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Urban Beach Birds

When we think of urban birds, we usually think of pigeons, starlings, and house sparrows. Maybe some robins, crows, and gulls. Urban bird habitats might be parks, or yards. But pretty much any habitat can be urbanized–including beaches, as my quick trip over to Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY revealed today.

In addition to this pigeon, I saw dozens of Laughing Gulls and Common Terns, a few American Oystercatchers, and other beach birds–all within a stone’s throw of buildings, amusement park rides, and thousands of beach goers.

The star of the day was the Gray-hooded Gull, a Southern Hemisphere bird hanging out on the Coney Island beach this past week–only the second one reported from North America.

For birders, a mega-rarity like this is sure to draw a crowd. But while enjoying the rarity show, it is good to take a moment to consider how urbanization is creating a whole new class of urban birds–beach and sea birds that have to adapt to a heavy human presence when we take over and build on their home turf. It is a reminder that all birds can be urban birds–from the most rare and specialized to the most common and mundane. As cities take over the beaches, it falls to urban planners and urban residents to ensure a bright future for these beach birds.

New Urban Bird Treaty Cities in U.S.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported in July that it will award 10 U.S. cities with a total of $650,000 in funding to develop bird conversation projects.

The following new Urban Bird Treaty Cities will each receive a grant of up to $70,000:
Phoenix, AZ
Kennedale, TX
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Indianapolis, IN
Opelika, AL
Hartford, CT
Ogden, UT
Lewistown, MT
San Francisco, CA
Washington D.C.

Existing Urban Bird Treaty Cities will also each receive a $10,000 grant. Those cities are Chicago, Houston, Portland, St. Louis, Nashville, Anchorage, Philadelphia (view treaty) and New York.

The funding is being awarded as part of the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds program. Administered by FWS, the program brings together private citizens, federal, state and local agencies, and non-governmental organizations to conserve migratory birds through educational programs, participation in citizen science, conversation and habitat improvement strategies and reducing hazards to birds in urban and suburban areas.

The Urban Bird Treaty cities and their partners develop and implement bird conservation projects and provide matching dollars and in-kind support. The Service provides the challenge grants and technical assistance. The cities and their partners also work to increase awareness of the value of migratory birds and their habitats, especially for their intrinsic, ecological, recreational, and economic significance. The wide variety of native birds thriving in urban areas underscores the importance of these urban/suburban habitats to the survival of many bird populations.

“Birds are a critical component of every ecosystem and serve as an excellent indicator of the overall health of the environment,” said Jerome Ford, the Service’s Assistant Director for Migratory Birds. “Creating green space in urban environments, landscaping with native plants in backyards and parks, adopting architecture and lighting systems that reduce collisions and keeping pets indoors can provide great benefits to birds, while also creating more livable communities.”

The Urban Conservation Treaty Program started in 1999 when New Orleans became the first city to establish an Urban Conservation Treaty. New Urban Bird Treaty cities are joining a program with already more than 200 partners in nine cities committed to conserving, protecting and restoring habitat, and educating urban residents on the importance of migratory birds.

More information available online at the Urban Bird Treaty Program website and the Urban Conservation Treaty For Migratory Birds Handbook (pdf).

Night Singing Mockingbirds

What do you do when a mockingbird sings all night long, keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep? I’ve put up an article on the AbsoluteBirdControl website, but would love to hear other ways that people have dealt with this problem. While many early European colonists loved to hear the mockingbird sing, perhaps in our more modern era, devoid of meaningful contact with nature, such noisy neighbors are seen as more of a nuisance than a joy?

Helping Birds in Your Community

Audubon has recently published a workbook online to help you work with your neighbors to make your neighborhood or community more bird-friendly. I wrote this back when I was working for Audubon, and would love to hear any feedback or comments that you might have, in case I want to do an improved non-Audubon version.

Download the workbook here (pdf).

Birdsafe Design Proposal in Calgary

The Planning Commission in Calgary, Alberta is set to vote this week on a Bird-safe design proposal to reduce the number of birds killed by colliding with buildings and glass in the downtown area. A local news headline is terrible, and the article is slanted in the negative, but here’s the story about the proposal.

Here’s a copy of the actual Calgary Planning Commission Birdsafe Guidelines agenda item.

Here’s a copy of the proposed Bird-Friendly Urban Design Guidelines (45 pp). Lots of great photos of birdsafe design elements.

UPDATE: These voluntary guidelines were approved by the Calgary Planning Commission, news story here.

Parrots in The Crossley ID Guide

The new Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds has arrived (complete review on my Birdchaser blog). It does a better job than most covering urban birds, including free-roaming parrots. The great museum-diaorama type illustrations of birds in their wild haunts include images of at least 185 individual parrots of 28 parrot species. It is kind of hard to tell exactly how many birds are in some of the illustrations because in addition to individuals, flocks of birds–including flying birds–are also depicted (how many birds are shown in the plate below, for example?). Crossley ID provides overall good coverage of the more established and frequently found parrots (Monk Parakeet gets a 2/3 page spread, three others get a half page), while 17 species are shown without full written details. I especially like the diorama of the Red-crowned Parrot, as it gives a good feel for what it is like to experience a flock gathering before going to roost for the evening. The Green Parakeet plate (below) does a similarly nice job. Not all field guides take the time to show the urban parrots that birders are likely to find, so I was happy to see Crossley do a good job. As Crossley mentions in the book, noisy parrot roosts are “a great spectacle” and well worth checking out if you have them in your area, or taking time to see when on vacation in places like Florida, California, or South Texas.

Urban Peacocks

Free-ranging peacocks are established in several communities in the United States, including including Arcadia and Palos Verdes, California, the foothills of the Toquima mountains in central Nevada, parts of Florida including Coconut Grove and Longboat Key, and on Oahu, Hawaii. Escaped or roaming peacocks are frequently reported and are likely to turn up almost anywhere. While some people appreciate these large attractive birds, they can become a nuisance when they roost in trees or eat landscaping plants. For more information on how to deter roaming peacocks, check out my Prowling Peacocks post over at AbsoluteBirdControl.com.

Dutch Urban Bird Conference

Holland in June. The Dutch Urban Bird Conference (Stadsvogelconferentie). That’s where you should be if you are interested in the best urban bird conservation projects in Europe.

Bringing Nature Home

I am currently teaching an Urban Ecology course at Rosemont College in Philadelphia. One of the texts I selected for my students is Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007). I really enjoyed this book, and so did my students–who were non-science majors most of which didn’t know anything about native plants, insects, or birds–the starring attractions of Bringing Nature Home.

Tallamay, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, has written Bringing Nature Home as both a unique book that is both manifesto as well as celebration and review of the role that native and invasive plants play in our backyards and neighborhoods. By showing the relationship between plants, bugs, and birds, Tallamay really does bring nature home in very specific and compelling ways. It is one thing to know theoretically that birds depend on bugs that depend on native plants. It is another thing to show us these links over and over with specific, sparkling and lucid writing as well as fantastic color photos of exotic-looking but very much native bugs chomping down on native plants.

I’m usually not a big caterpillar fan. In fact, I most like watching caterpillars when they are getting slammed against a limb by a migratory songbird. But I was so engaged by Bringing Nature Home that I wanted to head out immediately to my backyard to see if I could find these critters crawling around in my own yard. But since it is the middle of winter, all I could do was start scheming about what additional native plants I needed to pick up at a nursery this spring to attract these bizarre-looking critters to the yard.

Fortunately, Tallamy makes this easy as well, by providing lists of readily accessible native plants that serve as bug (and eventually, bird) food for each region of the country, as well as a list of the butterflies and other insects that depend on each tree, shrub, or flower.

For those curious about all of these bugs, Bringing Nature Home includes a section on each order of insects commonly found munching on native plants that includes amazing color photos as well as a summary of relevant life history information.

Bringing Nature Home will rock your world. Or rather, it will whisk you away into worlds you didn’t know even exist. Worlds that you can create in your own yard, and worlds that will help maintain the traditional cycles of nature that need our help to persist in a world dominated more and more by people and our less-than wildlife-friendly urban landscapes. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. A must read for anyone interested in nature, large or small, wild or tame!

(Review based on complimentary review copy obtained from Timber Press)

Parrots of the World

January is the World Parrot Count. So what do you use to identify the wild exotic parrots flying around your city? One place to turn might be the new Parrots of the World field guide by Joseph M. Forshaw (Princeton, 2010).

Parrots of the World is an attractive guide to all 356 macaw, cockatoo, parrot, and parakeet species of the world. It features:
–146 color plates depicting all species and well-differentiated subspecies
–Detailed facing-page species accounts that describe key identification features, similar species, distribution, –subspeciation, habitat, and status
–Color distribution maps
–Notes on where to observe each species in the wild

The species accounts are organized by geographic region–Australasia, Afro-Asia, and the Americas. While this might be useful in the field, it might lead to confusion in identifying exotic urban parrots–especially for urban birders unfamiliar with all the various types of parrots or what part of the world they might be from. Hopefully birders will become more familiar with the diversity and distribution of various types of parrots.

This book is most useful as a concise reference to all of the world’s parrots. Flipping through the guide is a visual treat that can lead to wander- and bird-lust. As a field guide, I’m not sure how useful it will be. If I am going to travel to an area where there are lots of parrots, I’m not sure I would bother packing this with a more standard field guide–which would probably do as good if not a better job at helping me identify unknown parrots.

Finally, birders should know that the English names in this book may not match the names in their other field guides or bird references–due to uneven usage around the world and differences between names found in the ornithological and avicultural literature. For instance, Amazona parrots are called Amazons. So one might expect that the Red-crowned Parrots that you are searching for in South Texas or Southern California urban roosts would be indexed as Red-crowned Amazon. But due to its name in the avicultural trade, it is listed here as Green-cheeked Amazon instead! So pay attention to scientific names in case you can’t find the parrot you are looking for by the expected English name.

(Review based on review copy provided by Princeton University Press)