Harbor Herons Project
New York City, the Audubon Society and egrets have a common history going back more than a hundred years. At the end of the Nineteenth Century here in the City a man named George Bird Grinnell started the first Audubon Society. He brought together like-minded people who hoped to stop the slaughter of egrets. The egrets were being killed by the hundreds of thousands so their plumes could be shipped to New York to be used to decorate hats.
The millinery trade brought egrets and several other bird species to the brink of extinction. Grinnells Audubon Society and the organizations that followed it brought protection to the egrets and scores of other beleaguered species with the enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1914.
With new protection egret and heron populations recovered and spread beyond their historical southern ranges. By 1960 egrets were nesting as far north as New Hampshire. There were, however, no egret colonies in New York City.
Imagine the delight of New York birders when Scotty Jenkins found egrets nesting on Pralls Island in the Arthur Kill on the western border of Staten Island! The Clean Water Act of 1972 had caused the water quality to improve enough to support prey species for the egrets. Following Jenkins discovery, New York City Audubon Society began efforts to protect the nesting site and started an annual census of breeding herons, egrets and ibises in the city.
Eighteen years later the censuses continue and the birds are prospering.