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Making NYC Bird Friendly: New Survey Will Count All Green Roofs in NYC

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | April 19, 2017 3:50pm
 A gull nesting on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center's green roof.
A gull nesting on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center's green roof.
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Courtesy of NYC Audubon

New York's skyscrapers and concrete sidewalks hardly seem like a welcoming environment to millions of migrating birds that pass through the city every year. 

Not surprisingly, most choose large open areas like Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge or Central Park, while others rest in small gardens and green spaces tucked between busy streets and brick buildings.

But a growing number of green roofs create new sanctuaries for feathery visitors stopping by the Big Apple.

“More than 130 species of birds make stopovers in the City as they wing along the 'Atlantic flyway,' one of North America’s most important bird-migration routes,” according to the New York Community Trust, which recently awarded New York City Audubon with a $40,000 grant to count and create an online database of green roofs in the city.

In recent years, green roofs have been installed on top of dozens of buildings throughout the city, including Barclays Center in Brooklyn and a new Department of Sanitation complex along the Hudson River on Spring Street.

NYC Audubon, which works to protect wild bird habitats in the city, has been involved in creating and monitoring of two such spaces — on top of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and, most recently, on the rooftop of an industrial building at 520 Kingsland Ave. in Greenpoint, near Newtown Creek.

The new Kingsland Wildflowers Green Roof and Community Space in Greenpoint (Photo: Courtesy of NYC Audubon).

But no one actually knows how many green roofs are there in the city, according to Kellye Rosenheim, NYC Audubon's director of development.

So the group will now use the grant to first define different types of green roofs — from rooftop gardens with pots and planters to installed green roofs consisting of layers of protective roof membranes, soil and plants — in order to later create a database, which will serve as a guide to those interested in installing them. 

Green roofs, Rosenheim said, are important for a number of reasons. They are crucial to stormwater management as they absorb rain, preventing it from entering the city’s sewer system. They also help mitigate the so called heat-island effect, which results in urban areas being significantly warmer than nearby rural areas, and create new wildlife habitats.

“As a bird organization we are extremely interested in habitats,” she noted. “If you build a green roof and — if you use native plants especially — it provides a habitat for pollinators to live and thrive and a stopover habitat and sometimes even a nesting habitat for birds.” 

The group will also work on policy recommendations for reducing barriers and improving incentives to build more green roofs in New York, Rosenheim said.

“Our long term goal is to make it easier for people to build and install green roofs in the city,” she added.