Tag Archives: birds

Urban bird watching

I gather that urban bird watching is becoming a thing, which is excellent news on many fronts. Bird watching is a lovely, de-stressing sort of activity, good for calming people. Awareness of wildlife tends to mean we take better care of it, and urban birds require urban trees. People bird watching are going to be people who support green spaces in urban environments.

If you have a garden, then adapting the garden to suit birds is the easiest way to see them. A bird feeder, a bird bath, a shrub or two to provide some shelter and they could come to you. However, in areas where gardens are tiny and sterile, birds are rarer. It may require working with your neighbours, or looking further from home.

Parks are an obvious place to seek birds, but big expanses of cut grass are not much of a habitat for anything. You’ll find birds where there are trees and hedges – often that means the edges of parks. It can also mean the edges of roads. Canals tend to be good. Derelict sites with plant matter on them can be much better places for wildlife than parks. Urban trees are always worth keeping an eye on.

In an urban environment, bird watching is a much more visual activity. When I’m watching in semi-urban and rural spaces I’ll often find birds by hearing them first, but in city spaces there’s usually too much background noise. While pigeons turn up at ground level, most urban birds will be higher than your line of sight, which means changing how you move through urban spaces.

Of course to be a bird watcher, you have to not be tuning out your environment and not mostly staring at your phone. You have to be present and paying attention. Not paying attention is, for many people, the key to making town and city life bearable. However, it’s when we start paying attention to the environments that we create that we might start doing something about them. Perhaps the new movement of urban bird watching is the first step towards changing cities.


Bird songs of abundance

The dawn chorus happens all year round, but is paid most attention to at midsummer, when the singing is at its peak. Even in winter though, there are some gestures towards an extra bit of song first thing, but it’s proportional to how much less singing happens at the colder time of year. Singing evidently takes both time and energy, and thus there’s more of it when the days are warmer and food in more plentiful supply.

My relationship with the dawn chorus is also seasonal and depends on temperature – if it’s warm enough to have the window open at night, I’ll wake then they sing. Many birds start well ahead of the light, which I find interesting – even as the day lengths are constantly changing, they know when to get started to sing up the sun. Like them I will wake ever earlier as we head towards midsummer.

I miss the singing in winter. It’s a sign of the move to spring when I start hearing the blackbirds again at twilight as well. At the moment, the woods are alive with song through the day  – it’s a busy time, with chicks in nests. I can tell from the beaks full of food flying past that a lot of eggs have hatched already.

We’re not unlike birds. Folk music is full of songs for when you’re working. I imagine that pre-industrialisation it was a lot more normal to sing as you went. Song establishes connections between people, I have found, and I think the science is with me on this. Singing affects our minds and emotions, but it’s a lot harder to get your voice working well from a place of grief or despair. We sing to celebrate, when we have the spare energy, when things were good, and sometimes, just because we survived.