Hear the words “city birds” and you’re likely to picture a handful of common nonnative species such as the European starling, house sparrow and pigeon. But a long-term survey of breeding birds in Baltimore, Maryland, has revealed that a surprising number and diversity of native birds call that city home—from backyard feeder visitors such as blue jays, chickadees and cardinals to elusive warblers and wood thrushes to shore-loving herons, gulls and cormorants.
Researchers conducting the ongoing survey, sponsored by National Science Foundation, tallied birds in a handful of city parks, but recorded the majority of species and individual birds in the places where Baltimore’s human residents live and work. “Traditionally, people tended to view metro areas like Baltimore as biological deserts,” John Kostyack, NWF’s vice president for wildlife conservation, notes in a recent article, “Urban Renewal,” published in National Wildlife magazine. “But it turns out that many of us live where the wild things are.”
Pictured below are seven of the more than six dozen bird species scientists found breeding and rearing young in Baltimore—a city that recently announced plans to be certified as an NWF Community Wildlife Habitat®.
All photos were donated by past participants in the National Wildlife Photo Contest. To enter your best wildlife and other nature images in this year’s competition, visit the contest site.
Maryland’s handsome state bird, the Baltimore oriole winters thousands of miles south in Mexico or Central America. During late spring through summer, the birds settle down in urban parks and backyards to breed and rear their young. Because orioles nest and forage for insects, fruit and nectar high in the canopy of deciduous trees, you are more likely to hear than to see these birds. Photo by Lynn Cleveland.
The American kestrel is the smallest North American falcon as well as one of the most colorful of all raptors. Ranging across the continent, kestrels hunt for insects, voles and other small prey in open habitats such as meadows. You may spot them perching on fence posts or electrical wires. In Baltimore, researchers recorded the birds most frequently near the city’s shoreline. Photo by Steve Furcich.
A birder’s favorite, the eastern bluebird nests either in tree cavities or birdhouses. Though males bring nesting material and display at the nest to attract a mate, females build the nest and incubate eggs on their own. When this female took a break from sitting on eggs in a nest box in Pennsylvania, “she came out, and the father gave her part of a worm,” says the photographer. Photo by Robert Diller.
Cavity nesters, red-bellied woodpeckers are common in natural deciduous forests throughout the East. But researchers found many of the woodpeckers in older residential neighborhoods of Baltimore that had nest sites in mature trees. The birds also need older trees with deep crevices to forage for insect prey. And like other woodpecker species, they use tree cracks to store food. Photo by Howard Cheek.
Popular backyard feeder birds across much of the United States, American goldfinches were spotted by scientists even in Baltimore’s inner city neighborhoods. These birds nest later than most North American bird species, waiting until June or July when thistle, milkweed and other native plants have produced their seeds. Unusual among birds, goldfinches eat an almost entirely vegetarian diet. Photo by Maggie Bond.
Black-crowned Night Heron
A denizen of salt- and freshwater wetland habitats, black-crowned night herons feed primarily at dusk and during the night, often in the same places where diurnal herons stalk prey by daylight. Bernard Friel caught this male night heron in breeding plumage as he flew away from a nest in Florida. The birds nest colonially in trees, often caring for chicks that are not their own. Photo by Bernard Friel.
The wood thrush is known as a shy and secretive forest dweller. Nonetheless, researchers found the birds in some of Baltimore’s leafy older neighborhoods. To photograph this thrush feeding hatchlings, the photographers waited patiently for natural sunlight to bathe the nest, refusing “to subject our feathered friends to a blinding light that might send them into the food chain early.” Photo by Hal and Kirsten Snyder.
Find out how residents of cities and suburbs can create bird-friendly landscapes
, then turn your yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat®
site. This month, Garden For Wildlife Month
, NWF is planting a native tree for every new property certified.