The number of people who choose to live in cities is on the rise, with 80% of the US population living in urban areas as of the 2010 census. While living in cities like New York reduces our individual environmental impact, it also causes the displacement of wildlife. But, as we all know, the city is not devoid of wildlife, so what types of creatures live here?
Just as the people from New York come from many different areas, the wildlife that inhabits the city often has origins in other places. For example, the Monk Parrot, a bright green tropical bird from Argentina, has established a breeding colony in NYC. This city-dwelling wildlife, whether native or not, faces unique challenges that have prompted some interesting animal adaptations. Like their human counterparts, city-dwelling animals have adapted to denser populations, smaller territories, changes in breeding patterns, and different diets.
Wildlife in the city often finds refuge in the city’s ~29,000 acres of parkland. While Freshkills has not formally been mapped as parkland yet, the wildlife has already recognized the resources that the landscape can provide and has been flocking back to the site. Inhabiting the rolling grassy hills that were once landfill mounds swarming with gulls are foxes, bald eagles, and coyotes. If you’d like to observe the transformation of Freshkills for yourself, join us for one of our spring tours or field trips.
The snowy owl, a bird made increasingly famous by its title role as Hedwig in the Harry Potter movies, was spotted at Freshkills Park last week. As its name suggests, the bird can be recognized by its snowy white color, though they have varied amounts of black and brown markings on their wings and chest. The females tend to have darker barring, while the males get whiter with age. The owl spotted at Freshkills has intermediate markings, so it is difficult to tell its sex, but because of the long white bib, our best guess is that it is an immature male. Interestingly for Harry Potter fans, despite Hedwig’s role as a female owl, she was actually portrayed by a male snowy owl in the films because they have whiter markings.
The snowy owl travels all the way from its summer breading spot in the treeless arctic tundra where it takes advantage of 24 hours of daylight to hunt small birds, waterfowl, and small mammals like the lemming. One snowy owl can consume over 1,600 lemmings a year; in fact, they are so dependent on lemming as a food source in the arctic that in years when the lemming population booms, the snowy owl is able to hatch more chicks. Unlike most owls, the snowy hunts during the day in large open areas like fields or shorelines. For a vantage point in these wide open spaces, the owls often find a conspicuous perch like a fence post, or in the case of the one spotted at Freshkills, a landfill gas pipe where DSNY Director of Landfill Engineering Ted Nabavi photographed him.
Snowy owls are only spotted in the winter in the Northern United States, but there have been a number of sightings in the area recently. If you’d like to try to spot these magnificent owls, you can try Great Kills Park (on the south west shore of Staten Island), Jamaica Bay Park (in Queens), or check ebird for the latest sightings near you. Happy birding!
Information via All About Birds
The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its cleanup plan for Gowanus Canal. The Brooklyn Canal, bound by Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, was declared a Superfund site in 2010 and communities have long been pushing for its cleanup.
Judith A. Enck, the EPA Regional Administrator, said:
“The cleanup plan announced today by the EPA will reverse the legacy of water pollution in the Gowanus. The plan is a comprehensive, scientifically-sound roadmap to turn this urban waterway into a community asset once more.”
One-hundred and fifty years of industrial activity has left the waterway filled with PCBs, PAHs, coal tar waste, heavy metals and volatile organics, and poisoned both the water and fish. The cleanup will take 8 to 10 years and, even then, swimming and fishing would be ill-advised. However, the effort initiates a process of ecological revitalization and sets a precedent that holds companies accountable for their actions.
If this federal decision pulls through, its long term benefits, in terms of residential health and re-investment in the NY Harbor area, are immense.
Last week several members of the Freshkills team assisted Dr. Mark Hauber, a professor of Psychology at Hunter College, in checking bird nestboxes in the park. Dr. Hauber is gathering data on the bird populations and breeding success at Freshkills Park, a site which has acted as a stopover for bird species along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway since the closure of the landfill. A migratory stop-over site provides safe and efficient foraging and resting opportunities between long-distance stretches of continuous migratory flights.
Dr. Hauber has been researching bird breeding at Freshkills since August of 2011, when the nest boxes were first installed in the park. He is currently monitoring two other active nestbox sites in New York City: a site in the Bronx near Hunters Point and Jamaica Bay’s National Gateway Park. By studying these sites, the aim is to assess of the ecological value of reclaimed sites with respect to migratory bird populations. The impact of a stop-over habitat on migrating birds is difficult to detect in adult birds, therefore Dr. Hauber has focused his research on birds hatched on the site, whose health directly reflects the local environment. Dr. Hauber ‘s work will help define the differences and similarities between newly restored brownfield landscapes and areas where nesting has been long established.
According to Dr. Hauber’s initial findings, Tree Swallows or House Wrens are the dominant species found in the nextboxes. The newly set-up nest boxes in the Bronx and Staten Island are only 30 percent occupied, whereas the long-standing nestbox colony in Jamaica Bay’s National Gateway Park has 75 percent occupancy. His team is also finding that more young Tree Swallow females, which have a distinctive brown coloring at the age of one, settle in boxes that are recently set-up, compared to the well-established sites. The age of nesting males is much more difficult to determine considering that all males have the same green coloring, irrespective of age. An analysis of abandoned eggshells and nestling down feathers is still underway.
On their recent trip, the team checked the 80+ bird nestboxes located in South Park and North Park. Corresponding with his initial findings, the nestboxes were found to be primarily inhabited by House Wrens and Tree Swallows. Upon inspection, it was discovered that several of the nests contained recently laid eggs, some with a single egg others contained up to seven. Dr. Hauber and the Freshkills team will be returning to the site to check on the nests and the soon to be hatched baby birds in the next few weeks.
As habitat is restored in Freshkills Park, many animal species have already returned to the site, including foxes, turtles, egrets, rabbits, deer, and, as of recently, a coyote. In fact, coyotes are becoming increasingly prevalent in urbanized areas across the U.S., leading to conflicts over how to handle these wild animals when they come into contact with humans.
Coyotes find suburban areas particularly attractive for the abundant availability of food sources, including pet food, human food scraps, fruit trees, rodents, and even small pets. An article in the New York Times today highlights the difficulties that can arise in coexisting with these large predators. However, the article also noted the proactive approach that Denver has taken to prevent and safely manage conflicts with coyotes.
Founded in 2008, Project Coyote works with communities to develop “coexistence plans” that focus on strategic hazing, or training residents, animal control officers and parks staff to use consistent and persistent deterrents like loud noises, water spraying, bright lights, throwing objects, shouting and chasing coyotes.
Denver adopted a hazing-based management plan three years ago, sending out teams, for example, to scare off coyotes that had taken to trotting after joggers in a public park. And according to a case study prepared by wildlife specialists with the Humane Society and Denver’s Parks and Recreation Department, officials report that hazing has successfully reversed “aggressive and undesirable behaviors in coyote family groups and solitary coyotes, reducing pet attacks in neighborhoods and reducing the overall number of complaints from residents.”
In Denver, the killing of coyotes was reserved as a last resort — an action to be taken only in response to human attacks — but no lethal control has been used since the hazing program began in 2009. According to the case study, “one of the novel and cost-savings aspects of the program is its hands-on and empowering nature — it gives local residents the ability and confidence to address coyote conflicts in their own backyards, without outside help.” Similar programs are being developed or put into effect around the country.
Hopefully, the coyote spotted at Freshkills Park will be content to have the whole the park to himself for the time being, but the Denver example shows that education and local empowerment can play an important role in learning to live with urban coyotes.
(via New York Times)
Have you ever wondered what kind of mischief a pet cat could get into at Freshkills Park? Given that household cats are non-native predators in the urban environment, one might wonder what impact, if any, the intrepid felines of Staten Island will have on the native wildlife that make their home in the restored habitats of Freshkills Park.
The debate over the impact of domestic cats, both pets and feral, on the wildlife of cities continues, though there have been few scientific studies. So Kerrie Anne Loyd, an ecologist who recently received her doctorate from the University of Georgia, and collaborators recently set out to find out exactly what our feline friends are up to when roaming the neighborhood. The researchers wanted to know how cats are affecting native wildlife like birds and rodents that share the cats’ environment.
The researchers had cat owners in suburbs of Athens, Ga., put small video cameras (redubbed “kitty cams)” around their outdoor cats’ necks. The cameras recorded everything that 60 cats did during the day. At the end of the day, the owners took off the cameras, downloaded the video footage, and recharged the cameras for the next day’s use. Each cat’s outdoor activities were recorded for about a week.
The most surprising thing they found is that the majority of the house cats weren’t hunters, said Dr Loyd. Only 44 percent of the cats in the study stalked, chased or killed other animals during the day.
Among the cats that did hunt, the most popular prey was also surprising. “The birds were a minority of the prey items,” Dr Loyd said. The cats most commonly caught reptiles, something that other studies had missed because the cats either ate the reptiles or left them behind at the kill site.
Whatever the impact of roaming cats may be, experts agree that the best thing pet owners can do for both wildlife and their pet’s own safety is to keep cats indoors.
“Cats are safer, wildlife is safer and communities are safer when cats are indoors,” said Katie Lisnik, the director of cat protection and policy for the Humane Society of the United States.
She said outdoor cats are in danger of being hit by cars, attacked by other animals or contracting diseases. The most humane way to care for cats, she said, is to keep them inside in a stimulating environment “so that they can express their natural behaviors.”
(via the New York Times)
Freshkills Park bids a fond farewell to the herd of goats who have spent the past few weeks “mowing” the invasive phragmites at the North Park Wetlands Restoration Site. This quirky group of goats, with names like Mozart, Haydyn and Van Goat, not only did a fantastic job of removing the vegetation from the site, but also seemed to thoroughly enjoy their pleasant surroundings at Freshkills Park. The herd even welcomed a new member during their stay, with the birth of an adorable baby goat a few weeks ago (see our previous post about this new “kid” on the block). For more photos of all the goats in action, be sure to look back at all of our Facebook and Flickr albums.
Although the goat crew will be missed, we are thrilled to be able to welcome them back to Freshkills Park for our annual Sneak Peak event on Sunday, September 23rd, where the herd will be featured at the Petting Zoo. Stay tuned to our blog and Facebook pages for more exciting Sneak Peak updates!
A few days ago, an adorable baby goat joined the herd that’s spending the summer at Freshkills Park. The small kid spent her first few days of life enjoying a restful and shady corner of the park surrounded by tall grasses, before, as their devoted herder Larry Cihanek had planned, she and her mom were taken back to their farm in Rhinebeck, N.Y. The rest of the nineteen goats in the herd will remain at Freshkills Park for the next few weeks, grazing on invasive plant species as part of a 2-acre wetland restoration project. Check out our Facebook page for more glimpses of the baby goat!
An interesting experiment in water pollution management is taking place in the Bronx River estuary near Hunts Point in New York City. Scientists are testing the use of a ‘Mussel Raft’ for addressing nitrogen pollution from treated sewage that ends up in the water from a nearby treatment facility.
Mussels are known for their filtration properties and are being tied to lines on the raft to assist in water filtration. Non-edible ribbed mussels were chosen in the hope they would not be harvested to be eaten. The mussels filter about 1.6 liters of water (0.4 gallons) every hour. Find the full story in The New York Times.
Be sure to check out our Facebook and Flickr pages for tons more photos of the goats in action. Our newest residents, with names such as Mozart, Haydn and Van Goat, seem to already be enjoying life (and lunch) at Freshkills Park!