Birds have been part of our culture, art, folklore, and entertainment for thousands of years. They also provide crucial ecosystem services (such as pollination, seed dispersal, scavenging, pest control, etc) and are a key connection between humans and nature. The movement of humans away from natural and rural areas towards cities and towns has eroded this connection. However, birds are still one of the most common wildlife in cities and towns. On a hot summer day, the song of a koel or early morning chirps of the sunbird, myna, and bulbul can easily cheer anyone.
Urbanization affecting bird diversity
Urbanization is one of the biggest threats to global bird diversity. The increasing human population and economic growth led to the loss and fragmentation of natural habitats for housing and infrastructure development. This directly affects bird diversity, especially those dependent on forests, lakes, open areas, or grasslands. On the contrary, some species benefit due to food supplemented by humans and a low number of their natural predators (e.g., feral pigeons, common myna, house crow), while, a few bird species try to adapt to the urban conditions and use the resources within the city (e.g., woodpeckers, Indian grey hornbill). Urbanization also exposes the birds to novel threats such as light and noise pollution, increased temperature, and free-ranging predators (cats and dogs). To rebuild the human-nature connection and prevent the loss of ecosystem services, we need to conserve birds in urban areas.
Urban Green Spaces for Nurturing Urban Birds
Urban birds can be safeguarded against the negative impacts of urbanization by employing multiple strategies. The simplest way is to create habitats that provide urban birds with safe nesting and food resources. Globally, urban green spaces such as city parks, botanical gardens, roof gardens, cemeteries, forest fragments, and vegetation around water bodies are emerging as critical habitats supporting many urban birds. The city of Bhopal and its surrounding areas are home to an astounding 22 tigers owing to its green cover and river network. Similarly, leopards are reported to occur at the highest densities in Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the heart of Mumbai city. A recent study reported that more than half of Indian bird species can be found in the green spaces of university campuses. Well-managed urban green spaces could in fact support a higher number of bird species than their wilder counterparts. Green spaces are also lungs of cities that help in recharging the water table, keeping urban areas cool and preventing loss of human-nature interactions for urban dwellers.
However, not all green spaces are equal. For instance, large and more complex green spaces are shown to inhabit more birds and the ones with specific food and nesting requirements than the small and manicured parks. A water body within or around a green space also elevates the bird diversity. Dead and decaying trees may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they provide a scrumptious supply of juicy caterpillars and insects to insect-eating birds. Such trees are also ideal for cavity-nesting birds such as owls, parakeets, mynas, barbets, and woodpeckers as they are easy to carve.
Improving the quality of green spaces will ensure we keep hearing songs of our winged wonders and safeguard nature in cities.
About the author:
Monica Kaushik is part of the School of Arts and Sciences at the Azim Premji University.