American Birding Podcast



Birder Action Needed to Restore Jamaica Bay NWR West Pond

By Douglas Futuyma

New York’s famed Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (JBWR) has been damaged beyond recognition. It will never again be such a wonderful resource for birds and birders unless it is repaired –  and that may depend on the voice of birders everywhere.

Whether by personal experience or by its reputation, birders throughout North America and beyond know the Refuge.  Some came from far and wide to see the Broad-billed Sandpiper, the first in the lower 48 states, in 1998; others came there to see their first Spotted Redshank, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Sage Thrasher, White-faced Ibis, Reddish Egret, or King Eider; countless birders have enjoyed the diverse winter waterfowl, seasonal shorebirds, and summer herons and terns that a walk around the West Pond.  More than 330 species of birds have been seen in the Refuge, owing to the unusual proximity of a freshwater Pond to a saltwater bay, together with saltmarsh, tidal flats and groves of trees. Five federally Endangered or Threatened species, 8 of 10 New York State Endangered species, and all 19 New York Species of Special Concern have occurred on the West Pond.  Some of these have bred almost annually, and many other species use the Refuge for resting and refueling during migration. BirdLife International and the National Audubon Society have designated Jamaica Bay an official Important Bird Area (IBA):

Shorebirds on Jamaica Bay's West Pond, photo by Andrew Baksh

Shorebirds on Jamaica Bay’s West Pond, photo by Andrew Baksh

But the jewel of the Refuge, the West Pond, has been almost birdless since Hurricane Sandy breached the surrounding dike on October 30, 2012, making the Pond an extension of the bay. The former pond is now a tidal mudflat, bordered by dead trees and brush: see photos documenting the devastation from the Hurricane at Andrew Baksh’s Blog.

The JBWR is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area (GNRA) within the National Park Service. Statements by some GNRA representatives raise concern that they may not restore the Pond (see The New York Times, February 10, 2014). No action has been taken since Sandy; no decision is expected until nearly the end of this year; and there is great concern that GNRA will miss the opportunity to draw on Sandy Recovery funds.  With input from the Birders’ Coalition for Gateway, which comprises major birding and environmental groups and concerned individuals in the New York area, New York City Audubon has submitted a report to GNRA that details the importance of restoration and outlines a restoration plan. But we need to communicate the importance of the Refuge and its restoration to officials at all levels, from the Refuge management to the Secretary of the Interior.

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Birders at Jamaica Bay’s West Pond, photo by Andrew Baksh

The Birders’ Coalition for Gateway has created an on-line petition directed toward National Park Service officials. The petition asks that the West Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge be restored as a freshwater habitat without further delay.  If you agree, it is essential that you add your signature to the petition.

The link is:

You can also go to

There is a real risk that one of the most important birding sites and habitats along the Atlantic Flyway will be permanently left in ruins unless we who care about birds and other wildlife are heard.


Douglas Futuyma is a Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University on Long Island. A former president of three scientific societies and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, he has been a lifelong birder and advocate for conservation.