Birding at the tip of Sandy Hook NRA, at the entrance to New York Harbor.
Pecks and the city: how to be an urban birdwatcher
Birding isn’t only for the countryside, says the Urban Birder David Lindo. City dwellers can spot fascinating species if they know where to look
By David Lindo
Friday 10 July 2015 09.00 EDT
Urban environments might seem like a challenge for birdspotters. People wonder if there’s anything worth seeing, past a few pigeons and some foxes. The urban birder needs to open their mind to possibility, because in reality there aren’t that many differences between an urban environment and the countryside. To put it in context, there have been sightings of around 600 different species of bird across Britain since the early 1900s. Of them, around 550 have been spotted in a city.
A big advantage to birding in the city is that you can often get a lot closer to certain species, because they’re used to being surrounded by people. If you know what to look for, you’ll spot fascinating species right on your doorstep.
Think like a bird
When I visit a city, I don’t see a city, I see what a bird sees: scattered woodland and cliffs (the buildings). That bramble patch in your park is exactly the same as the one in the middle of the countryside. It has food, it provides shelter. The kind of habitats you get in a city may be smaller and more fragmented, but they are still habitats. The good thing about them being smaller is that often the wildlife is more concentrated in one area.
Expect the unexpected
Anything can turn up anywhere, at any time. That’s one of the mottos I live by. If you go out birdspotting and someone tries to be helpful and tells you what birds you will see, say, “Thank you very much” then politely forget about it. People tend to look out for the things they expect to see, and that can limit your chances of spotting something surprising.
Re-evaluate the familiar
I was about five when I started watching birds. No one in my family was interested so I didn’t have anyone to teach me. I remember being captivated by pigeons, the way they flew. Although to some they are the embodiment of all that’s dirty, there is a lot to be said for them. They are wartime heroes – used as message carriers during the second world war. They have been found to recognise the human faces that feed them in a crowd. They have even allegedly learned to use the underground system in London by deliberately getting on trains and getting off at specific stops. They come in all different hues and provide hours of fun for pigeon fanciers. They are also amazing flyers and that’s not just when they are being chased by peregrine falcons.
Get to know your local patch
People often want to know about rare birds but the way to see rarer species is to focus on the more common ones first. Look at the usual, and you’ll sometimes find the unusual among them. Having a local patch is a great way of getting to know lots of types of birds. A garden is a great place to start. I have a friend who lives in Holland Park in west London. We sat in the garden one day and saw 15 or 16 different species in an hour, including a stock dove, which is a country bird (they are easily confused with feral pigeons). A nearby cemeteryis also a good spot, as is your local park – you don’t have to stray that far to see something interesting.