Bird in NYC
Bird in NYC

NYU CUSP’s Capstone Program brings together student research teams with government agencies, industry, or other research partners to address real-world urban challenges through data. The capstone presentations are the culmination of their six-month projects and mark the final presentation of the students’ work during their studies at CUSP.

CUSP spoke to several of this year’s capstone teams to understand more about their research, and how their projects could help improve urban life, both in New York City and other cities around the world.

Urban Dynamics of Bird Migration

CUSP Students: Martha Norrick, Mei Guan, Max Brueckner-Humphreys, and Xin Yu

Capstone Sponsor: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

CUSP Capstone Mentor: Charlie Mydlarz

Please give a brief overview of your capstone project.

Our capstone project explores the impact of urban anthropogenic noise on the vocalizations of the bird population of Washington Square Park.  New York City is situated on the Atlantic Flyway, a major north-south migratory route for many bird species.  Washington Square Park provides a resting place for these migratory avifauna.  Additionally, Washington Square Park is home to a year-round population of native birds.  We are using data from the Sounds of New York City (SONYC) acoustic sensor network along with radar data to detect migratory bird mass and citizen science data on recorded bird sightings and hope our project can help researchers and policy-makers create a better, more welcoming urban environment for birds.

Why did you choose to work on this capstone project?

Group members were attracted to this project for several different reasons, but the opportunity to work with world-class ornithologists and computer scientists on a question that if we can answer it, has the potential to improve our city for both people and birds was high on the list.

How are you collecting and analyzing the data needed for this project?

We are using existing data sets from the SONYC project, NEXRAD weather data, and the ebird platform.  We then use predictive models to classify the sounds detected on the acoustic network, predict the total migratory mass of birds in the area, and overlay the confirmed sightings by citizen scientists.

Did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your project?

COVID-19 has presented a really interesting opportunity since the stay-at-home order has created a vastly different acoustic experience in the City compared to last year.  While we would obviously prefer that it hadn’t happened, it is a compelling natural experiment to study the relationship between anthropogenic noise and birdsong.

How does your research relate to CUSP's mission of helping cities around the world become more productive, livable, equitable, and resilient?

The qualities of a welcoming avian habitat are also qualities that city dwellers around the world covet: greenery, trees, dark skies at night, low anthropogenic noise, etc. We hope that by better understanding the way that noise impacts bird life, we can improve conditions in the City not only for birds, but for everyone who lives there.

How could your research be used in NYC or other cities after your project has concluded?

We hope our research might lead to better, more tailored noise guidelines in areas of the city where migratory birds rest, like parks and preserves.

What did you wish you knew before starting this project?

I think the only thing we wish we knew was more about birds!  We have all had to do real crash courses in ornithology.