By virtue of both its geographic position at the Apex of the New York Bight and its enormous human influence upon the regional landscape and biota, the center or core of the entire New York Bight habitat study area is the New York - New Jersey Harbor (Harbor) and the surrounding greater metropolitan New York City region within a 25-mile radius of Central Park, Manhattan, New York (Figure 20). Several regionally significant habitats and habitat complexes have been identified within this core area and are described and mapped in detail in this report. These significant habitat complexes include Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point, Raritan Bay - Sandy Hook Bay, Hackensack Meadowlands, Lower Hudson River, the Palisades, Preakness Ridge, Passaic Meadows, Long Island Grasslands (in part), the Narrows and, on the outskirts of the urban core, the New York - New Jersey Highlands, and Hempstead Bays - South Oyster Bay. This chapter focuses on and describes the ecological significance of the entire urban core, describes important species use, the importance of various types of open space, and the potential for habitat protection, management, and restoration within this core area.

Description of Area

The urban core of the New York City metropolitan area is centered around the New York - New Jersey Harbor as defined by the National Estuary Program for the Harbor. The Harbor estuary extends from its juncture with the New York Bight Apex at the Sandy Hook-Rockaway Transect north up the Hudson River to Piermont Marsh near the Tappan Zee Bridge. It includes all tidally influenced portions of rivers flowing into the Harbor including the Hackensack, Passaic, Raritan, Shrewsbury, and Navesink Rivers and the East River from the Battery to Hells Gate. For purposes of this discussion, the estuarine waters include the Narrows portion of western Long Island Sound (Sound) east to Greenwich Cove, Connecticut on the north shore of the Sound and Matinecock Point, Long Island, New York on the south shore. The urban core, as discussed here, includes all the land area within a 25-mile radius of Central Park, Manhattan, New York; this 1.25-million hectare (1,963-square mile) area encompasses most of the urban developed land in the greater metropolitan New York City region.

As described in earlier chapters, the geology, physiography, and glacial history of the region, and particularly of the New York City area, are relatively complex. The convergence of three physiographic provinces -- the sand, gravels, and clays of the Atlantic Coastal Plain; the sandstones, shales, and igneous intrusions of the Piedmont Province; and the metamorphic crystalline rock ridges of the New York - New Jersey Highlands and Manhattan Hills extensions of the New England Province -- provides a great diversity of landforms, bedrock types, and vegetational communities within the urban core. Overlaying this complex base is the terminal or end moraine of the most recent (Wisconsin) glacial advance, with glacial till and glacial lake sediments occurring north of the moraine and glacial outwash sediments occurring immediately south of the moraine. The terminal moraine is the linear and ridge-like landform of gravelly, stony, and bouldery materials deposited at the edge of the last glacial advance that forms the lengthwise (east-west) spine of Long Island on the eastern edge of the urban core. From Long Island, the moraine trends southwest to the southern tip of Staten Island and then trends northwest into the New York - New Jersey Highlands and westward beyond the urban core. Much of the glaciated region on and immediately north of the moraine tends to have complex surface drainage patterns resulting in numerous freshwater wetlands that have developed in closed basins or kettles. Particularly significant in this area are the glacial lakes of Glacial Lake Hackensack and Glacial Lake Passaic that persisted in the area for several thousand years after the glacial retreat and now contain the extensive wetland systems of Hackensack Meadowlands and Passaic Meadows (Great Swamp/Troy Meadows). The complex geologic history of the metropolitan region results in a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial habitat types available in a relatively small area.

The immediate watershed of the urban core consists of that land area associated with and including all rivers and waterways draining directly into the Harbor proper, including the Hudson River south of Piermont marsh. Dominating the hydrology of this system is the 515-kilometer (320-mile) Hudson River. The entire Hudson drains a watershed of 34,600 square kilometers (13,400 square miles), and has an average flow of 683 cubic meters/second (21,000 cubic feet/second), with large seasonal variations in fresh water inflow and inversely related levels of salt water intrusion. Other major rivers include the Hackensack River, the Passaic River, the Raritan River, and the Shrewsbury/Navesink; collectively, they account for about 13% of the flow into the Harbor.

Both upland and aquatic habitats have been drastically altered since pre-colonial times. Approximately 121,410 hectares (300,000 acres) of tidal wetlands and underwater lands have been filled and only about 20% (6,270 hectares [15,500 acres]) of the once existing tidal wetlands remain. Of the estimated 90,653 hectares (224,000 acres) of freshwater wetlands that existed in New York City prior to the American Revolution, only small areas remain. At the same time, a large percentage of the upland area has become urban developed land shown on Figure 20. Census data from 1990 indicate an average density in the metropolitan area of 5,915 people per square mile.

Ecological Significance of Urban Core

Perhaps the greatest ecological significance of the New York - New Jersey Harbor is its regional and national importance to a great many migratory species. This relates to several factors. Several major river systems, Hudson, Raritan, Passaic, Hackensack, and Navesink/Shrewsbury, drain into this estuary, all with a common outlet and connection to the New York Bight portion of the Atlantic Ocean. This confluence serves to concentrate marine, estuarine, anadromous, and catadromous fish in the estuary. The Harbor has a strategic location at the Apex of the Bight, at a bend in the coastline of the Atlantic Coast where the east-west oriented shoreline of the New England and Long Island coasts meets the north-south oriented shorelines of the mid-Atlantic coast; this coastline bend concentrates those species of birds, insects, and fish that seasonally traverse these shores in both directions and funnels them into the Harbor and urban core. The north-south oriented migratory corridors of the New York - New Jersey Highlands, Watchung Ridges, and the Hudson River valley also concentrate overland migrating species through or near to the urban core. The complex geography and geology of this area result in a diversity of habitat types within a relatively small area. Overlaying these natural geographic and geologic features is the intensity of human development and use that renders much of the land and water area unavailable to or unfavorable for many native species of fish and wildlife. All of the migratory and resident species that are concentrated by the geography of the area are, as a consequence, further concentrated into the small amount of remaining terrestrial and aquatic open space within the urban core. All remaining open space is thus critical to these species.

Major Species Groups and Ecological Communities in the Harbor/Urban Core

There are 395 species of special emphasis known to occur within the urban core (list of species of special emphasis). This list indicates whether species occur within specific significant habitat complexes within the urban core or elsewhere in the urban core region. Based on the review of the status and distribution of these species by a group of knowledgeable agencies and individuals, urban core ranks were assigned to each of the species on this list, indicating whether that species population in the urban core is apparently secure (S), uncommon or declining (D), rare and perhaps in danger of extirpation (R), historical (H), or unknown (U). For birds, both breeding and non-breeding (migrating and wintering) ranks are given, e.g., R/D is rare breeder/uncommon non-breeder. For some species, a range of ranks is given, e.g., RD indicates rare to uncommon in the urban core.


The wide range of aquatic and bottom (benthic) habitats in the Harbor waters supports a correspondingly high diversity of fish species, including a large number of anadromous and marine migrants, and numerous planktonic and benthic fauna (Table 19). Naturally resilient estuarine species that can tolerate the wide range and abrupt changes in their physical environment make up the majority of species that are present. The area is subject to wide fluctuations in temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, from both natural and anthropogenic activity, which causes the resident species to utilize the many micro-habitats available within the Harbor to supply them with shelter and food during their critical life stages. The estuary serves as an important migration corridor for many anadromous fish both as they proceed toward prime spawning areas in the main stem of the Hudson or in one of the numerous tributaries and as they migrate downstream and seaward to the ocean as part of their adult life cycle.

A study to characterize the fish communities of this area for the years 1979-89 was conducted for the Harbor Estuary Program by Woodhead (1991) and is summarized here. A total of 101 species were reported in the data sets used; marine species were the most abundant (70%) in the entire system, and the greatest diversity occurred in the waters of highest salinities. Average bottom salinities in the lower New York Bay were about 30 parts per thousand (ppt) and 60 species of finfish were present on an annual basis, whereas at Piermont Marsh, the northern limit of the Harbor Estuary, the average number of species was 10 with a corresponding salinity of 5 ppt. Marine species that occurred at all sample sites included bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli), red hake (Urophycis chuss), weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), windowpane (Scophthalmus aquosus), and winter flounder (Pleuronectes americanus). Migratory fishes made up about 10% of the catches and used this area primarily as an adult migration corridor to the Hudson and other tributaries and as juvenile nursery and overwinter habitat. The principal anadromous fishes included alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis), American shad (Alosa sapidissima), American eel (Anguilla rostrata), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), tomcod (Microgadus tomcod), rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax), Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus), hickory shad (Alosa mediocris), and shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum). The shortnose sturgeon is a federally listed endangered species, and the tomcod is on the New Jersey state threatened species list. Freshwater species made up 10% of the total species present, represented by bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) and gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), that occurred in the low salinity reaches or upper tributaries; other freshwater species encountered were pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus), carp (Cyprinus carpio), redfin pickerel (Esox americanus americanus), spottail shiner (Notropis hudsonius), tessellated darter (Etheostoma olmstedi), and yellow perch (Perca flavescens). Estuarine species represented only 10% of the species sampled but were present in all studies, with the greatest numbers found in the least saline areas. Hogchoker (Trinectes maculatus), white perch (Morone americana), bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli), and mummichogs (Fundulus heteroclitus) were the most abundant estuarine fish, with pipefish (Syngnathus fuscus), threespined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), inland silverside (Menidia beryllina), striped killifish (Fundulus majalis), white catfish (Ameiurus catus), fourspined stickleback (Apeltes quadracus), striped mullet (Mugil cephalus), and tidewater silverside (Menidia peninsulae) represented in most reaches and tributaries that were inventoried. The Hackensack and Raritan Rivers and Jamaica Bay wetland complexes provided a wider salinity gradient than did many of the other complexes in the Harbor waters and, therefore, the opportunity for a wider range of habitat. Seasonal changes in the distribution and abundance for some selected species is illustrated in Table 20.

The Harbor supports a substantial commercial and recreational fishery. While most of the Hudson River commercial fishery takes place upriver and is for migratory species, e.g., American shad, striped bass, Atlantic sturgeon, river herrings, and a variety of baitfish, important stake-net spring shad fishing occurs in the Palisades - Manhattan area. The large commercial fishery in the nearshore areas of the Apex of the Bight and the substantial Hudson Canyon area of the continental shelf influenced by the outflow from the Harbor estuary focuses on groundfish such as hake species (Urophycis spp.), summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus), winter flounder, tautog (Tautoga onitis), and scup (Stenotomus chrysops), and mid-water species like menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus), bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), and Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus). The nearshore fishery, within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of the shoreline, is principally for winter and summer flounder, menhaden, bluefish, and weakfish. Recreational fishing takes place throughout the Harbor estuary and is believed to roughly equal the commercial catch, representing about 2 million angler trips. Targeted species include winter and summer flounder, scup, tautog, American eel (Anguilla rostrata), bluefish, striped bass, Atlantic mackerel, black sea bass (Centropristis striata), and weakfish.

The Harbor estuary system's aquatic habitats are diverse, consisting of natural and man-made habitats with modified water depth, water quality, and shoreline features, as well as abiotic factors that influence the distribution and abundance of estuarine animals. Woodhead and McEnroe (1991) studied the available ichthyoplankton data from 1972 to 1988 available for the Harbor estuary area and characterized the use of the area for spawning and nursery habitat (see Table 21). Throughout the urban core there are many freshwater ponds. Fish populations in these ponds range from warmwater assemblages of carp (Cyprinus carpio) and goldfish (Carassius auratus) to more diverse warmwater communities containing largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), chain pickerel (Esox niger), black crappie (Pomixis nigromaculatus), and other species. There are some waterbodies within the urban core that are managed as recreational trout fisheries. These ponds act as forage basins for some piscivorous birds and offer recreational opportunities and aesthetic benefits to local communities.


Although several species of waterfowl breed in the New York Harbor area, most notably mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), American black duck (Anas rubripes), Canada goose (Branta canadensis), and gadwall (Anas strepera), the primary use of the Harbor by waterfowl is during fall migration (peaking in November) and as wintering areas. In transit from the major breeding grounds in the Midwest, Canadian prairies, and Arctic to their wintering grounds along the Atlantic Coast, several species of waterfowl migrate down the Hudson and/or along the Atlantic coast, stopping to rest or feed or to overwinter in the Harbor. Atlantic brant (Branta bernicla) nest on the north coast of North America, migrate south to a staging area in James Bay, Ontario, and proceed overland to New York Harbor where they disperse to their major wintering grounds along the coastal bays of Long Island and New Jersey. Greater scaup (Aythya marila) migrate from northwestern Canada and Alaska across the continent to their wintering grounds along the coast between Cape Cod and Chesapeake Bay. Approximately 25% of the Atlantic Flyway population of greater scaup winters in New York Harbor, especially in Raritan Bay/Sandy Hook Bay and western Long Island Sound. Other significant migrating and wintering waterfowl in the Harbor include American black duck, canvasback (Aytha valisneria), and mallard, along with lesser numbers of bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), oldsquaw (Clangula hyemalis), mergansers, primarily red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator), common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), and American wigeon (Anas americana). Major waterfowl concentration areas in the urban core occur in Jamaica Bay, Raritan Bay/Sandy Hook Bay, the north shore bays of western Long Island (Hempstead Harbor, Manhasset Bay, and Little Neck Bay) and the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers. Smaller concentrations occur along the Staten Island shoreline of Raritan Bay and New York Bay, and in Caven's Cove (Liberty State Park), the lower Hudson River, the Kill Van Kull, and the Hackensack Meadowlands.

Shorebirds, Gulls, and Terns

Although only a relatively few species, such as spotted sandpiper (Actitus macularia), willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), piping plover (Charadrius melodus), and American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), breed in or near the Harbor, nearly 30 species of shorebirds regularly use and migrate through the Harbor and depend on the rich food resources of the marshes, flats, and shallow water areas to replenish their reserves before continuing on their migration. Migration in the spring (March to June) and fall (July to November) extends over most of the year. The most abundant shorebird species in the Harbor are semipalmated sandpiper (Calidris pusilla), semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), sanderling (Calidris alba), ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres), black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola), dunlin (Calidris alpina), short-billed dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus), greater and lesser yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca and T. flavipes), and least sandpiper (Calidris minutilla). Significant foraging and staging areas for shorebirds include East and West Ponds in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, the tidal flats along the Staten Island and New Jersey shorelines of Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay, and the Kingsland Impoundment in the Hackensack Meadowlands. Minor foraging areas occur along shorelines throughout the Harbor and its tributaries. The two sand spits, Sandy Hook and Breezy Point, that extend into the entrance of the Harbor support some of the largest nesting populations of piping plover, least tern (Sterna antillarum), common tern (Sterna hirundo), and black skimmer (Rhynchops niger) in the region. Other terns that nest in small numbers in or near the Harbor include Forster's tern (Sterna forsteri), gull-billed tern (Sterna nilotica), and the federally listed endangered roseate tern (Sterna dougallii).

Long-legged Waders

The regionally significant colonies of herons, egrets, and ibises occurring in the Arthur Kill and Kill van Kull (known as the Harbor Herons Complex) are discussed in detail under the Arthur Kill complex narrative. The long-legged wading birds of these heronries, and those found on Hoffman Island in lower New York Bay, North and South Brother Islands in the East River, several small marsh islands in Jamaica Bay, and Huckleberry Island in the Long Island Sound Narrows, feed throughout the shallow waters and marshes of the New York - New Jersey Harbor, especially in the Arthur Kill marshes and tributaries, the Hackensack Meadowlands, Jamaica Bay, and the shallow waters, bays, and marshes of the Narrows. The most abundant waders in the Harbor are black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), snowy egret (Egretta thula), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), and great egret (Casmerodius albus).


The small mammal and songbird populations of the urban core provide a rich food resource for resident and migratory raptor populations. Breeding raptors include northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), osprey (Pandion haliaetus), common barn owl (Tyto alba), and peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). Overwintering raptors include northern harrier, rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus), American kestrel (Falco sparverius), common barn owl, short-eared owl (Asio flammeus), long-eared owl (Asio otus), and peregrine falcon. Important wintering grounds occur at Floyd Bennett Field, Jamaica Bay and the Hackensack Meadowlands. Migratory corridors along the barrier island coastline over Sandy Hook and Breezy Point concentrate migrating raptors at the mouth of the Harbor at the Apex of the New York Bight, as do the ridges of the Watchungs, Palisades, and New York - New Jersey Highlands. The most common species sighted at hawk watches on Sandy Hook and Breezy Point are American kestrel and sharp-shinned hawk (Accipter striatus). In 1994, there were eleven territorial pairs of the federally listed endangered peregrine falcon in the urban core, seven nesting on bridges and four nesting on buildings in Manhattan. Their primary food source appears to be rock dove (Columba livia). These pairs, accounting for about 10% of the eastern population of this species, were reintroduced from a captive breeding program beginning in 1971. Historically, the Palisades was an important nesting area for peregrines.


Both short and long distance migrant songbirds migrate through the urban core, and small numbers of many species nest and/or winter in the urban core area. Breeding Bird Atlas data from New York and preliminary Atlas data from New Jersey indicate that 172 species of birds are probable or confirmed breeders in the urban core, including 92 Passeriformes (perching birds). The diversity of breeding species found in the urban core is indicative both of the diversity of habitats found here and the mix of northern and southern species. Many species breed on the periphery of the urban core area but are absent throughout much of the urban area. Songbird species that are common breeders in the metropolitan area are those such as song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) that utilize a wide variety of upland and wetland habitats, those such as American robin (Turdus migratorius) that have adapted to human habitation, those such as gray catbird (Dumatella carollinensis) that prefer thickets and edge habitat, those such as yellow warbler (Dendroica petechia) that are adapted to gardens and shade trees of suburban yards and parks, and those such as red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) that have adapted to the draining and degradation of marshes by breeding on uplands and by nesting in common reed (Phragmites australis) marshes. Absent or rare in the city are those species that are more habitat-specific and require larger blocks of undisturbed habitat such as forest interior nesters, especially ground nesters like the veery (Catharus fuscescens) and black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia), which are susceptible to disturbance, predation, and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater). Grassland birds such as grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), savannah sparrow (Passerculcus sandwichensis), and bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorous) are rare breeders in the region and, while absent throughout much of the city, are found in a few locations such as Floyd Bennett Field where grassland habitat is being actively managed and maintained. Analysis of 11 Christmas bird count areas for the metropolitan area during the period 1961 to 1988 showed a total of 277 species wintering in the area, with approximately 100 species commonly observed. An analysis of the top 100 species indicated that twice as many terrestrial species were declining than were increasing, while the opposite was true for aquatic birds. The urban core occupies a key location for migrating birds, as evidenced by the large number and variety of birds seen at the various open spaces in the metropolitan region.

Amphibians and Reptiles

Four species of marine turtles, loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonias mydas), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and Atlantic (=Kemp's) ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), regularly occur in the New York Bight, including the Harbor. Juveniles of Atlantic ridley and larger age classes of the loggerhead often enter the Harbor and bays during summer and fall, and the other sea turtles occasionally enter the higher salinity regions of the Harbor. The estuarine northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys t. terrapin) is found feeding and nesting in salt marshes and adjacent uplands throughout the Harbor from Jamaica Bay all the way up to Piermont Marsh. Aside from these marine and estuarine turtles, all other amphibians and reptiles in this region are dependent on freshwater wetlands and uplands, and their distribution is very limited to small areas of open space. For example, Gateway National Recreation Area records only 20 species of amphibians and reptiles other than marine and estuarine species. Of these, only nine species have confirmed breeding populations that were not reintroduced: redback salamander (Plethodon cinereus), Fowler's toad (Bufo woodhousii fowleri), northern spring peeper (Pseudacris c. crucifer), green frog (Rana clamitans), snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys p. picta), spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata), northern brown snake (Storeria d. dekayi), and eastern garter snake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis). At the outskirts of the urban core where urban developed land gives way to larger tracts of suburban land, vegetated open land, and freshwater wetlands, the numbers of amphibian and reptile species increase; for example, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, lists 39 species of amphibians and reptiles, most of which occurred in New York City at one time. Other amphibians and reptiles that are rare or declining in the urban core include eastern American toad (Bufo a. americanus), gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor), pickerel frog (Rana palustris), wood frog (Rana sylvatica), southern leopard frog (Rana utricularia), spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus f. fuscus), northern two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata), red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus), northern slimy salamander (Plethodon glutinosus), red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus v. viredescens), northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen), black racer (Coluber c. constrictor), northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii), black ratsnake (Elaphne o. obsoleta), eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos), eastern box turtle (Terrapene c. carolina), and musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus).


The unique geography and variety of habitat types in the metropolitan region, including coastal plain, upland forest, open field, river valley, and successional habitat, makes this area especially attractive to butterflies. Particularly important is the Coastal Plain corridor to the south of the urban core along which southern species are able to move uninterruptedly into the metropolitan region. About 100 species of butterflies, including several rare species, regularly occur in and around New York City. Recent trends indicate a decrease in those species that favor early successional habitats and northern habitats and an increase in southern species. The rich diversity of butterfly species is indicative of the diversity of other less documented migratory insect populations such as dragonflies and darners.


Marine mammals extensively use the nearby waters of the New York Bight and occasionally come into New York Harbor. The most commonly observed marine mammal is the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), which winters in the Harbor and hauls out onto islands in Jamaica Bay, Sandy Hook, Staten Island, and the Westchester and Connecticut shorelines of the Long Island Sound Narrows. Although less frequent, the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) is regularly seen in similar locations. Occasional records of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) in the Harbor are generally of single individuals that are likely unhealthy and/or lost. Historical records indicate that the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) may have once been a regular visitor to the Harbor. Terrestrial mammals in the urban core are limited by the amount of available habitat. The most abundant small mammals are those that have adapted to human habitation, including meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus), cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus), gray squirrel (Sciurus carolenensis), raccoon (Procyon lotor), muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), opossum (Didelphis virginiana), white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus), eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus), and those introduced by humans, including house mouse (Mus musculus), Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus), and feral dogs (Canis sp.) and cats (Felis sylvestris). Bats that migrate through the area include the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivans), red bat (Lasiurus borealis), and hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus). Large mammals are absent from the center of the urban core, although white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) occur and are often quite abundant in the suburban outskirts of this area, and black bear (Ursus americanus) occur just outside the urban core in the New York - New Jersey Highlands.


The diversity of upland and freshwater wetland habitats that historically occurred in the urban core once supported a tremendous variety of plant species, many of which have since been extirpated. An analysis of changes in Staten Island's flora indicates that 40% of known indigenous species (53% of federally and state-listed species) are not currently found on Staten Island and that the proportion of non-native species has increased from 19% to 33% of the flora. Some rare plants and small examples of rare natural communities remain, however; the New York State Natural Heritage Program lists 113 occurrences of 57 different rare plant species occurring within 25 miles of New York City, while the New Jersey Natural Heritage Program lists 25 occurrences of 23 species. Most of these occurrences are small remnant populations still surviving and persisting in city parks or on other protected land.

Rare Ecological Communities

There are several rare natural communities in the urban core, including the coastal dune woodlands and maritime forest found on Sandy Hook (Raritan Bay - Sandy Hook Bay complex), the traprock glade communities found on the Watchung Ridges (Preakness Mountain), the brackish tidal marsh complex at Piermont Marsh (Lower Hudson River), the Hempstead Plains grassland found on Long Island (Long Island Grasslands), the marine rocky intertidal habitats found in the Westchester County shoreline of Long Island Sound (the Narrows), and the swamp forests, oak hybrid forests, and serpentine barrens found on Staten Island. All of these communities are discussed as part of habitat complexes referenced above, with the exception of the serpentine barrens discussed here. The northern part of Staten Island is underlain by serpentine rock or serpentinite, the only occurrence of this bedrock type in the watershed and the region. The chemical properties of serpentine soils and the xeric (dry) conditions found here limit the types of vegetation, resulting in a distinctive barrens community that is considered globally rare. The serpentine barrens on Staten Island are grasslands dominated by little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), panic grasses (Panicum spp.), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), and poverty grass (Danthonia spicata), as well as forbs and scattered trees and shrubs. Four small serpentine barrens areas have been identified on Staten Island (see maps for Arthur Kill complex, pp. 491-3). Rare plants found on the barrens include globose flatsedge (Cyperus echinatus), velvet panic grass (Panicum scoparium), green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora), St. John's-wort (Hypericum dissimulatum), and pine barren gerardia (Agalinis virgata). These barrens recently supported the region's only known population of the Arogos skipper (Atrytone a. arogos), although the population has apparently been extirpated. These remnant serpentine barrens and the surrounding open space should be preserved and managed to maintain, enhance, and restore these rare communities and plants.

Open Space

City, county, state, and federal parks make up the majority of upland and wetland open space that has significant wildlife value in the urban core. The New York City Park System contains more than 10,500 hectares (26,000 acres) and occupies 13% of the city's total area. Although much of this parkland is developed for recreation, the park system also includes 2,830 hectares (7,000 acres) of undeveloped forest, tidal and freshwater wetlands, and meadows. Thirty-six city parks each have greater than 4 hectares (10 acres) of natural cover types. The five units of the Gateway National Recreation Area (Sandy Hook Unit, Staten Island Unit, Breezy Point District, Jamaica Bay District, and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge District) encompass a total of 10,780 hectares (26,645 acres) of uplands, wetlands, and open water. The resources of the Gateway units are included in and discussed under the Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point and Raritan Bay - Sandy Hook Bay complex habitat narratives. The park systems of Union and Essex Counties, New Jersey, were two of the earliest county park systems in the country and now account for 2,255 hectares (5,574 acres) and 2,320 hectares (5,726 acres), respectively, of open space. Palisades Interstate Parks account for over 5,000 acres of open space within the urban core. Although some of these parks are isolated fragments of habitat, many of them are organized as networks or greenways of open space along ridges or river corridors. Some of the more significant networks of open space are described below.

Glacial Terminal Moraine

A string of parks follows the ridge of the glacial terminal moraine extending from the suburbs of northern Nassau County, through Queens County (Manhasset Valley Park, Udall's Cove, Alley Pond Park, Cunningham Park, Kissena Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Forest Park, Highland Park, and Prospect Park) on Long Island, to Staten Island (Staten Island Greenbelt, Silver Lake Park, Clove Lakes Park, Willowbrook Park, La Tourette Park, and Fresh Kills). This higher elevation morainal greenbelt provides an important linear network of upland and freshwater wetland habitat for many species of migratory birds and insects moving through the urban core. The moraine is also adjacent to Long Island's north shore bays in Queens and both Raritan Bay and the Arthur Kill shorelines on Staten Island, providing upland buffer for these estuarine waters.

Udall's Cove and Ravine straddles the New York City-Nassau County border in northeastern Queens adjacent to Little Neck Bay. This area includes forest, shrub, and vineland in the ravine, and tidal marsh and shallow-water habitats in Udall's Cove. The cove contains one of the last undeveloped salt marshes on the north shore of Long Island in the New York City area. It is used extensively by shorebirds and wading birds as well as by nesting, migrating, and wintering waterfowl. The cove also supports a variety of finfish, shellfish, and crustacea. This area is part of a New York State Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat and was recognized as part of the Narrows Significant Habitat in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 1991 Northeast Coastal Areas Study. Alley Pond Park is a 265-hectare (654-acre) park located at the southern end of Little Neck Bay on the north shore of Queens. Parts of the park and adjacent areas, including salt marsh, tidal flats, tidal creek, freshwater ponds, wetlands, and upland forest are considered a New York State Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat and were recognized as part of the Narrows Significant Habitat in the Northeast Coastal Areas Study. The wetlands here support a diversity and abundance of shellfish, finfish, and crustacea as well as probable breeding by a variety of waterfowl and marsh birds and wintering by the state-listed threatened northern harrier. Cunningham Park is a 145-hectare (358-acre) park in northeast Queens containing 102 hectares (253 acres) of forest and woodland, 12 hectares (29 acres) of herbaceous covertypes, 5 hectares (12 acres) of scrub, and 4 hectares (9 acres) of vineland on the knob and kettle topography of the glacial moraine. Three species of amphibians and reptiles and 11 small mammal species occur here. Kissena Park is a 114-hectare (282-acre) park located in north-central Queens with 46 hectares (114 acres) of natural land and a 3-hectare (8-acre) lake; there are 11 hectares (27 acres) of forest, 36 hectares (89 acres) of meadow, and 0.4 hectare (1 acre) of scrub vegetation. This park is an important staging area for warblers during spring and fall migrations. Flushing Meadows Corona Park in northcentral Queens contains the 40-hectare (100-acre) Meadow Lake impoundment and the 16-hectare (40-acre) natural spring-fed Willow Lake; these two lakes comprise one of the largest expanses of freshwater in the city. The lakes and wetlands support a warmwater fishery and provide habitat for migrating waders, waterfowl, and passerines, as well as breeding habitat for several species of waterfowl and marsh-nesting birds. Meadow and Willow Lakes are recognized as a New York State Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat. Forest Park, a 218-hectare (538-acre) park important for migrant songbirds, is located in western Queens and contains 166 hectares (411 acres) of forest dominated by red, black, and white oaks (Quercus spp.) with scattered tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), black birch (Betula lenta), hickory (Carya spp.), and dogwood (Cornus spp.). Prospect Park contains the last sizable areas of forest in Brooklyn. The Staten Island Greenbelt, a series of parks and undeveloped lands on the terminal moraine and adjacent areas in central Staten Island, has some of the largest, healthiest forests and swamps in New York City. The Staten Island Bluebelt is a network of ponds and freshwater wetlands on and south of the moraine along the Raritan Bay shoreline of Staten Island that is maintained for stormwater management and open space.

Arthur Kill Tributaries

The Arthur Kill connects the waters of Newark Bay with the waters of Raritan Bay and flows between Staten Island and New Jersey. At its headwaters and along its tributaries in New Jersey are important fragments of riparian wetland and upland habitat. Several of these are discussed under the Arthur Kill Complex habitat narrative. These riparian habitats, mostly in Union County, New Jersey, along the Woodbridge Creek, Rahway River, and Elizabeth River, include tidal marshes near their confluence with the Arthur Kill and freshwater marshes and bottomland forests in the upper reaches that are dominated by sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), red maple (Acer rubrum), pin oak (Quercus palustris), tulip tree, and silver maple (Acer saccharinum). A network of small tidal and freshwater wetlands also occurs on the northwest corner of Staten Island. These remaining open spaces provide important migratory and breeding habitat for a diversity of waterbirds and landbirds, totaling nearly 200 species and including approximately 90 breeding species, as reported by a recent survey conducted by the New Jersey Audubon Society. Several of these wetlands are important foraging areas for herons. Some of the larger pieces of habitat include Ashbrook Reservation, Middlesex Reservoir, Lenape Park, Rahway River Park, and Kawahmee Park. A more complete description and conservation recommendations for these important areas are provided in the New Jersey Conservation Foundation's Greenways to the Arthur Kill and New Jersey Audubon's Arthur Kill Wildlife and Habitat Inventory report.

Watchung Ridges

The First and Second Watchung Ridges, which run parallel to and east of the New York - New Jersey Highlands, are a major feature of the New Jersey portion of the urban core. A network of open space occurs on these ridges including, from south to north: Watchung Reservation, South Mountain Reservation, Garret Mountain Park, Eagle Rock Reservation, Mills Reservation, Prospect Park, and High Mountain. These ridges are made up of igneous intrusions of diabase and basalt, or traprock, and are characterized by dry mixed oak hardwood forests and traprock glades. The network of open space on these ridges is important for rare plant species and communities and for migrating raptors and passerines following the ridges. Seeley's Pond and Preakness Mountain (High Mountain) have some of the best remaining traprock communities in the region, with state-listed and globally rare plant species. Preakness Mountain is described in a habitat complex narrative, and traprock ridge communities are discussed in an introductory chapter.

Passaic River/Glacial Lake Passaic/Pompton River

To the west of the Watchungs, but east of the New York - New Jersey Highlands, a large freshwater swamp and marsh complex in the Passaic River watershed occupies the basin of the former Glacial Lake Passaic. This wetland complex includes, from south to north: Great Swamp, Canoe Brook Reservoir, West Essex Park, Black Meadows, Lee Meadows, Troy Meadows, Hatfield Swamp, Great Piece Meadows, and Bog and Vly Meadows. Several New Jersey Priority Sites for Biodiversity occur in this area. This complex is described in detail in the Passaic Meadows habitat narrative. A great variety of amphibians, reptiles, and birds occurs in these wetlands, including nesting by the state-listed threatened great blue heron. Pompton River, a tributary of the Passaic River to the north of these wetlands, contains several gravel bar and gravel pit habitats that are also recognized as priority sites for biodiversity by New Jersey due to the presence of state-listed endangered plants.

New York - New Jersey Highlands

To the west and north of Glacial Lake Passaic, the urban core abuts the New York - New Jersey Highlands. Steep slopes, thin soils, and greater distance from the city delayed development of this area, but currently there is tremendous pressure to develop portions of the Highlands for residential and commercial uses. There are several large open space areas, mostly state forests and state and county parks in the Highlands within the 25-mile radius of New York City. The tremendous forest and wetland resources of the Highlands are described in the New York - New Jersey Highlands habitat complex narrative. The proximity to the urban core of this large, relatively unfragmented forest and wetland corridor connecting the Appalachians and Delaware River to the southwest with the Hudson River and New England to the north makes this area especially important for migratory bird species, particularly Neotropical migrants, and some resident species with large home ranges, such as black bear.

Hackensack River

The Hackensack River watershed includes the approximately 3,237-hectare (8,000-acre) tidal wetlands complex known as the Hackensack Meadowlands. This area is recognized as a regionally significant habitat and is described in the Hackensack Meadowlands habitat complex narrative. North of the Hackensack Meadowlands, the Hackensack River forms a connecting corridor between the Meadowlands, the Palisades, and the Hudson River. This corridor includes the river and adjacent riparian habitat and three reservoirs: DeForest Lake, Lake Tappan, and Oradell Reservoir. The reservoir watershed lands are important habitat for songbirds, wintering raptors, migratory shorebirds, and waterfowl.


The steep traprock cliffs and talus slopes of the Palisades stand prominently along and above the west bank of the Hudson River from Fort Lee, New Jersey, north to West Haverstraw, New York. Most of the land in the Palisades is part of the Palisades Interstate Park System, and includes Greenbrook Sanctuary in New Jersey and Tallman Mountain State Park in New York. This area supports rare traprock and talus slope communities and, along with adjacent parks, forms a relatively contiguous linear corridor of open land along this section of the Hudson River. This area is described in detail in the Palisades habitat complex narrative.

Hudson Riverside Parks

These represent a string of parks occurring along or near the east side of the Hudson River in Manhattan and the Bronx and include, from north to south: Van Cortlandt Park, Riverdale Park, Inwood Hill Park, Fort Washington Park, Riverside Park, and Central Park. Van Cortlandt Park is a 464-hectare (1,146-acre) park in the northwestern Bronx. Significant features of the park include a 36-hectare (89-acre) emergent and forested wetland around Tibbet's Creek, which itself flows south into the 6.5-hectare (16-acre) Van Cortlandt Lake; a 3-hectare (8-acre) grassland; 276 hectares (681 acres) of forest; and 5.6 hectares (14 acres) of scrub. The wetland areas are dominated by red maple while the upland forest is dominated by several oak species. Despite fragmentation by three major highway systems, relatively large parcels of contiguous forest make this open space area especially valuable because of its proximity to the Hudson River. The varied and relatively large wetlands and upland habitats support a large number of migrant waterbirds and landbirds. There are several extant occurrences of New York State rare plant species in the park. Riverside Park in Manhattan is used by peregrine falcons nesting on the Riverside Church aerie.

East River/Long Island Narrows

This complex of wetland and upland open space along the north shore of the East River and the Narrows portion of western Long Island Sound is an extremely important feeding area for waterbirds. The principal significant habitat types in this area are offshore islands with colonial wading bird rookeries, rocky intertidal areas, and tidal wetland areas consisting of various combinations of associated salt and brackish marshes, mudflats, tidal creeks, and protected open water coves. Part of this area is recognized as the mainland coastline subcomplex in the Narrows Significant Habitat in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Coastal Areas Study; this area is described in detail in the Narrows habitat complex narrative. The Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats designated by New York State in this stretch of shoreline are: North and South Brother Islands, Pelham Bay Park Wetlands, Huckleberry Island, Premium River-Pine Brook Wetland, Marshlands Conservancy, Playland Lake, and Manursing Island Flats. Significant open space from west to east includes Sound View Park, Ferry Point Park, Pelham Bay Park, Glen Island Park, Premium River/Pine Brook, Marshlands Conservancy, Playland Lake, and Manursing Island Flats. Adjacent to the narrows on the north shore of Long Island are three bays: Little Neck and Manhasset Bays and Hempstead Harbor. The three North Shore bays are collectively among the most important waterfowl wintering concentration areas in the western Long Island Sound These bays are recognized as a subcomplex in the Narrows Significant Habitat in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Coastal Areas Study. They are also designated as Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats by New York State.

Other Open Space


There are three major airports (John F. Kennedy, La Guardia, Newark) and several minor ones (Teterboro, Flushing, Morristown Municipal, Lincoln Park, Caldwell Wright, Westchester County) within the urban core. The shorelines of John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jamaica Bay support nesting by American oystercatcher, while the uplands support several state-listed rare plants and are used for feeding by grassland birds such as upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) and grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum). Newark Airport was historically used by least tern (Sterna antillarum) for nesting. Teterboro Airport in the Hackensack Meadowlands contains a red maple swamp and grasslands. Management of airports to support wildlife, especially for grassland habitat, would greatly enhance species' use of these areas within the urban core.

Golf Courses

There are approximately 120 golf courses within the urban core. Although much of the acreage of a golf course has low habitat value, there are often substantial out-of-play areas that have the potential to be used or enhanced as meadow, forest, or aquatic habitat. Several golf courses in the area are currently working with the Audubon Society of New York State's Cooperative Sanctuary Program to enhance wildlife value, reduce water use, and reduce the use of pesticides.


There are numerous closed landfills in the urban core. Capped and inactive landfills can be especially valuable as existing and potential open space because they provide open, high elevation areas that are relatively clean and tend to be adjacent to wetland complexes. They thus have tremendous potential for both waterfowl and grassland bird nesting and for feeding birds such as grasshopper sparrow, northern harrier, and short-eared owl. In some instances, human-made or subsidence ponds on top of the landfills can become extremely productive waterfowl habitat, as exemplified by a landfill pond in the Hackensack Meadowlands that produced 144 gadwall ducklings in 1990.

Corporate Parks

Corporate parks and commercial centers at the outskirts of the urban core have large amounts of open space around them, usually in the form of highly manicured lawn and shade trees. There is a potential for improving the habitat value of these corporate parks by letting some of the lawns grow into grasslands or replanting with native grassland species and maintaining them in this condition by active and cooperative management. It may also be appropriate to reestablish forested areas on some of these corporate lands.


The many cemeteries within the urban core of New York City form a significant component of open space, especially in the older established neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Although mainly highly altered habitat, some of the shade trees and open field areas provide cover and roosting habitat for several species of migratory insects and birds.

Suburban Land

Large areas of suburban developed land occur on the outskirts of the urban core, especially on the north shore of Nassau County, Long Island, central Westchester County, and along the Highlands in Bergen, Passaic, Essex, and Morris Counties in New Jersey. Because areas in Long Island and Westchester were developed years ago, much of the landscaping has matured into small fragments of mature forest and shrubland that is valuable for migratory birds and insects. Through public outreach promoting the use of native species, use of species with high food value, and reduction of lawns in favor of meadows, shrubs, and trees, there exists the potential to increase the quality of suburban habitat for wildlife.

Pier Areas/Pile Fields

Studies are underway to examine the relative distribution, abundance, and growth of juvenile fishes found associated with the pile-supported structures in the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary (Able and Studholme 1993). The value of pile-supported platforms as fish habitats have provoked controversy, since development of such structures can contribute to degradation of water and habitat quality, although platforms can also attract resident and migratory fishes. Preliminary results of this multi-year study were focused on juvenile fish use of three habitat types: under pile-supported platform structures (underpier areas), open pile fields, and interpier areas. Juvenile striped bass (Morone saxatilis) were the most abundant (29.9%) of the 20 species of fish collected; the balance of the nine top fish were, in order of decreasing abundance, Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod) 14.7%, American eel (Anguilla rostrata) 13.6%, seaboard goby (Gobisoma ginsburgi) 13.3%, cunner (Tautogolabrus adspersus) 12.1%, northern pipefish (Syngnathus fuscus) 3.6%, naked goby (G. bosc) 3.6%, winter flounder (Pleuronectes americanus) 2.2%, and tautog (Tautoga onitis) 1.4%. Predominant crustaceans included grass shrimp (Palaemonetes spp.), sand shrimp (Crangon septemspinosa), and blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus). The fastest growth rates for tautog were found in the interpier and pile field habitats. Occasionally, upland habitat occurs on top of piers, such as the historical least tern nesting colony on the Global Terminal Site in Bayonne, New Jersey.

Threats and Special Problems

The New York Bight watershed is one of the most populous and heavily industrialized coastal areas in the world, subject to severe ecological impacts caused by human activity and development, including industrial effluents, chemical and oil spills, human sewage, urban, suburban, and rural runoff, recreational overcrowding, floatable materials, atmospheric fallout of pollutants, dredging and dredged material deposition, over harvesting of fishery resources, loss of essential natural habitats, and the invasion by exotic species and feral animals that accompany such human intrusions. In spite of these extreme environmental stresses and severely diminished or degraded habitats, the Bight and its adjacent shorelands and uplands within the watershed are rich in living resources; however, a great many native species populations are shadows of their former levels of abundance in the region and continue to be at substantial risk. Although there is very little upland and wetland open space remaining in the urban core available for development, there is tremendous pressure to develop those remaining open space areas, including the wetlands in the Hackensack Meadowlands and the uplands in the New York - New Jersey Highlands.

The Port of New York - New Jersey competes for its share of the limited national and international economic markets. The port facility occupies some 1,208 kilometers (755 miles) of shoreline, 736 kilometers (460 miles) in New York and 473 kilometers (295 miles) in New Jersey. The port of New York is one of the busiest U.S. cargo ports and the leader in passenger ship movements. All port facilities require shoreside support, mooring facilities, and adequate channel depth. Dredging, dredged material disposal, filling aquatic habitat to create land for port improvement or expansion, and degradation of water quality are the most serious port-related threats and have been well recognized for their deleterious effects on living marine resources and habitats.


A major concern within the Harbor and urban core is the presence and movement of contaminants and toxic chemicals in the environment, especially those that are tied to the sediments. Sediment and mussel samples from the Hudson estuary rank the highest overall in contaminant concentrations among the estuaries sampled by the National Status and Trends Program. These contaminants include heavy metals, PAHs, PCBs, pesticides, and dioxin, and their bioaccumulation by organisms through any route, including respiration, ingestion, or direct contact, is of grave concern. Once these contaminants are ingested or absorbed by marine organisms, they are transferred in increasing concentrations up the food chain through the process of biomagnification. This magnifying effect poses the greatest threat to predators at the top of the food chain such as predatory fish, piscivorous (fish-eating) birds, and humans. Recent toxicity tests from locations throughout the New York - New Jersey Harbor found that about 70% of samples were toxic in at least one of the four toxicity tests performed. According to these tests, toxicity was most severe in the East River, diminishing eastward into Long Island Sound and southward into upper New York Harbor; toxicity was also high in Newark Bay, Arthur Kill, and western Raritan Bay, diminishing southward and eastward toward the mouth of the estuary. Toxicity was relatively low in the lower Hudson River and portions of lower New York Harbor and northern Raritan Bay.

Contaminants present throughout the Harbor and urban core can be found in various concentrations. One of the principal problems is contaminant movement within the system, a consequence of navigation dredging necessary to keep the Harbor open as a major port facility capable of accommodating modern deep-draft vessels. The average yearly volume of materials dredged is in excess of 12 million cubic yards of sediment. An equally pressing problem is controlling and/or eliminating the specific sources of pollutants that continue to contaminate the water, sediments, and biota. Major sources include, but are not limited to, industrial discharges, sewage treatment plant discharges, combined sewer overflows (CSOs), stormwater runoff, nonpoint source discharges (including Superfund sites), atmospheric deposition, chemical and oil spills, and natural transport of contaminants within the watershed. It is paramount that pollution prevention and waste minimization control measures that protect the sediments are implemented, recognizing that dredged materials will continually pose a problem until pollutant sources are minimized.

Water Quality

The New York - New Jersey Harbor estuary is a eutrophic (nutrient-rich) estuary with high loadings of nutrients and organic matter that originate mainly from sewage treatment plants but also from a variety of other point and nonpoint sources. These loadings result in low dissolved oxygen concentrations in many parts of the Harbor. While recent trends indicate that there have been significant increases in dissolved oxygen in some of the more degraded areas of the Harbor, such as the Harlem River, Kill van Kull, Arthur Kill, and Upper Bay, there have also been significant decreases in the outer reaches of the Harbor such as Jamaica Bay, western Long Island Sound, and Lower Bay. Low dissolved oxygen has acute and chronic effects on various life stages of benthic species and limits the use of the area by pelagic species. Another water quality problem, low levels of light penetration, results from high suspended solids and phytoplankton biomass that can reduce the amount of light reaching the bottom to levels below those able to support submerged aquatic vegetation, especially eelgrass (Zostera marina). A recent attempt to restore eelgrass beds in Raritan Bay failed, apparently due to a combination of wave action, turbidity, shading and smothering by sea lettuce, fouling of eelgrass blades by invertebrates and epiphytic algae, and nitrate enrichment. Fresh waters within the urban core are also threatened by nutrient enrichment, contaminants, sedimentation, and water level declines due to sanitary sewer installations.

Conservation Considerations

Specific recommendations have been made in each of the habitat complex narratives that follow this chapter. General recommendations related to habitat are summarized here. In light of the extraordinary ecological significance of the urban core and the small amount of remaining open space, including several regionally significant habitat complexes, it is essential and urgent that as much of the existing significant habitat and other open space areas as possible be protected and managed for fish and wildlife species, and that substantial efforts be made to restore degraded areas. It is especially important that riparian corridors and greenways such as the Staten Island Greenbelt, the Staten Island Bluebelt, and the Arthur Kill tributaries be preserved and, if possible, expanded. All bayshore habitats, such as the remaining open space along Raritan Bay and Jamaica Bay, are essential for wildlife and for preserving water quality in those bays, and should be preserved.

Because of the extensive loss of wetlands that has occurred in the urban core, it is essential that all remaining tidal and freshwater wetlands and their functions be protected. It is important to also protect upland areas adjacent to the wetlands as buffers for the wetlands and as important wildlife habitat. Restoration and enhancement of wetlands and uplands in the urban core should be a priority. Several restoration plans have been or are being developed for the harbor. Restoration and protection efforts need to be coordinated to best utilize the limited resources. Potential restoration projects in these plans include restoring salt marsh, controlling common reed (Phragmites australis), restoring eelgrass beds, constructing mollusk reefs and artificial reefs, restoring anadromous fish runs, reforesting stream corridors, seeding and stocking fish and shellfish, protecting tern and plover sites, and protecting heronries. Open space that is part of developed areas such as airports, corporate parks, landfills, and golf courses should be enhanced as grassland, forest, or other natural habitats. Existing public open space should be enhanced and managed for both recreation and wildlife habitat. Investigation and remediation of contaminated sites in the Harbor should be a high priority, especially for key fish and wildlife concentration areas such as foraging areas for herons. Cleanup and appropriate reuse of contaminated sites should be promoted in order to reduce the pressure to develop remaining open space. Continued improvement in water quality will be necessary to maintain and increase the populations of fish and wildlife utilizing the harbor. Abatement of combined sewer overflows in both states should continue to be a priority.

List of Species of Special Emphasis



Able, K.W. and A.L. Studholme. 1993. Habitat quality in the New York / New Jersey Harbor estuary: an evaluation of pier effect on fishes. Progress report to the Hudson River Foundation, New York, NY.

Barclay, J.S. and D.F. Squires. 1991. Wildlife habitats and populations in the New York/New Jersey estuary. Report to New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program.

Cech, R. 1993. A distributional checklist of the butterflies and skippers of the New York City area (50-mile radius) and Long Island. New York City Butterfly Club, Brooklyn, NY

Crawford, D.W., N.L. Bonnevie, C.A. Gillis, and R.J. Wenning. 1994. Historical changes in the ecological health of the Newark Bay Estuary, New Jersey. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 29(3):276-303.

Dunne, P.R., R. Kane, and P. Kerlinger. 1989. New Jersey at the crossroads of migration. New Jersey Audubon Society, Franklin Lakes, NJ. 74 p.

Greiling, D.A. 1993. Greenways to the Arthur Kill: a greenway plan for the Arthur Kill Tributaries. New Jersey Conservation Foundation. Morristown, NJ. 108 p. and maps.

Kane, R. and D. Githens. 1994. Hackensack River and tributaries greenway project. Draft report. New Jersey Audubon Society, Bernardsville, NJ.

Kane, R. and P. Kerlinger. 1993. Raritan Bay habitat and wildlife inventory, 1992-1993. New Jersey Audubon, Bernardsville, NJ.

Karlson, K. 1989. Sandy Hook fallout. New Jersey Audubon Society Records of New Jersey Birds 15:2.

Kieran, J.F. 1959. A natural history of New York City. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA. 428 p.

Lawley, Matusky and Skelly, Engineers. 1991. 1990 year class report for the Hudson River estuary monitoring program. For Consolidated Edison Company, project no. 115-158, New York, NY.

McEnroe, M. and P. M. Woodhead. 1991. Fisheries of the estuary: status, trends and change. A report on Task 5.3 of the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program.

Nadareski, C.A. and H. Meng. 1991. Prey selection by urban nesting peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) and contaminant analysis of prey in their diets along the lower Hudson River estuary. A report of the 1990 Tibor T. Polgar Fellowship Program. A joint program of the Hudson River Foundation and the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve, E. Blair and J. Waldman, eds.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 1995. Magnitude and extent of sediment toxicity in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. NOAA technical memorandum NOS ORCA 88, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Ocean Program, Silver Spring, MD.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 1988. National status and trends program for marine environmental quality progress report: a summary of selected data on chemical contaminants in sediments collected during 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987. NOAA technical memorandum NOS OMA 49, Rockville, MD. 15 p.

New Jersey Audubon Society. 1991. Arthur Kill wildlife and habitat inventory. New Jersey Audubon Society report to New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Bernardsville, NJ.

New York City Department of Environmental Protection. 1994. New York Harbor water quality survey: 1984. Marine Sciences Section, Wards Island, NY.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources Group. 1991. Freshwater wetlands of New York City. 16 p.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources Group. 1990. Natural areas management plan, Forest Park, Queens.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources Group. 1990. Salt marshes of New York City. 16 p.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources Group. 1990. Natural areas assessment and management plan, Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources Group. 1990. Natural areas management plan, Cunningham Park, Queens.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources Group. 1990. Natural areas management plan, Udall's Park Preserve.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources Group. 1990. Natural areas management plan, Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources Group. 1988. Natural areas management plan, Kissena Park, Queens.

New York/New Jersey Harbor Spill Restoration Committee. 1996. Natural resource restoration plan for oil and chemical releases in the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary. Draft report.

New York State Department of State. 1992. Significant coastal habitats program, a part of the New York coastal management program and New York City's approved waterfront revitalization program. Narratives on Alley Pond Park, Udall's Cove, Meadow and Willow Lake.

Parsons, K.C. and A.C. McColpin. 1993. Aquatic birds of New York Harbor: 1993 management report. Submitted to New York City Audubon Society, New York, NY.

Pouyot, R.V. and M.J. McDonald. The ecology and natural resources of New York City. Institute for Ecosystem Studies, Occasional paper #5, Millbrook, NY.

Salzman, L. 1994. Extirpated and endangered flora and fauna of the lower Hudson estuary. New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Valhalla, NY.

Schafer, C.L. 1995. Values and shortcomings of small reserves. BioScience 45(2):80-88.

Squires, D.F. 1992. Quantifying anthropogenic shoreline modification of the Hudson River and estuary from European contact time to modern time. Coastal Management 20:343-354.

Woodhead, P.M. 1991. Inventory and characterization of habitat and fish resources, and assessment of information on toxic effects in the New York - New Jersey Harbor estuary. A report to the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program, concerning work in Tasks .32, 5.1 and 5.3. Marine Services Research Center, State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY.

Woodhead, P. M. and M. McEnroe. 1991. Habitat use by the fish community. A report on Task 5.1 of the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program. Marine Services Research Center, State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. Northeast coastal areas study: significant coastal habitats of southern New England and portions of Long Island, New York. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southern New England-New York Bight Coastal Ecosystems Program, Charlestown, RI. 249 p.


Table 19. after Studholme (1988)

Phytoplankton Lower Bay 313 Olsen and Cohn, 1979
Zooplankton Lower Bay


Sage and Herman, 1972
Benthos Lower Bay 179 Gandarillas and Brinkhuis, 1981
Benthos Hudson River 105 Ristich et al., 1977
Fishes Lower Bay 117 Walford, 1971
Fishes Hudson River 113 Texas Instruments 1977
Fishes Hudson River 139 (1974-90)
yearly ave. 80
Consolidated Edison 1992


Table 20. Selected species seasonal changes in abundance.
after Woodhead (1991)

American eel hibernate high medium medium
American shad high medium low high
bay anchovy few low high low
bluefish absent medium high absent
fluke absent medium high low
red hake medium high low medium
striped bass medium medium high low
tomcod low high (YOY) medium medium
weakfish absent low high few
white perch low high medium medium
windowpane medium high low medium
winter flounder high medium low high (YOY)


Table 21. Use of the Harbor estuary for spawning and nursery area.
data extracted from Woodhead and McEnroe (1991)

American sandlance yes   yes
bluefish     yes
(Peprilus triacanthus)
(Tautogolabrus adspersus)
  yes yes
summer flounder     yes
four-beard rockling
(Enchelyopus cimbrius)
yes   yes
four-spot flounder
(Paralichthys oblongus)
grubby sculpin
(Myoxcephalus aenaeus)
yes   yes
(Selene vomer)
lined seahorse
(Hippocampus erectus)
naked goby
(Gobiosoma bosci)
northern puffer
(Sphoeroides maculatus)
  yes yes
northern searobin     yes
red hake     yes
rock gunnel   yes  
round herring     yes
seaboard goby
(Gobiosoma ginsburgi)
scup     yes
silver hake
(Merluccius bilinearis)
smallmouth flounder
(Etropus microstomus)
spotted hake
(Urophycis regina)
striped searobin
(Prionotus evolans)
tautog   yes yes
weakfish     yes
(Scophthalmus aquosus)
winter flounder yes   yes
alewife   yes yes
American eel     yes
American shad   yes yes
Atlantic menhaden   yes yes
bay anchovy   yes yes
blueback herring   yes yes
striped bass     yes
tomcod yes   yes
Atlantic silversides   yes yes
banded killifish   yes yes
hogchoker   yes yes
inland silverside   yes yes
mummichog   yes yes
northern pipefish   yes yes
striped killifish     yes
3-spine stickleback   yes yes
4-spine stickleback   yes yes
white perch   yes yes
bluegill   yes yes
brown bullhead   yes yes
carp   yes yes
gizzard shad   yes yes
golden shiner
(Notemigonus crysoleucas)
  yes yes
tessellated shiner   yes yes
yellow perch   yes yes

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List of Species of Special Emphasis

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