New York City Signs Migratory Bird Treaty

Photo: Stock.xchng
Photo: Stock.xchng

Efforts to conserve migratory birds received a boost this October when New York City became the ninth metropolitan region in the country to sign the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds. The Treaty is coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to address two often neglected aspects of bird conservation: the preservation of bird habitat in cities, and the need to educate citizens about birds in urban environments.


New Orleans was the first city to sign the Treaty (in 1999), and has since been followed by Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Portland (OR), St. Louis, Nashville, and Anchorage. By signing the agreement, each of these cities agrees to help conserve migratory birds through education and habitat improvement. Each city is awarded an initial grant of up to $150,000, depending on the scope of projects it proposes, and is then tasked with raising matching funds in cash or in-kind contributions. So far, New York has raised $450,000 to match an FWS grant of $65,000.


In addition to habitat and education projects, the treaty encourages cities to address non-native or invasive animal and plant issues, and mortality hazards to birds. Tens of millions of birds die each year in the United States through collisions with windows, particularly in large cities with high densities of skyscrapers. New York’s Central Park is a magnet for songbirds, which stop off there each spring and fall during migration. Sadly, many (including U.S. WatchList species) fall victim during the daytime to the millions of panes of reflective glass that surround the park, or are killed by those same windows at night when lights are left on inside buildings, and never make it to their breeding grounds. Exterior floodlighting on municipal buildings also attracts night-migrating birds leading to further mass mortality.


There are solutions to this problem, which American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is helping to develop and promote. “Lights Out initiatives” have been successful in reducing bird deaths in cities such as Chicago and Toronto, where commercial building managers, owners, and occupants are encouraged to turn interior lights off at night to save both birds and energy, and city buildings have reduced or eliminated exterior floodlighting towards the same goal. ABC is working with the manufacturer of Colidescape, to promote a special film that can be stuck to the exterior of windows to virtually eliminate bird collisions, while still allowing building occupants to have an unobstructed view out. ABC facilitated the application of this film at the El Dorado ecolodge in Colombia (operated by ABC partner group Fundación ProAves), to reduce bird collisions and to serve as a model for lodge owners and managers. ABC has also worked with window manufacturers to encourage the development of bird-safe glass, and is working with the U.S. Green Building Council to have provisions for minimizing bird kills included in their LEED certification program.


“Having New York City as a signatory to the Migratory Bird Treaty stands to be a huge step forward for the initiative,” said Karen Cotton, ABC’s Bird Collisions Campaign Manager. “We very much hope that this treaty serves as a jumping-off point to elevate the importance of migratory bird conservation at all levels of city government and management, and with the citizens of the Big Apple.”


"I am honored to join with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to aid in its efforts to protect migratory birds," said New York Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "[The] agreement is a testament to the high quality of natural areas in New York City parks, thanks to ongoing support from scientists, activists, local elected officials, community members, and public-private partnerships."


For more information on the hazards posed by glass buildings to birds, visit ABC’s website. For more information on the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds, visit For more information on New York City and the Treaty, visit