Recently, a series of images surfaced on Reddit, featuring birds visiting people outside of their windows. Many of these photos were taken in cityscapes, far from any forest or natural habitat. Despite increasing habitat loss and fragmentation, birds have been able to make adaptations to the cities we live in.
The original post began on Reddit on Thursday, 1/18, featuring a Peregrine Falcon, just like our own ambassador Valkyrie. According to a recent study in the UK, Peregrine Falcons are well adapted to urban real estate and lifestyles. Cathedrals, power stations, universities, and skyscrapers are known to showcase nesting Peregrines. Esther Kettel, a researcher at Nottingham Trent University, shares that tall buildings mimic Peregrines’ traditional nesting sites in high cliffs and quarry faces, allowing for a clear view of potential prey and predators. In urban areas, their diet consists mostly of synanthropic urban wildlife. A synanthrope is a member of a wild species who are associated with humans and artificial habitats we create. Typically, such undomesticated animals are seen as pests: mice, squirrels, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and deer. Raptors will consume rats and pigeons found in cities, for example.
In the capital of Venezuela, wild rainbow-colored Macaws thrive in the city, relying on amatuer birders who feed them and watch for their nests. Their natural home is not Caracas, but rather in the southeast part of the nation. They were introduced to the area by an Italian immigrant named named Vittorio Poggi in the 1970s. Amongst the concrete jungle, the birds have adapted well due to the tropical foliage growing between skyscrapers.
When combining a reliable food source with an increasing habitat loss, packing up and flying to the city seems like a logical thing for any bird to do. As a result, however, many birds learn to adapt. For example, there is a steadily growing population of red-tail hawks in New York City. What had started with Central Park’s star red tail named Pale Male in 1990, has grown to twenty nests in Manhattan in thirty years. With each new generation of ‘city hawk’ comes a bird adapted to less territory than the previous one. In fact, Bob Horvath, a wildlife rehabilitator and bird of prey expert from Long Island, shares these city hawks’ territories are smaller, and sometimes even overlapping, in comparison to the rural areas where they’re living a mile or two apart.
According the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our cities now harbor around twenty percent of the world’s known bird species. Myla Aronson, the lead author for the study, shared that on a global scale “cities are primarily retaining the unique composition of their geographic locations,” allowing a biodiversity to exist within any given city. Karen Purcell, a project leader for Cornell Lab’s Celebrate Urban Birds project, hopes to change this biodiversity blindness. By encouraging city-dwellers to look for sixteen birds commonly found in cities, she hopes to help urbanites feel connected with nature.
As you look for birds out your window, take that chance to think about the adaptations they have taken with their new move into the city. It’s not often that nature comes to you.
Cornell Lab’s Celebrate Urban Birds has a citizen-science project that helps increase appreciation for the biodiversity found in your community. This project encourages you to collect data about what birds you’ve encounter over a timespan of three days. To learn more about urban birds or to contribute your bird data observations, visit celebrateurbanbirds.org.