This website is part of The New York Public Library's Online Exhibition Archive. For current classes, programs, and exhibitions, please visit

• Intro / Home
• Historical Neighbors
• Street and Backyard

• Park and Green Places

• Shore and Wetlands

• Salt and Freshwater

• Tiny Neighbors
• Unwelcome Neighbors
• Occasional and
  Unexpected Neighbors

• Wildlife Sighting Log
• Resources

• Hours and Tours


 Historical Neighbors
Historical Intro | Image: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

In 1609, when Henrik Hudson sailed the Half Moon into New York Harbor and up the river that would be named for him, he was seeking a new route to China. Although this proved a fruitless quest, he reported enthusiastically to his sponsor, the Dutch East India Company, about a verdant land rich in animal life, with excellent agricultural, lumbering, and fur-trading potential. The subsidiary Dutch West India Company, created to handle New World matters, funded additional expeditions, sending colonists and merchants to exploit the natural riches of the new land. In 1624, the city of New Amsterdam was founded on the southern end of Manhattan island, brought into being primarily to make money for shareholders of the Dutch company.

Beavers played a preeminent role in the early economic history of New York City, with trade in the valuable pelts bringing wealth to many. Fur trading continued well into the 19th century, even after the local beaver population was depleted, and the city continues today to be the home of the fur industry. The city’s official seals have always included an image of beavers, beginning with the 1623 Dutch seal of the Colony of New Netherland, encompassing land between the Delaware and Connecticut rivers.

The city’s fish and shellfish industries were also of great economic importance. The abundant oysters and clams were devoured in great quantities locally, and exported across the country. But heedless overfishing, and increasing water pollution, led to the end of most legal shellfishing early in the 20th century, when oysters from New York Harbor caused an outbreak of typhoid in 1916.

The delicious Quahog or Hard-shelled Clam played a vital role in the economy of the Lenape Indians. The clamshells were an important source of the beads known as wampum, used as money not only by the natives, but also by early Dutch colonists.

Although some of the local native animals abundant in the 17th century, such as the Eastern Gray Squirrel, have continued to thrive, others, such as the Black Bear, retreated elsewhere as the local forests disappeared. And other species, such as Passenger Pigeons, once the most numerous birds in the world, are now extinct.

Check out the sighting log to record your interaction with some of the native New York City wildlife featured in Urban Neighbors. You may also browse the sighting log by animal, borough, park or natural area, and/or habitat to view a sighting you have submitted or to read others’ observations.





Beaver /
Collection of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Arts for Transit


Northern Quahog /


Fishes / NYPL


Passenger Pigeon /


Black Bear / NYPL

  © 2002 The New York Public Library