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The Impact of Urban Sprawl on Native Bird Species

By: Rahal K.

Image from Cordis

Aside from attending college courses and preparing for psychology organizations, I tend to partake in environmental-friendly activities. Whether that be feeding two Holland lops home-grown veggies or taking a walk in a park, I’ve started to feed birds too. No, I’m not implying that I have a parakeet or African Grey in my home, but rather that I provide seeds and water to the House Sparrows of Chicago. As you can see from the image below I have attracted quite a flock!

My mother was the one who first decided to feed the birds that would sit idle, awaiting food from someone’s backyard. As I accompanied her in these moments, I grew to love what we were doing. I always thought how difficult it must be for birds like these to acquire food that is beneficial to their health considering I live in one of many largely polluted cities. I also was satisfied to see some of these birds go from sickly slender to lean, healthy bodies as the seeds we bought provided them with important vitamins and minerals. However, my joy didn’t last long when I caught this from my window.

Despite the grainy outcome, this photo shows a bird who has a piece of duct tape (quite longer than its body) stuck to its tail feathers. I was unsure what to do to help this creature and my mother had the same thoughts. I watched this bird struggle to fly along with others and needed to take frequent rest breaks. This bird also was unable to eat the seeds that my mother and I placed because the piece of tape would weigh the bird down a bit. After an hour, the bird struggled to fly away and to this day I do not know if the tape ever came off, or if it took the bird’s tail feathers with it. This feeling of not knowing what the outcome was for this bird is heart-wrenching, especially as someone who has become fond of Earth’s littlest creatures.

But this one experience pushed me to answer another question. Living in a city, I wanted to learn how urban sprawl can affect the livelihood of native bird species. A study conducted by Aronson et al. (2014) has discovered that approximately only 8 percent of native bird species are present in urban settings compared to non-urban settings that hold greater percentages. This dramatic decline in diversity density is concerning for the overall wellbeing of the environment. Other organisms will need to adapt to the absence of birds in their population and could face negative consequences. The physical aspects of cities can also prove to be detrimental to birds’ existence. Large infrastructure is a result of deforestation and can lead to varying levels of noise/air pollution. This can seriously affect birds’ migratory patterns as the lack of forestry forces them to find new ways to collect food (Richardson 2020). And since cities remove most of the green space that birds have been inclined to for years, the added issues of noise and air pollution can damage their respiratory systems.

Cities are a hazard to a bird’s physical health, but there are different ways to combat this urban problem. One study conducted in Illinois by Belaire, Whelan, and Minor (2014) has found a potential solution to protecting the diversity of native bird species in metropolitan areas: backyard management. The researchers suggest that planting trees is incredibly helpful in assisting birds with finding suitable shelter and a food supply. This can also help birds avoid harmful chemicals that could be present in inner-city areas, and therefore increase biodiversity. Planting trees or installing bird feeders are eco-conscious decisions one can do that goes beyond simply turning off lights in an empty room or making sure a water tap is off. On a systemic level, cities can install green roofs, that not only provide shade and lower hot temperatures but also act as mini habitats for birds to dwell in. The aforementioned issue was that city infrastructure can affect birds’ migratory patterns. Installing green roofs can directly combat this because they provide a space for birds to rest, reducing collisions.

Urban areas are harmful to many organisms in the environment, but there are multiple sustainable solutions that can be put into action from the individual level, and more importantly the systemic scale. I only saw one bird with duct tape stuck on its tail, so let us not imagine a future where this is a common sight for generations ahead.

Discussion Questions:

  • As an urban dweller, what are some ways you think your city can become eco-friendly?

  • What items are essential in creating a backyard suitable for birds or other organisms?


Aronson, M. F., La Sorte, F. A., Nilon, C. H., Katti, M., Goddard, M. A., Lepczyk, C. A., ... & Winter, M. (2014). A global analysis of the impacts of urbanization on bird and plant diversity reveals key anthropogenic drivers. Proceedings of the royal society B: biological sciences, 281(1780), 20133330.

Belaire, J. A., Whelan, C. J., & Minor, E. S. (2014). Having our yards and sharing them too: the collective effects of yards on native bird species in an urban landscape. Ecological Applications, 24(8), 2132-2143.

Pena, J. C. D. C., Martello, F., Ribeiro, M. C., Armitage, R. A., Young, R. J., & Rodrigues, M. (2017). Street trees reduce the negative effects of urbanization on birds. PloS one, 12(3), e0174484.

Richardson, A. (2020). City birds: Study shows impact of urbanization | Inside UNC Charlotte | UNC Charlotte. Inside UNC Charlotte.,and%20domestic%20cats%20hunting%20them.

Ubels, B. (2020). CORDIS | European Commission. CORDIS EU Research Results.


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