Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Governors Island

On Sunday I made my annual pilgrimage out to Governors Island. As always, I saw barn Swallows swooping around the lawn in front of Fort Jay as soon as I got off the Ferry. This year, there's a special attraction--a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron nest, apparently the first ever on the island.

I was able to find the nest due to excellent directions from Ben Cacace. Ben maintains a great set of pages about NYC-area birding hotspots. Here's the one about Governors Island

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Crowned Night Heron on nest, Governor's Island
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron nest

The usual major attraction has always been the nest colonies of Common Terns on the piers of the east side of the island. Two of the piers are in the part of the island still closed to tourists, but the third is at Yankee Pier, where the ferry from Brooklyn arrives. I think this is the only Common Tern nesting area in the region.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Terns nesting area, Governor's Island
Common Tern nesting area on Yankee Pier

Terns nest right out in the open, building a small cairn of pebbles and shells.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Nesting Common Tern, Governor's Island
Tern on nest

I'm going to try to get out to the island again in July when the eggs hatch.

There are other breeding birds on Governors Island as well. At Ligget's Terrace, which is where the food trucks are, I stopped to watch this singing Mockingbird.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Mockingbird singing, Governor's Island
Sing out!

After he flew off, I noticed that a Herring Gull was repeatedly diving on a man walking by. It was quite a sight. He stopped to talk for a few minutes--the gull screaming and diving all though the conversation--and I directed him to the tern colony. It was only after he left that I spotted the baby gulls on a path nearby.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Baby Herring Gulls, Governor's Island
Even baby gulls are cute. Look, they're like little Kiwis!

There's a field nearby on the west edge of the island, slated for eventual development but currently home to several Herring Gull and Great Black-Backed Gull nests.

Before going back to the ferry, I visited the heron nest again. The bird was quite undisturbed by the many passers-by, or by the large number of crows (American and Fish Crow both). I suspect the crows do not want to deal with that massive sharp bill.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Crowned Night Heron on nest, Governor's Island
in command of the situation


  1. Ed,

    Just read your blog post on your trip to Governors Island! Great to see your trip was so successful. I enjoyed the photos of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron on nest. Thanks for sharing.

    Recently I had a similar experience with an adult Herring Gull diving at me along Liggett Terrace and didn't think to look for young on the ground.

    I placed links to your blog and this article on the NYS eBird Hotspots wiki page for Governors Island. Let me know if you see any issues with the text or links.


    Ben Cacace

  2. Ben,

    Thanks for the kind words, and for the links. And thanks again for the directions!

    I wonder, when do you think the heron's eggs might hatch? Early July?


  3. Ed, Great question!

    The first time I spotted them sitting on the nest and possibly incubating eggs was on 8-June-2015.

    This is a short quote from 'The Birds of North America':

    Incubation Period: No definitive information on length of incubation. Average length of time birds observed in incubation posture = 27.8 ± 2.66 d (SD) (n = 119; Watts 1987), but this is probably an overestimate of true incubation period. Weeks (1976) reported 24–25 d (n = 1).

    My guess would be no later than 4th of July weekend and possibly earlier, if they started incubating well before I discovered the nest, to see a nestling. Amazing that the info on incubation is so sketchy.


  4. Ed / all,

    I was at the nest today and later in the afternoon I spotted an adult alternately sitting, standing and sitting tall / high in the nest. When the adult was upright I spotted movement low in the nest as if something was righting itself. It was very small and probably newly hatched within the past few days.

    Here are some details from the online subscription site 'The Birds of North America':

    Feeding: Entirely on nest structure. While brooding, feeding alternates between male and female, and occurs during nest exchange; occurs throughout day and night, with male and female alternating between nest guarding and collecting food in 2- to 5-h intervals (Darden 1962).

    Departure From The Nest: Before fledging, young begin to venture out onto limbs as soon as brood exceeds nest capacity (BDW). Over time, young will venture farther from nest into adjacent trees. Young fledge from nest on average at 36.9 d ± 6.59 (SD) after hatching (n = 91; Watts 1987).

    Based on the 30 - 42 day time period for fledgling this should happen, if all goes well, from the very end of July to the 2nd weekend in August.

    Ben Cacace
    Manhattan, NYC