Central Park and Prospect Park are globally recognized as havens for a variety of migratory birds. But just like every other New Yorker who stops for coffee ahead of their long, morning commute, birds also need stopovers for nourishment before continuing on their exhausting journeys. The question artist Anina Gerchick had was, simply, is the city a good host?
“So then the idea came to me, [birds] need to have nourishment that parks in parts of the city don’t offer since they don’t have native plants,” said Gerchick, the artist behind a yearlong project that invites local and migrating birds to urban parks around the city. "How do I get a public space to be a wildlife habitat?"
With support from the New York State Connects Kids to Park initiative, she found an answer in BIRDLINK — a living sculpture and eco-art project comprised of living plants that change with the seasons. Constructed with a stepping, spiraling, green checkerboard-like grid, these public installations serve two purposes: Provide a habitat for birds, and spread awareness.
The idea began as a plan to install a BIRDLINK in Sara D. Roosevelt Park in 2020, but thanks to help from NYC Audubon a 9-feet-tall prototype was installed on Governors Island this summer.
“It was great working there because it’s a quiet and a calm place, but it shuts down in the fall and that’s when the East River State Park invited us," Gerchick said.
In its second phase, BIRDLINK opened another sculpture on Oct. 6 in the East River State Park in Williamsburg, which is now in its winter stage.
“Since they are young plants in their first season, they are being shielded from the wind of the East River with piles of fallen leaves covered with burlap fabric,” Gerchick said. “When spring comes in March, all this will be removed and the plants will begin their cycle of growth again and the flowers will start blooming toward May.”
BIRDLINK comes at a time when the Trump administration’s pushback against the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has resulted in a public outcry among environmentalists and conservationists.
This year marks 100 years since the MBTA was first established. Under the Trump administration’s revised interpretation of the law, “incidental” take of bird habitats — no matter how disastrous the consequences — do not result in breaking of the law.
According to a NYTimes analysis of the interior department’s decision, “building owners, oil and wind energy companies and others will no longer have any legal incentive to reduce or eliminate bird deaths caused by their operations.”
“The MBTA is the most important law that was passed to protect birds,” said Kathryn Heintz, executive director of New York City Audubon. “Those of us who are old enough to have lived through the ’70s know how Los Angeles or New York looked like then. Many people have fought for decades to have achieved the clean environment we live in now."
Heintz believes tampering with the laws could result in irreversible damage.
Unlike the other Audubon chapters across the country, the NYC Audubon describes itself as an urban organization that focuses on the greater cause of mortality in birds belonging in urban spaces.
“Nationwide, the greatest cause of bird deaths are cats; but in New York City, it’s second or third. The greatest is collision with the windows,” Heintz said.
Heintz stressed the importance steering the conversation toward environmental concerns, and that BIRDLINK “is not only beautiful, but brings the conservation to public spaces.”