Discover the Birds of The Big Apple

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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.

Feathers, Fashion and Conservation

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Chosen in 1953 as the symbol of the National Audubon Society in the United States, the Great Egret (Ardea Alba) represents an inspiring conservation success story. Had it not been for the dedicated efforts of bird-lovers, this majestic bird would have been hunted to extinction – all in the name of fashion. In the 19th century, the snowy white plumage of the Great Egret made the bird a target for hunters who were supplying the fashion industry in North America. Records indicate that their populations plummeted by up to 95 percent before action was taken to prevent their extinction. Today, they are protected by legislation in the United States and are among the birds listed under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). The Great Egret’s conservation status is now listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List.

This elegant long-legged, startlingly white bird with its S-shaped neck is found throughout North and South America, as well as in many other parts of the world. They are typically found near both fresh and salt water as they feed in wetlands, tidal flats, streams and ponds. They stand still for long periods of time waiting for their prey to come to them, whereupon they snap it up and swallow it whole. Although they primarily feed on fish, they will also eat amphibians, mice and reptiles. These monogamous birds nest in trees near water, where both parents take responsibility for incubating and raising their young.

Feathers have long been used by humans as a fashion statement, features of traditional dress or in tribal customs. While examining the remains of a Neanderthal dwelling in the Fumane Cave in the region of Verona, Northern Italy, paleontologists discovered more than 600 bones of birds dating back some 44,000 years, neatly laid out in layers. Thorough examination of the bones revealed that they belonged to twenty-two species of birds, with clear evidence that the feathers had been cut off in a manner that would preserve them intact. While it may be easy to conclude that they had killed the birds as a food source, research reveals that the birds from which the remiges (flight feathers) had been cut, were poor food sources, and considering that feathered arrows had not yet been invented, it was concluded that the feathers had been used for decorative purposes. It’s a sobering thought that when killing or maiming birds simply for the purpose of using their feathers, humans today are displaying behavior in keeping with our Neanderthal ancestors.

Bird-lovers who want to make a positive contribution to the conservation of our feathered friends should contact their local Audubon Society.

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Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

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The Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) is approximately 17 inches in length, with both sexes looking similar. They are predominantly white in color, with short, dull orange, pointed bills. In some rare instances, some adult birds might have deep red legs and bills, opposed to the dull yellow or orange that is generally found. Today, these birds are located world wide, but originated from Africa. It is suggested that they moved over the Atlantic ocean, from the African continent, and began a slow advance over areas such as South and North America, until they reached places like Argentina and Canada. Their migration over the world is so great, that they sometimes outnumber the native herons that are resident to a certain area.

Egrets spend their days in the company of cows, cattle herds or any livestock for that matter, relaxing and feeding in the wet pastures. They are constantly on the lookout for any beetles, grasshoppers or edible insects that are disturbed by the cow’s grazing. If the ground does not bring in enough food, they simply hop onto the backs of the cows’ and take a quiet tour around the field while searching for flies and ticks. After a days work, the Cattle Egret will fly up to the roosting accommodations to rest. They are also known to be birds of routine having daily routes which they follow. Egrets are commonly found amongst herons, and they are able to adapt to aquatic vegetation if cattle are not around.

Cattle Egrets nest in trees that are close to rivers or water, or wherever they are able to find vegetation to support their nests. Males will establish a territory, and then start with elaborate dances to attract a suitable female. Once a pair has been established, they head to a second location to build their nest together. Nest building is undertaken in a frenzied manner, with the male usually bringing the materials and the female doing the building. Materials are sometimes stolen from the neighbors, if their nest is left unattended. Nests are built in big colonies that include different species. The light blue eggs are laid with intervals of two days, and number between 3 to 4. Once all the eggs are laid, the male turns his attention to the nest. Both parents assist in the 24 day incubation period, and often need to shelter the eggs from the sun with their wings. Chicks will beg aggressively for food, but for chicks to kill each other is extremely uncommon. Adults will sometimes adopt other chicks if they are less than 14 days old. It takes between 14 to 21 days for the chicks to complete their growth, and although they are now able to leave the nest, they still remain close to their parents. It takes a complete 60 days for the Cattle Egret chicks to be able to fly and forage for themselves.