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The City Concealed
The City Concealed, an online video series exploring the unseen corners of New York. Visit the places you don’t know exist, locations you can’t get into, or maybe don’t even want to. Each installment unearths New York’s rich history in the city’s hidden remains and overlooked spaces.

North Brother Island Bird Sanctuary

North Brother Island lies in the East River, between The Bronx and Queens, just west of Rikers Island and directly under the flight path of departing jets from LaGuardia. It was once the site of Riverside Hospital, a tuberculosis facility later converted to GI housing after WWII. Previously, it was home to the infamous “Typhoid” Mary Mallon during her years of quarantine. Throughout the 1950s, the city operated a drug rehab center for adolescents there, but the hospital closed in 1963, and North Brother was abandoned. Nature slowly reclaimed the island.

Today North Brother Island is a protected heron habitat, owned by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Access to the island is extremely limited due to the sensitivity of the bird-breeding habitat.

In the past, a number of colonial water bird species nested on North Brother Island, including Black-crowned Night Herons, Glossy Ibis, and Great Egrets. Over the last several years, however, the bird population on North Brother Island has declined.

To keep track of colonial water bird populations in the city, the New York City Audubon Society conducts a yearly survey of seventeen islands within New York Harbor, including North Brother Island. This May, The City Concealed joined Dr. Susan Elbin and research associate Liz Craig on their survey to find out whether the herons are back on North Brother Island or nesting elsewhere.

For more about the history of North Brother Island, check out Opacity’s overview (which features some really nice historic images). Also see northbrotherislan.blogspot.com, Forgotten-NY, and bridgeandtunnelclub.

And for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our experience shooting on the rugged island, read this post.

– Daniel Ross, Producer

This episode wouldn’t have been possible without much help from Dr. Susan Elbin, Elizabeth Craig, New York City Audubon, the David Rumsey Map Collection, and the The New York Public Library. Thank you to all.

  • comments (11)
  • Brian

    Thank you for another great episode.

    • Tony

      I was a fifteen year old from hell’s kitchen when I was sent to Riverside Hospital on North Brothers Island in 1960. It’s incredible that I’m able to see pictures of the Island I once roamed as a kid for six months !!!

  • BenInBrooklyn

    This is my favorite City Concealed episode so far. Tells an interesting story about the ecological history of NYC.

  • A.C.T.I.O.N.

    We are a teen group that works in Hunts Point. We have been working on North Brother Island with NYC Audubon and find it a very cool place.

    http://fm.hunter.cuny.edu/huntspointexpress/?p=404

    http://fm.hunter.cuny.edu/huntspointexpress/?p=407

  • rockcreek

    Well done – I’m really enjoying this series.

  • S Prendergast

    Bravo! Keep ‘em comin’!!

  • Sylvia Ross

    Just want to add that we feel very fortunate to have “esplorers” like you lead us thru the areas of NYC that we can not approach easily. Thanks again. SR

  • JF Purcell from Oceanside, NY

    Thanks for seeing an uninhabited island. Would be interesting to uncover footage or memories from when Typhoid Mary would have been there.

    JFP

  • W.E.J.

    Wow this kind of thing is something a New Yorker would never discover without a source like City Concealed. Thanks so much for showing a little slice of nature in the big apple.

    (Also, I’m an editor…nice job!!)

  • rockcreek

    Is this the last of the series?

  • P.A.Barrett

    Wow, incredible footage. Since the birds seem to be migrating to the other island, maybe that opens up the possibility of restoring the buildlings to original condition without much disturbance? Seems a shame to let that part of its history just disappear.