic Brant, and more in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens. Photo: Don Riepe
Coastal Wetlands and Beaches
With its 578 miles of waterfront and vast salt marshes, New York City truly deserves the nickname “City of Water”: its waterfront is longer than those of Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco combined. 
Learn More
Female Bobolinks. Photo: <a href="https://pbase.com/btblue" target="_blank" >Lloyd Spitalnik</a>
Female Bobolinks. Photo: Lloyd Spitalnik
Grasslands and Capped Landfills
Plains, prairies, steppes, veldts, llanos, and pampas: these names from around the globe conjure up a certain kind of vast, sweeping ecosystem, the grassland. And though these grassland types may differ in some specifics, they are all alike in that grasses (plants in the family Poaceae) are the dominant plant species, often accompanied by sedges, (Cyperaceae) and rushes (Juncaceae). Grasslands tend to occur in areas where water (and sometimes temperature or soil quality) is inadequate to support shrubs and trees. This open ecosystem is often maintained in part by fire and/or grazing by animals, and may occur naturally or under the purposeful management of human beings.
Learn More
Herring Gull eggs on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Green Roof. Photo: Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
Herring Gull eggs on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Green Roof. Photo: Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
Green Roofs and Infrastructure
Historically, NYC Audubon has advocated for the conservation of natural areas in New York City with two primary goals in mind: the preservation of habitat for birds, and the safeguarding of ecological services that protect both people and wildlife in our city. Projects such as Buffer the Bay (1987), Buffer the Bay Revisited (1993), and Jamaica Bay Coastal Habitat Restoration Project (1994-1996) aimed to protect land surrounding Jamaica Bay as bird habitat, and as a buffer from storms and flooding. 
Learn More
The green roof of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Photo: Dustin Partridge
The green roof of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Photo: Dustin Partridge
The Green Roof Researchers Alliance
In 2017, NYC Audubon convened a working group of green roof researchers at the request of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The new group’s aim: to provide accurate information on the benefits of green roofs and to broaden awareness of green roofs among decision-makers and the public, in order to accelerate green roof installation across the City. 
Learn More
Water Quality and Stormwater Issues in NYC
New York City’s human population—over eight million people—poses a set of distinct challenges to our wetland ecosystem. 
Learn More
Cedar Waxwings and many other bird species are sustained by the berries of the Winterberry Holly during the colder months. Photo: <a href="https://www.lilibirds.com/" target="_blank" >David Speiser</a>
Cedar Waxwings and many other bird species are sustained by the berries of the Winterberry Holly during the colder months. Photo: David Speiser
Plants for Birds
In New York City, we can help provide all these things by enriching the landscape for birds. In our highly managed greenspaces, which plant species we choose to include can have a strong impact on the health and diversity of our land bird population, and on our ecosystem in general. 
Learn More
An iconic bird of eastern woodlands, the musical Wood Thrush is enormously helped if we reduce carbon emissions: It could lose 60 percent of its current range, forced north into what is now boreal forest, if global temperatures rise 3.0 degrees, but mostly stays put after 1.5 degrees. Source: <a href="https://www.audubon.org/climate/survivalbydegrees" target="_blank" >Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink</a>, by National Audubon. Data visualizations and design: Stamen Design
An iconic bird of eastern woodlands, the musical Wood Thrush is enormously helped if we reduce carbon emissions: It could lose 60 percent of its current range, forced north into what is now boreal forest, if global temperatures rise 3.0 degrees, but mostly stays put after 1.5 degrees. Source: Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, by National Audubon. Data visualizations and design: Stamen Design
Birds and Climate Change
The most critical threat to birds and our planet at large, Climate Change affects all habitats in different ways. Rising sea levels are particularly ominous for coastal communities of both birds and people, but many non-coastal bird species may also be adversely affected by rising temperatures. According to National Audubon’s climate report, Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink, two-thirds of North American birds are at increasing risk of extinction from global temperature rise. 
Learn More
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks stop over in New York City’s forests during migration, and may occasionally nest in our larger woodland parks. Photo: <a href="https://www.lilibirds.com/" target="_blank" >David Speiser</a>
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks stop over in New York City’s forests during migration, and may occasionally nest in our larger woodland parks. Photo: David Speiser
Forests and Upland Parks

As any New York City birder knows, migrating birds funnel into our wooded parks in droves. Unfortunately, our woodland birds are in trouble: according to a study published in the journal Science in 2019, our eastern forest birds have declined 20 percent since 1970—a stunning loss of about 167 million birds. Possible reasons for this decline include habitat loss throughout the birds’ ranges and pesticide use. Learn more about conservation issues facing Forests and Upload Parks and NYC Audubon’s work protecting them. 

Learn More
A naturally managed woodland area of the Central Park Ramble. Photo: gigi_NYC/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/" target="_blank" >CC BY-NC-ND 2.0</a>
A naturally managed woodland area of the Central Park Ramble. Photo: gigi_NYC/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Bird-Friendly Habitat Management

Many assume that natural areas are “best left alone” and do not require active management. But our city’s habitats, having been transformed over hundreds of years, often require human intervention to be productive for wildlife. All areas have been impacted by development—and some are now entirely different habitats than they once were. Much of our original bird-friendly native flora has been replaced by introduced plant species. Keystone animal or plant species, which once played critical roles in sustaining a habitat, may be entirely missing. 



Bird-friendly management practices are needed to make these natural areas richer and safer for birds and other wildlife. Native landscaping, proven to increase bird diversity and abundance, is key for any bird-friendly habitat. (Learn more about why native plants are important for birds, and about planting for birds in New York City.) Carefully employed policies such as mowing schedule or water-level maintenance make habitats more productive as nesting and foraging areas. Improved stormwater management is critical to the City’s wetland habitats. (Read about stormwater and water quality issues facing NYC.) And regulations protecting nesting areas of vulnerable ground-nesting birds from both people and domestic animals must be enforced. (Learn more about the danger that free-roaming and feral cats pose for birds.) 



Our urban green spaces are a very scarce resource—and pro-wildlife policies can conflict with other priorities of both park managers and the public. NYC Audubon advocates for the allocation of city, state, and federal funds for the conservation, restoration, and maintenance of New York City’s natural spaces, as well as for the funding of natural resource agencies and their staff, at all levels. It is important that stakeholders hear from constituents who support bird-friendly policies and program funding—and that the public is offered opportunities to learn about the value of the wild habitats in their communities. Learn more about how you can help advocate for bird-friendly legislation and policies that affects issues such as land use choices in New York City. 

Learn More
Priority Habitat Types

NYC Audubon identifies vulnerable bird habitats in the five boroughs and works to protect them. Every habitat type in the City requires a specific set of policies and maintenance regimens to best support migrating or breeding bird populations and other wildlife. Read about each main habitat type below. We also create and conduct research on green roofs and other green infrastructure—manmade habitats that both help maintain our harbor’s water quality and provide novel and much needed habitat for birds in dense urban settings.  

Each year Great Egrets raise young on protected islands in New York Harbor, including South Brother, Hoffman, and Subway Islands. Photo: Jeff Kolodzinski
Each year Great Egrets raise young on protected islands in New York Harbor, including South Brother, Hoffman, and Subway Islands. Photo: Jeff Kolodzinski
The Harbor Heron Islands

Wild to an extent that seems near impossible in the midst of one of the world’s largest cities, our “urban archipelago” of over 20 islands provides nesting grounds for 10 species of long-legged wading birds, along with cormorants, gulls, terns, ducks, geese, Osprey, and many songbirds. NYC Audubon has worked since its inception to protect these crucial nesting habitats from development and allow them to remain havens for waterbirds. Learn more about conservation issues facing the Harbor Heron Islands and NYC Audubon’s work to protect them.

Learn More
Sanderlings feed along the waterline of New York City beaches during migration and over the winter. Photo: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/don.riepe.14" target="_blank" >Don Riepe</a>
Sanderlings feed along the waterline of New York City beaches during migration and over the winter. Photo: Don Riepe
Wetlands and Beaches

We live in an estuary—defined as “a partly enclosed coastal body of water in which river water is mixed with seawater.” Estuaries like ours are considered one of the richest ecosystems on Earth—second only to tropical rainforest in terms of species diversity. Our rich ecosystem, however, has historically not been treated well and continues to be threatened by poor water quality, increased human activity, and pollution. Learn more about conservation issues facing our city’s wetland and beaches and NYC Audubon’s work to protect them. 

Learn More
A Savannah Sparrow carries a caterpillar to its nest, hidden deep in thick grasses. Photo: Bill VanderMolen/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/" target="_blank" >CC BY-NC 2.0</a>
A Savannah Sparrow carries a caterpillar to its nest, hidden deep in thick grasses. Photo: Bill VanderMolen/CC BY-NC 2.0
Grasslands and Capped Landfills

Grasslands are among the most endangered of habitats: according to National Audubon’s North American Grasslands & Birds Report, fewer than 40 percent of the continent’s 550 million acres of historical grasslands remain. Most would not associate grasslands with NYC, but due to accidents of human land use and determined conservation efforts from our organization and others, our city is now home to several grasslands such as Freshkills Park. Learn more about conservation issues facing Grasslands and Capped Landfills and NYC Audubon’s work to protect them. 

Learn More
An American Kestrel hunting on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Green Roof Photo: NYC Audubon
An American Kestrel hunting on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Green Roof Photo: NYC Audubon
Green Roofs and Infrastructure

In recent years, as the need to protect the City has become ever more imperative in the face of climate change, city planners have begun to design built infrastructure to mimic the ecosystem services provided by natural areas. NYC Audubon has been studying biodiversity changes following installation of green infrastructure projects and champions green roof creation through inititatives like the [our work/protecting urban habitats/green roof researchers alliance”]Green Roof Researchers Alliance[/a]. Learn more about green roofs and infrastructure and NYC Audubon’s work to study their effects on wildlife. 

Learn More
The Dedication of Bayswater Point State Park, in Queens. Pictured (left to right): past Board Member Barbara Cohen; Mickey Cohen; Andy Stone of Trust for Public Land; David Burg; Elizabeth Goldstein of NYS Parks; Albert F. Appleton; Queens Borough President’s Special Assistant for Parks Elaine Castas; NYC State Parks Commission Chair Cynthia Wainwright; John Graham; and two volunteers from the City Volunteer Corps. Photo: Betty Hamilton
The Dedication of Bayswater Point State Park, in Queens. Pictured (left to right): past Board Member Barbara Cohen; Mickey Cohen; Andy Stone of Trust for Public Land; David Burg; Elizabeth Goldstein of NYS Parks; Albert F. Appleton; Queens Borough President’s Special Assistant for Parks Elaine Castas; NYC State Parks Commission Chair Cynthia Wainwright; John Graham; and two volunteers from the City Volunteer Corps. Photo: Betty Hamilton
Four Decades of Habitat Conservation

In 1978, a cadre of regular Central Park bird watchers successfully opposed a Central Park Conservancy plan to “restore” the Ramble through changes such as tree removal. These fledgling bird-habitat activists soon founded the New York City Audubon Society—and launched 40 years of dedicated habitat preservation. Through the years, we have often achieved victory through collaboration with partner organizations exclusively dedicated to habitat protection. Our “Buffer the Bay” program, worked with the Trust for Public Land and the American Littoral Society to preserve priority lands around Jamaica Bay. Other successes have included the conservation of the grasslands of Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field, the Harbor Heron Islands, Goethal’s Bridge Pond on Staten Island, and Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn-Queens border. Read more about [a href = “Preserving_habitat_for_4_decades.pdf”]the history of NYC Audubon’s habitat conservation work (PDF)[/a].