Birds Can Be Picky About Their Neighborhood, Studies Find

D. L. Parsell
for National Geographic News
August 15, 2002

Parents looking to raise a family like to settle in communities where the schools are good and there's ample space to play—usually the suburbs. Two new studies shows that birds also seek out the most favorable surroundings for breeding and hanging out.

A French and Swedish team studying a population of collared flycatchers on the island of Gotland, Sweden, found that the adults checked out the nesting sites of fellow birds before deciding whether those habitats were good places to lay eggs and raise their young.

What kinds of clues about neighborhood quality were they looking for? Breeding success, mainly. The birds prospecting for nesting sites were most attracted to areas where other birds had large broods of robust infants.

Another recent study bolsters the idea that some birds, like people, are discriminating about where they choose to live and favor the kind of amenities that life in a better neighborhood can provide.

As part of a long-term ecological study in and around Phoenix, Arizona, ecologists at Arizona State University measured the abundance and diversity of birds and trees at 15 small parks in residential areas of the city. The parks had many of the same features as suburban neighborhoods—grass, athletic fields, and scattered trees—and were in a range of neighborhoods from rich to poor.

The researchers said "a pretty strong trend in the data" showed that the birds in the study preferred the more affluent areas over the middle- and lower-income communities.

The results were confounding, said Ann Kinzig, one of the researchers, because the parks in the lower income communities had more mature trees and a greater variety of trees, which birds like.

Kinzig said the findings, which she reported last week in Tucson, Arizona, at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, have important implications for city planners and managers of urban parks.

"More people than ever before in history now live in cities. This means that people's access to nature is determined largely by the nature that exists in their neighborhoods. We have to look seriously at whether we're providing people with equal access to that nature," she said.

Clues to Breeding Success

Continued on Next Page >>


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