Archive for May 2014

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.