There are over 10,000 different species of birds that live in many different habitats. We usually associate birds as animals that fly, but not all birds have the ability to fly, such as ostriches, penguins and several others. Birds are one of the few animals, other than domesticated pets, that we have the opportunity to see on a daily basis. You might see them throughout the city and suburbs, perched on trees, feeding at parks, or perhaps nesting in a nook nearby. These are our urban birds.
Urban birds live among us, adding to our daily soundtrack with their melodic sounds. Some of the most common urban birds are pigeons, home sparrows, and crows. Pigeons are commonly perched above us on power lines and building ledges, or below, feeding on seeds and grains found on our sidewalks. Personally I enjoy observing pigeons and watching them feed because it is therapeutic. It’s something about seeing the essence of every day survival, and not knowing where their next meal is going to come from that I find intriguing. Of course this happens with all wild animals, but it’s not a process we’re able to witness daily. In the wild, a pigeons lifespan is 3 – 5 years. Although they have to beware of the red tailed hawk, a pigeon’s biggest threat is a moving vehicle. Pigeons and doves differentiate themselves from other birds by how they feed their young. These birds have crop milk, which is a secretion from the lining of the crop that is regurgitated to young birds. The baby birds feed by placing their beak inside the parents mouth and feed as the parent regurgitates the milk. Both parents are able to feed their young through this process. This process is not only unique due to the crop milk, but also because in most cases baby birds open their mouth and are fed, and not the other way around as described above.
Since not all birds eat worms, the “early bird gets the worm” saying most likely refers to the insectivores. Although the opportunistic omnivores will eat worms, insectivores like the titmouse, swallow, and the magpie-lark are some early birds that get the worm. Birds that eat insects (spiders, beetles, ants) help keep our worm population in check and help prevent destruction of our gardens.
Urban birds live in different places throughout the city. Some live in trees, others live in nests, inside air conditioning units, some even below freeway overpasses. Home sparrows live closer to you than you think. They were given that name because they often live in trees that are in your backyard, and their nests are near homes and residences. Like pigeons, they feed on grains, seeds, and crumbs left behind by humans. Like many urban birds, they have developed many strategies on feeding. Crows for example, are known for dropping hard shelled seeds into the street so cars can run over them and break them open. They do the same with clams and mussels by dropping them onto the rocks from above. Unlike pigeons and sparrows that are granivores, meaning they mostly stick to seeds and grains, crows are omnivores that are opportunistic eaters that eat whatever is available.
Every once in a while, you might see a red tailed hawk soaring high in the sky, or perched on top of a utility pole. This urban bird is a carnivore, with an average lifespan of 21 years. Red tailed hawks are known for being monogamous and sometimes mate for life. As previously stated, red tailed hawks are a predator to pigeons and other urban birds, but 85% of their diet consists of rodents and other small mammals. Like omnivores, red tailed hawks also eat roadkill. On some occasions it can take days before a dead animal in the road is cleaned up, so eating these animals can be helpful when trying to prevent the spreading of disease.
Some urban birds spend time on water, like ducks. One of the most common ducks you will probably see at your local park is mallard ducks. The males and females are different colors. The male mallard ducks are more colorful with green heads and yellow beaks, while the female is brown. While their diet mainly consists of plants, they are considered omnivores.
As you can see there are plenty of urban birds to look out for. Next time you see one, take some time to observe its behavior and how it interacts with other birds and our surroundings. And if you take the same route every day, you might observe the same hawk in the same location because that has become his or her territory.