Once the world's largest garbage dumps, the old Freshkills landfill on Staten Island, is being transformed into a gigantic park. And now plenty of birds have moved in, creating a bonanza for researchers. Staten Island Reporter Amanda Farinacci has the story.
In the early morning, a team of biologists heads deep into the fields of the old Freshkills landfill.
Their destination is a netted fence, where they hope to catch one of the many bird species that now call Freshkills Park home.
"This is a really important site because this is the novelty of taking a landfill and converting it to a park is being watched by many, many cities, and we want to know if the birds can survive in this human-altered environment," said Lisa Manne, a College of Staten Island biology professor.
Turns out, they can.
In the more than 15 years since the dump was closed, the city has been converting the space, which is five times the size of Central Park, into parkland.
The process has been slow-going, but there's been plenty of action for the scientists tracking the return of wildlife.
"We see deer, we see fish, and bird species, of course, are really what's phenomenal," said Dr. Cait Fields of the city parks department.
A group from the College of Staten Island comes to the park every ten days. Working with the parks department and staff from Freshkills Park, they've been banding the birds on location and tracking their migratory patterns.
"The birds are foraging in areas that were landfill, so if they are managing to survive, that's a boon for conservation," Manne said.
Last year, several hundred birds of more than 20 species were banded, and their identifying information was entered into a national database.
"We're able to use that data from other researchers as they potentially catch the same birds in other areas of the continent later in the winter," Fields said.
Once the birds are caught, they're transported in nets. Then, they come to a table where the team will check them out for their general health, sex, and age.
And if you're daring enough to hold one —
"You want a loose relaxed grip," student Jenna Pantophlet explained. "You never want to be too tight, never too tense; you want to react with the animal."
The whole process takes only a matter of minutes, and the birds are then set free.
For more information about how you can visit the park, head to www.freshkillspark.org