NYC birds

The Annual Great Backyard Bird Count

By Kevin Kubik

This past weekend was the 5th year in a row that I have participated in the Annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the national Audubon Society and it’s a four-day event held every year on Presidents Day Weekend. The goal of the bird count project is simple – to get a real-time snapshot of where the birds are. Participation is open to everyone – from beginners to expert birders. You can spend as little or as much time as you like counting the numbers of each species of bird at your location during the weekend and recording them on the GBBC website (http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc).

Red-bellied woodpecker (photo courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Why Count Birds?

Here’s how GBBC explains the event: “Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Scientists use the GBBC information, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The longer these data are collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions, like these:

• How will the weather influence bird populations?
• Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
• How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
• How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
• What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?”

Downy woodpecker (Photo courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

While the weather didn’t cooperate this year (it was too cold and windy for much bird activity in my neighborhood on Sunday and Monday), I still managed to see some of my favorite local birds. Most notably were: a red-bellied woodpecker in a nearby tree, a downy woodpecker pecking away on some fragmites, and a Coopers Hawk soaring high above my house.

Hopefully next year’s contest will have better bird watching weather in NJ and I look forward to the coming spring migration along the coast.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. He has worked as a chemist for the Region for more than 29 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Searching for Seals | New York Harbor

By Alyssa Arcaya

Sometimes it can feel like the only wildlife that thrives in New York City are roaches, rats and pigeons.  While we have plenty of these critters, New Yorkers who visit the city’s amazing parks and recreation areas know that city is home to other animals as well.  I’ve seen wild turkeys in Battery Park, bats flying through Prospect Park at dusk and, earlier this month, harbor seals swimming in the waters near the Verrazano Bridge.

Brant geese fly near Governor’s Island

In partnership with New York Water Taxi, the New York City chapter of the Audubon Society organizes winter trips in New York Harbor to visit harbor seals, which can be seen in this area from November to March, as well as migratory birds that make New York City their winter home.  Serious birders know that the New York City is a great place to see birds- over 400 species have been spotted in the five boroughs!  Some of these birds spend their summers above the Arctic Circle, where the Arctic tundra provides ideal nesting ground and abundant mosquitoes provide plenty of food.

During one of the last days of this not-so-chilly winter, the Audubon group was able to spot at least 18 species of birds, including double-crested cormorants and peregrine falcons.   Still, birdwatching off a boat in a highly urbanized harbor ecosystem had its challenges.  At one point, our knowledgeable Audubon guide spotted Purple Sandpipers feeding on some rocks off Erie Basin, near the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook.

The shores of Swinburne Island are a favorite spot for birds and harbor seals

The tiny birds, which have a slightly purplish hue, are rare in this area and quite small.  Even with binoculars, some people on the boat had trouble spotting them.  Our guide provided some helpful direction.  “Directly below the juice bottle, near the orange plastic bag,” he called out.  “Ok, now they’ve moved three rocks over from that large piece of Styrofoam.  If you think you saw a rat, it was probably a sandpiper!”

We left the waters off Brooklyn and headed along the coast of Staten Island to check out Swinburne and Hoffman Islands.  These manmade islands were constructed in the late 1800’s as quarantine stations for immigrants from Ellis Island.  The remains of hospital buildings and a crematorium are still visible on decidedly spooky Swinburne.  Part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, these islands are now off limits to people and serve as bird sanctuaries.   While we weren’t lucky enough to see the seals sunning themselves on the islands, we did spot their shiny heads bobbing in the water as they came up for air between dives.   Although my hands and feet were freezing by the end of the trip, seeing seals swimming against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline made it worth braving the cold.

About the Author: Alyssa Arcaya serves as EPA Region 2’s water coordinator.  She came to EPA through the Presidential Management Fellows program, through which she also worked for EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs and the Water Team at the U.S. Department of State.  She graduated from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies with a Masters in Environmental Management.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Turning off your Office Lights | Is it “for the Birds?”

By Todd Calongne

Living in a midtown Manhattan high-rise, the views at night are beautiful.  Times Square is lit up with thousands of lights. I see some of my favorite brand names glow down the street without much change from the 1940s. When I look up at the office buildings I see every floor fully lit. I am immediately frustrated because people not working at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning on every floor!  Does the building keep lights on for reasons?

I’m not alone with this bird’s eye view.  There are millions of real birds that fly through New York City every year that also see these overly lit buildings and many of them don’t survive the experience.  In certain conditions when birds fly at lower altitudes they smash into windows at speeds that may be in excess of 70 mph. Ouch…splat!

Photo via http://bit.ly/yISNlj

A study conducted by the Field Museum in Chicago showed that by turning the lights off in an office building the number of birds killed dropped by 83%. The well lit buildings confuse birds with their artificial lights, and often blinded by weather are unable to see glass. Often birds are simply exhausted by flying around the lights like moths near a flame and they are easily injured or killed.

The economic impact for the buildings or owners ensuring lights are off, the impact on our aging power grid and the clear lack of energy conservation aside, us green urban dwellers have an opportunity to save the lives of tens of thousands of our winged cohabitants!

NYC Audubon Society Associate Director, John Rowden, PhD. explains,” The built environment of major cities presents innumerable challenges to native birds, particularly migrants, during the fall and spring. Two issues are particularly problematic for birds: the lights of buildings at night and glass that reflects habitat during the day, both of which can kill birds.” More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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