Visiting North Brother Island

North Brother Island, an island in the East River, is a protected area. Outside access to the island is rare, and requests are only considered under specific conditions. Please review our access policies before applying for a proposed visit.

About North Brother Island and the Harbor Herons Region

North Brother and South Brother Islands are part of the Harbor Herons Region, a nationally recognized complex of uninhabited islands and expansive marshes essential for shorebirds, located right here in New York City. Collectively known as colonial wading birds, gulls, herons, cormorants, and egrets prefer the seclusion of islands for nesting and rearing their young. They congregate at North Brother and nearby South Brother in the East River, and at several islands in Staten Island each spring.

Hazardous Historic Resources

Humans occupied North Brother Island for 150 years. The island housed the Riverside Hospital from 1881-1943, WWII veterans’ housing from 1946-1951, and a youth drug rehabilitation center from 1952-1964. The island was also the site of the General Slocum disaster in 1904. The primary tenant on the island was the City-owned and operated Riverside Hospital, including the Tuberculosis Sanatorium and pavilions for designated illnesses, laboratories, as well as homes and dormitory facilities for doctors, nurses, and other staff members . Mary Mallon, a patient known as "Typhoid Mary," lived and died in these facilities on North Brother Island. All 25 buildings are in various states of extreme dilapidation and pose a considerable threat to the island’s visitors.

Protected Nesting Area

Up until the middle of the 1800s, many species of herons and egrets used lands in and around New York Harbor as nesting and foraging grounds.  However, these birds were extirpated from the area in the latter half of the 19th century as a result of both hunting (commonly for their colorful feathers in fashion for ladies hats) and egg collecting, and declines in water quality as a result of the pollution.  Legal protections for the species and improvements in water and habitat quality let to a rebound in the population, and today there is a modest population of birds in the NYC area. They are Federally and State protected species, and access to their habitat is strictly controlled.

When to Visit

We do not visit and do not permit visits to the island between March 21 and September 21, due to shorebird breeding season.

Who May Visit

The physical condition and context of the island makes travel to it, and on it, challenging and potentially hazardous.  For this reason we further restrict access to the island within the allowable time, and only permit visits for compelling academic and scientific purposes. If you intend to visit, please indicate your purpose in the form below.

Apply Now

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are not accepting applications at this time.

Was this information helpful?