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New York City Audubon

June 23, 2022

Cities, to the surprise of many, offer some of the best opportunities for birding anywhere in the U.S., especially during spring and fall migration. In New York City, for instance, close to 300 species have been reported over the years in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. These places provide vital stopover habitat for birds on their journeys, but as more people crowd into cities, squeezing these greenspaces, urban biodiversity and bird conservation have never been more important.

Left: NYC Audubon’s Project Safe Flight monitors bird collisions around buildings. Here, a volunteer holds a stunned Chestnut-sided Warbler after a non-fatal collision. Photo by Sophie Butcher.
Right: The new glass of the Javits Center is bird friendly; a pattern of small ceramic dots renders the material visible to birds as a physical barrier. NYC Audubon consulted on the retrofit, which resulted in a reduction of bird-building collisions by over 90%. Photo by Angie Co.

Top: NYC Audubon’s Project Safe Flight monitors bird collisions around buildings. Here, a volunteer holds a stunned Chestnut-sided Warbler after a non-fatal collision. Photo by Sophie Butcher.
Bottom: The new glass of the Javits Center is bird friendly; a pattern of small ceramic dots renders the material visible to birds as a physical barrier. NYC Audubon consulted on the retrofit, which resulted in a reduction of bird-building collisions by over 90%. Photo by Angie Co.

That’s why we’re celebrating the pioneering work of New York City Audubon, a grassroots nonprofit that has been working for over 40 years to make cities safe for birds and birding accessible to all New Yorkers. In terms of safe passage: Birds are unable to recognize glass and other reflective materials as physical barriers, and thus building collisions are one of the biggest threats to birds. Additionally, artificial lights at night – and American cities are awash in light pollution – confuse birds and interfere with their ability to navigate. NYC Audubon led the fight for passage of landmark city legislation to reduce these harms: a 2020 law that requires the use of bird-friendly materials on new and altered buildings, and a 2021 law that requires city-owned buildings to turn off lights during peak nighttime migration. NYC Audubon is also focused on protecting and enhancing vital habitat in the city, from shorelines and city parks to green roofs and reclaimed landfills.

Left: Each year on September 11, NYC Audubon staff and volunteers monitor the Tribute In Light installation commemorating those who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. The twin beams of light, which are visible from 60 miles away, attract and disorient masses of migrating birds. When monitors count over 1000 birds trapped in the beams, the lights are turned off to allow the birds to disperse and continue their arduous journeys. Photo courtesy of NYC Audubon.
Right: Birds, bats, and insects drawn to the light become trapped in the beams. Photo by Debra Kriensky.

Top: Each year on September 11, NYC Audubon staff and volunteers monitor the Tribute In Light installation commemorating those who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. The twin beams of light, which are visible from 60 miles away, attract and disorient masses of migrating birds. When monitors count over 1000 birds trapped in the beams, the lights are turned off to allow the birds to disperse and continue their arduous journeys. Photo courtesy of NYC Audubon.
Bottom: Birds, bats, and insects drawn to the light become trapped in the beams. Photo by Debra Kriensky.

Considering the dramatic increase in bird mortality – the loss of over 3 billion birds in North America alone since 1970 – urban land conservation may be far more important for migratory birds than anyone previously realized. Noted naturalist and author Scott Weidensaul recently wrote in A World on the Wing that, in terms of maximizing the greatest benefit for migratory birds, “restoring habitat in a fairly small urban park may be more important than setting aside a significantly larger tract of land in some more distant area.” Thanks to New York City Audubon, we’re learning how to build better cities for birds and urban biodiversity.