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How urban spaces support bird diversity

Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have recently reported that both public parks and private backyards play a vital role in supporting bird diversity in urban environments.

“Greenspaces are increasingly valued for supporting biodiversity in urbanized landscapes. Previous research efforts have emphasized the importance of public land such as parks and nature preserves for biodiversity, yet private yards in residential neighborhoods also have great potential for species conservation,” wrote the researchers.

By studying two closely situated cities in Illinois with contrasting development histories and green space management, the experts discovered that these spaces are crucial for different bird species during varying seasons.

Urban bird populations

The researchers monitored bird populations across 39 public parks and 41 private yards in Urbana and Champaign – cities with distinct urban characteristics and historical development.

Urbana, with a history dating back to 1822, boasts extensive green spaces nurtured within an ancient hardwood forest. By contrast, Champaign was developed in the mid-1800s along a railway – with a focus on human recreation in its smaller parks.

Seasonal variations in urban bird diversity

The analysis revealed significant seasonal shifts in bird diversity between the two cities. During summer, Urbana’s richer vegetation and cooler green spaces attracted a broader variety of birds, including species like the belted kingfisher and scarlet tanager.

Conversely, in winter, Urbana’s parks and yards continued to support diverse communities, including the winter wren and yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Impact of urban management on bird diversity

Pollock pointed out the significant effects of active management in urban green spaces. “In places where there’s been active management to try to increase plant diversity and get some native plant cover back, it has had a big impact on the bird communities,” he explained.

Urbana’s parks, with their focus on conservation and habitat restoration, were especially beneficial for rare and specialist bird species.

Practical actions for residents

The study also suggests practical ways for residents to enhance bird diversity in their own backyards. Carena Van Riper, a collaborator on the project, encouraged simple yet effective actions.

“Perhaps this will allow people to see that there are small but important behaviors that will influence birds and increase bird diversity,” noted Van Riper.

Among the recommendations were installing bird feeders (especially during winter), planting native vegetation, and setting up bird baths.

Urban greenery: A blueprint for biodiversity

This comprehensive study underscores the interconnectedness of urban management and biodiversity. It offers a fresh perspective on how both public and private green spaces play integral roles in supporting urban wildlife.

As cities continue to grow, understanding and implementing strategies that facilitate coexistence with nature becomes even more crucial.

The insights from Urbana and Champaign can serve as a guide for other urban areas aiming to enhance biodiversity and sustainability within their confines.

What influences urban bird diversity?

Urban bird diversity is influenced by a variety of factors, each playing a role in how well birds can adapt and thrive in city environments. Key factors include:

Green spaces

The presence and quality of green spaces such as parks, gardens, and green roofs are crucial. These areas provide essential resources like food, nesting sites, and safe havens from urban threats.

Water bodies

Rivers, lakes, and ponds in urban settings attract waterfowl and other species that rely on aquatic habitats for feeding and breeding.

Food availability

The accessibility of natural food sources, supplemented by bird feeders, significantly impacts which species are able to sustain populations in urban areas.

Building designs

The architecture of a city influences bird diversity. Features like reflective glass can cause bird collisions, whereas features like ledges and nooks might offer nesting spots.


Air and noise pollution can deter birds from settling in urban areas. Pollution can also affect the health of the habitats birds rely on.

Human interaction

The level and nature of human activity and disturbance – ranging from benign presence to active conservation efforts – play a big role. Quieter, less disturbed areas tend to support more diverse bird populations.


Urban microclimates, influenced by the heat island effect where cities are warmer than surrounding areas, can affect which species are likely to thrive or decline in urban settings.

The study is published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.


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