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Brooklyn Bird Watch: November 24

Recently Discovered Bird Sanctuary in Brooklyn

November 24, 2021 By Joseph Palmer
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Brooklyn Bird Watch recently learned of an open meadow in Downtown Brooklyn between Kent and Flushing Avenues. This part of the Naval Cemetery Landscape right off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway has become a sanctuary for many migratory bird species. It’s a 1.7-acre urban green space that opened to the public in 2016.

A Brooklyn Free Lance writer from New Zealand, Jessy Edwards, wrote an article about the meadow for bkreader.com (http://bkreader.com). In the article Edwards featured an interview she did with the Bird Program Manager for Washington Square Park’s Ecoproject, Loyan Beausoleil, who was asked to do a “bird survey” of the Naval Cemetery Landscape.

Here are several excerpts from Edward’s article wherein she describes Beausoleil’s first reaction to the meadow.

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The conservationist and Bird Program Manager for Washington Square Park’s Ecoproject headed out there on a Citibike from Manhattan, not knowing what to expect.

“It wasn’t at all what I expected,” she says. “Just this native meadow in the middle of Brooklyn…
“She (Beausoleil) parked near Atlantic Avenue before making her way on foot to the site near the Navy Yard, passing the highway, small businesses and lots and lots of cars.”

But when she walked into the green space, “everything else sort of disappeared,” she says. Grasses and flowers were blooming, insects were humming through the undergrowth and she could hear the birds.”

“In over 13 survey reports, Beausoleil found 37 different species of birds were enjoying the space, which is open to the public, but not to dogs.”

Several different species of birds were spotted and mentioned in Ms Edwards article, such as native sparrows, warblers, water fowl and gulls. Three birds by name were also mentioned, the Downy Woodpecker, the Chimney Swift, and the House Finch.

Brooklyn Bird Watch has already featured a Heather Wolf photograph of the Downy Woodpecker.

Although so far Ms Wolf has not spotted, or at least not been able to get a good photo of a Chimney Swift or a House Wren, these birds, for all we know, could still be visiting Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Baby Chimney Swifts in chimney nest
Photo: Alamo Chimney Sweepers, San Antonio Texas.

The Cornell Lab calls the Chimney Swift  “enigmatic”, and the adjective is warranted. With a body shaped like a plump cigar with long slender curving wings and short, long-clawed feet designed close to the body, they don’t perch on things like most birds, they cling to vertical surfaces when they are not flying. 

Before the chimney was introduced to North America by the European settlers, Chimney Swifts nested in hollow trees and caves, and once chimneys started appearing, inside the chimney wall became the preferred place to nest. Now that chimney design has changed to covered, narrow flues, some believe that change has contributed to a numerical decrease in the species.

Like other swifts, the chimney swift is considered an aerialist, a bird that’s in the air most of the time.  Imagine this, they even take baths on the fly. As Cornell describes it these dive bomb bathers, “glide down to the water, smack the surface with their bodies, and then bounce up and shake the water from their plumage as they fly away.” Chimney Swifts also drink on the fly, skimming the water’s surface with its beak.

During their non-breeding season hundreds and sometimes thousands of Chimney Swifts will roost together in a chimney.

And how does this little bird build a nest along the inside wall of a chimney one might ask?  Well, they have a gland under their tongue that produces a glue-like saliva they use to attach twigs to the chimney wall and build a very small half circle of twigs. And the nest is so small that often several of the chicks outgrow the nest and have to cling to the side of the chimney even before they open their eyes.

Above I mentioned that the disappearance of the traditional chimney in North America is believed to be in part a reason for the decline in the Chimney Swift population, so bird lovers will be pleased to hear that the Chimney Swift has friends in Western Pennsylvania where the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania has been installing Chimney Swift towers throughout the region to support swift conservation.


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