Staten Island Project

Staten Island view towards Verrazano Bridge

© SI Borough President's Office

As the least developed of the five boroughs of New York City, Staten Island still has a tremendous opportunity to protect natural places and the birds and other wildlife that depend upon them. From the marshes along its north and west shores to the ribbon of green through its center, the borough supports the city’s most diverse plant and animal life. This diversity is enhanced by the island’s varied soils and geology as well as its matrix of salt marsh and upland habitats lying within the Atlantic Flyway.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, parts of Staten Island had an almost rural feel. Current residents can recall a time when children could bicycle across the island and swim in its creeks. The opening of the Verrazano Bridge in 1964 unleashed a wave of development that continues today, bringing ever more roads, housing, ball fields, shopping centers, garbage transfer stations and other municipal and industrial infrastructure.


© SI Borough President's Office

Through the efforts of borough and citywide conservation groups, including NYC Audubon, a great deal of the island’s natural landscape has been preserved. But significant open spaces remain unprotected, as do numerous small properties whose development would disrupt the ecological integrity of conserved lands.

In the center of the island is the 2,800-acre Greenbelt, a nearly contiguous loop of woodlands, parks, golf courses and other protected lands, although several key parcels are privately owned and remain at risk of development. On the north and west shore, where the Arthur Kill divides Staten Island from New Jersey, a network of marshes and creeks persists among housing, roads, bridges, shipping terminals and other commercial facilities. A green bridge between these two areas will be created by the construction, over a period of 30 years, of a 2,200-acre park on the former Fresh Kills Landfill.

Great Egrets

© NYC Audubon

Once part of a larger natural system, Staten Island’s patchwork of open spaces retain hydrologic and geologic links. Some places are in a relatively undisturbed state while others bear the scars of former industrial use and need restoration, but together they provide habitat for a remarkable number of species, including rare plants, foraging wading birds, and several hundred migratory bird species.

NYC Audubon’s Work in Staten Island
Since our founding, NYC Audubon has worked to study, preserve, restore and build appreciation for this interconnected natural landscape to ensure that it remains a vital place for birds.

John Rowden and Susan Elbin, NYC Audubon ornithologists in Staten Island

© NYC Audubon

Research and Monitoring
Since 1986, through our Harbor Herons project, NYC Audubon has been monitoring populations of herons, egrets and other wading birds, which were discovered breeding and nesting on several islands in the Arthur Kill in 1974 after having been extirpated from New York Harbor in the nineteenth century. Hoffman and Swinburne Islands, off the eastern side of Staten Island, are important nesting sites for these birds. NYC Audubon volunteers participate in citizen science programs on Staten Island, collecting data on foraging waders and tracking birds from their nesting colonies, providing data for analysis by our scientists. Drawing on more than 20 years of research, we collaborated with a broad range of government, non-governmental and academic institutions to develop the Harbor Herons Conservation Plan, released in 2010. This plan to protect and support waterbird populations in the harbor is part of the U.S. EPA’s Conservation and Management Plan for New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary. Click here to learn more about NYC Audubon's Harbor Herons project and view nesting survey results.

Bird Banding

© NYC Audubon

NYC Audubon has been working in coordination with borough, citywide and national conservation groups to protect open space along the Staten Island shore, within the Greenbelt and throughout the island. One of our early successes was winning protection for Shooters Island, Prall’s Island and Isle of Meadows, where wading birds first returned to nest in the 1970s. In 2001, we co-produced with the Trust for Public Land, An Islanded Nature, an interpretive guide to Staten Island and the habitat most important to the Harbor Herons.

Arlington Cove Marsh

© NYC Audubon

On the northwest shore, we have been vigilant in advocating for the protection of marshland foraging habitat, which is at risk from construction and other proposed projects. We participated in the city’s Wetlands Transfer Task Force, which recommended preserving Arlington Cove Marsh instead of keeping it in reserve for possible expansion of the nearby container port, and we continue to press for the land to be officially transferred to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. We are advocating to minimize the damage to habitat from the construction of the new Goethals Bridge and a proposed underground natural gas pipeline.

Together with civic, scouting and environmental groups and elected officials, we are working to preserve Pouch Camp in the heart of the Greenbelt. Its owner, the Greater New York Councils of the Boy Scouts of America, is considering selling all or part of the camp for development, which would permanently diminish the ecological value of the entire Greenbelt.

Restoration and Mitigation
  • Partnering with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation through the National Audubon Society/Toyota TogetherGreen initiative, our volunteers have worked to remove invasive species and plant trees in Clove Lake Park and Mount Loretto State Preserve and have cleaned the beach at Miller Field.


Mount Loretto State Preserve

© SI Borough President's Office

We coordinate with the parks department in the management of Prall’s Island, where a recent infestation by the Asian long-horned beetle led to extensive tree removal. Herons have not nested on the island since 2005 and we are investigating potential restoration efforts to bring them back.

As part of a joint effort with Audubon New York, we are providing nesting and roosting areas for Chimney Swifts around the city. At Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve on Staten Island, a 260-acre natural area that is one of the city’s nine Important Bird Areas, NYC Audubon staff helped erect a Chimney Swift tower in view of the visitor center observation window.

Clay Pit Ponds Chimney Swift Tower

© NYC Audubon


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