Known as the “city that never sleeps” and “The Big Apple”, New York City is a vibrant bustling metropolis that has more than a few surprises for visitors – and for native New Yorkers – who choose to explore its natural resources. The New York Water Taxi service offers visitors the opportunity to see the city from the harbor and its waterways. Working with the New York City Audubon Society, in the summer months the water taxi service offers a NYC Audubon Summer EcoCruise to highlight the amazing diversity and abundance of birdlife resident on the small islands in New York Harbor.
Lasting around 90 minutes, the cruise makes its way past world-renowned monuments, under iconic city bridges and along the shoreline of islands where visitors can view some of the more than 3,000 herons that have migrated from the south, along with hundreds of cormorants, egrets, ibis and other birds. Ever mindful of the impact humans have on the habitats of birds, the fleet of vessels used by the water taxi service are fitted with low-emission engines and mufflers, while the hulls are designed to cut through the water with as little disturbance as possible. While on the tour, visitors will learn about the ecology of the harbor and the important role its islands play in the conservation of various bird species.
With more than 10,000 members, New York City Audubon has been protecting wildlife habitats and its residents in all five boroughs for more than thirty years, with the goal of improving and conserving the environment for future generations. Wild birds from more than 350 species either live or pass through the city each year – that is almost a third of all species recorded in North America. They depend on the lush, vegetated areas in Jamaica Bay, the islands of New York Harbor and Central Park for their survival. The society collects data relating to birds across New York City, using the information to monitor bird and wildlife populations, and acts as an advocate for wildlife at government policy-making level.
Education programs formulated by the New York City Audubon inform the public, both young and old, about being responsible environmental stewards. The society welcomes new volunteers to work towards the goal of protecting wild birds and natural habitats in New York City, thereby improving the quality of life for all.
Launched by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in January 2007, the EDGE of Existence program is a global conservation initiative that focuses on threatened species with unique evolutionary characteristics. EDGE is an acronym for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered, which sums up some of the criteria for being included on the EDGE list. Recently scientists from the ZSL and Yale University assessed the 9,993 recorded bird species in the world and listed the top 100 according to various scientific parameters. The top ten on the list, from one to ten, includes the giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea); the New Caledonian owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles savesi); the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus); the kakapo (Strigops habroptila); the kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus); Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis); the Forest owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti); the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi); Christmas Island frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi); and the Sumatran ground cuckoo (Carpococcyx viridis).
As the world’s largest ibis, the giant ibis measures up to 106 cm in length with an upright standing height of up to a meter and weighing 4.2 kg on average. They have long, curved beaks that they use for foraging in shallow waters and between vegetation, with their diets including aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, small reptiles and amphibians, as well as earthworms, locusts, mole-crickets, cicadas and other insects. Their feathers are dark gray-brown in color, with silver-grey wing tips and black crossbars. Their heads are dark grey in color and devoid of feathers and their eyes are dark red. Their legs are orange and they have yellow-brown beaks. There are thought to be only 230 pairs of giant ibis left in the wild, and these are all located in northern Cambodia, although there have been unconfirmed sightings in southern Laos and in Vietnam’s Yok Don National Park. Because of their remote location, not much is known about the lifespan and breeding patterns of these giant birds, however, it is known that they nest in trees, generally away from human settlements, and the female lays two eggs which both parents tend to.
As is the case with many endangered bird species around the world, the greatest threat to the giant ibis is humans who clear the wetlands for cultivation and decimate forests for timber, while the increase in human populations results in domestic settlements encroaching on previously unoccupied land. Conflict in the region has also wreaked havoc on bird populations, and the giant ibis is hunted as a food source.
There are some ecotourism initiatives in the region which draw attention to the plight of the giant ibis, but the fact remains that it is considered critically endangered and is in need of protection to prevent it from becoming extinct. Programs such as Edge bring the plight of these endangered birds to the attention of the public, increasing their chances of becoming the focus of conservation efforts.
The elegant white-shouldered Ibis is a critically endangered wading bird that is found in the southern regions of Laos, Vietnam, the eastern region of Kalimantan and in the northern areas of Cambodia. Its natural habitat includes wet grasslands, sand and gravel bars at the water’s edge, marshes and forests that do not consist of dense vegetation. The coloring is quite distinctive with dark plumage covering the bird’s body, red legs and a bald black head. Its name is derived from a unique feature which can be found on the inner forewing of the white-shouldered Ibis, a light, almost white, colored patch of plumage.
This beautiful bird has found its way onto the critically endangered list, the IUCN Red List, of bird species and it is estimated that there are fewer than 250 birds remaining in the world. Recent studies have revealed that there could be ways to save this wonderful bird, as they began to investigate the reasons behind the speedy decline in the species. The University of East Anglia has recently published their results.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds funded the project and studies were concentrated in Cambodia, as the biggest collection of the white-shouldered Ibis is found here. Watching and studying the approximately 160 to 200 birds, has revealed that they prefer open areas, with open sand areas and ground level vegetation, as it makes access to prey easier, makes it easier for the birds to see oncoming danger and assists them in landing and take off as there are less obstacles. What has made the study even more fascinating is the fact that human interaction almost always plays a negative role in the survival of animal and bird species, but in the case of the white-shouldered Ibis, human activity is playing a vital role in the protection of the remaining birds. Open fields where livestock graze and areas that are burnt down by farmers to create more open fields, in turn accommodate these birds and opens more habitats to them. As the white-shouldered Ibis seems to be dependant on the farmers for their existence, it is hoped that this relationship between farmer and Ibis can assist in the survival of the species and hopefully increase white-shouldered Ibis numbers.
The impressively large and passive Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) is a waterbird that was formerly called the Wood Ibis, with the name change coming about because it is not actually an ibis at all. Wood Storks are the only stork native to North America and the only stork that breeds in this country, though they are generally found in the extreme southern parts of the country and their range extends as far south as Argentina in South America as well as into the Caribbean. Wood Storks are wetland birds and so they are commonly found near water sources such as swamps, marshes and ponds. They feed by wading in the shallows and eat small fish, tadpoles and crayfish. There is a small population which breeds in southern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and it is this population which is considered to be endangered. However, those found between Mexico and Argentina are far more abundant and are not considered to be endangered.
Wood Storks measure around 85-115 cm in length, with a wingspan of 150-175 cm. They have long legs and are almost completely white in colour with a long, thick, down-curved bill. The head and top of the neck is black and bald and the white wings have black flight feathers. The tail is usually also black and their legs are peach in colour. Both sexes look alike and are capable of gliding for long periods of time. Juveniles are similar in appearance but with duller beaks and browner necks. Since they have no vocal muscles, they are fairly silent birds that only produce soft noises once in a while. It is interesting to note that they cool themselves off by urinating on their legs. When gliding, they are capable of diving and flipping, though they do look somewhat awkward when they flap their wings.
Nesting season for the Wood Stork is always dry. At this time of the year, lakes shrink and food is forced into smaller areas that are more easily waded. Because the catch is higher, the chicks stay well fed. At this time of year, these birds begin to make their nests in the top of tall trees. More than one bird may nest in the same tree and these birds usually nest in colonies called rookeries. The nests are made from moss, vines and twigs and hold 4-5 eggs. Incubation lasts about 30 days and usually only about two chicks survive the breeding season. The babies are fed by their parents for the first nine weeks during which time the parents take turns watching the nest and hunting for food. After this nine-week period, the juvenile Wood Storks are able to live on their own.
The Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber) is the national bird of Tobago and Trinidad. This absolutely stunning, brightly colored bird is a remarkable sight to see. Although they only occur naturally in South America, they can be seen in zoos the world over.
Scarlet Ibises vary in length from 56 to 61 cm or 22 to 24 inches, with a mass of about 650g. Both male and female Scarlet Ibises are a bright red color and have black tips on their wings. Immature birds are brown with a white belly and rump. As time progresses they will begin producing scarlet feathers. The feather color of the Scarlet Ibis comes from the synthesis of carotene found in their diet. It has been said that the black pigmentation on the wing’s primary feathers gives it strength. They have very long legs, typical of waders. These help them walk across mud flats, marsh lands and mangrove stands. The long neck also assists them in reaching certain areas. Notable is the Scarlet Ibis’ long curved bill. The bill is highly sensitive and can search out small creatures such as crustaceans, insects, fish and frogs in the mud. Should the ibis or its young be attacked it will fight using its wings, legs and beak.
These spectacularly colored birds live in extensive colonies. Males woo female Scarlet Ibises with complex courtship dances. They will typically pair off for life. Both in the pair will construct a nest in mangrove trees with sticks. After mating the female Scarlet Ibis will lay 2 or three eggs. These are a pale green color with brown streaks. Incubation lasts 23 days and the offspring fledge in 39 to 45 days. By the age of 2 years the young ibises have transformed into their scarlet coloration.
Although the Scarlet Ibis is not a threatened species it is still on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) concern list. These remarkable birds are facing over-hunting, habitat destruction and egg collecting. Scarlet Ibises play an important role in the environment and it is therefore vital that we protect this bird species along with others.