The Urban Bird Project

12 April 2021

For the past number of years the staff at Escape Outdoors have been watching the “urban birds” that populate downtown North Sydney. During a renovation project across the street from EO this summer, a bird’s nest was discovered in the front of a commercial building. As many passersby noticed the birds, it sparked interest, and the research began. Why do these birds choose to live in urban areas? What kind of birds are they? How can we continue to encourage birds in downtown North Sydney?


After talking to Bobby Lewis, local volunteer and birdhouse builder, in the Fall of 2020, we learned he volunteers his time to build birdhouses. The participants of Haley Street, an organization providing social and employment opportunities to adults with disabilities, then sell the birdhouses in their social enterprise, Nora’s 2 Thrift Store. The partners at EO loved the idea and placed an order!


EO committed to purchasing 12 birdhouses but also received support from numerous community members which allowed them to purchase 12 more. For every $20 donation, a bird shaped cocktail glass was gifted. Thanks to the continuing community support, EO is happy to announce we have purchased 24 and counting birdhouses.


Downtown North Sydney’s Urban Birds

Through further research and observation, it was discovered the two most common birds we are seeing in downtown North Sydney are the European Starling and House Sparrow. The European Starling requires open, grassy areas with a water source, and trees or buildings. Many typically live in urban areas around people, and in mowed lawns or city streets. They often wander around the ground, poking their bill into the ground to search for insects and other invertebrates. The House Sparrow is also closely associated with people and buildings. They are often found in cities, towns, suburbs, and farms. House Sparrows can only survive in areas near people. They are social birds and you will often see them hopping rather than walking on the ground.


While Starlings and Sparrows are most prevalent in our downtown core and while very pretty, they do present competition for some other resident and migratory species when it comes to nesting locations. So, we began some research to determine what other types of birds could we potentially draw to our downtown core. With some help from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and their Urban Bird Project, they state that as a downtown in Nova Scotia, we could attract the following:

American Kestral

American Robin

Barn Swallow

Black Capped Chickadees

Great Crested Flycatcher

Mourning Dove

Northern Flicker

Each type of bird is drawn to a certain type of nesting box. Some are houses with specific size entrance holes, some are shelves, while others are baskets. Therefore, we will have a variety of designs to attract different species. To encourage nesting by migratory birds and reduce competition, we will consider various control measures, including keeping some of the box entrances plugged until nesting season by the migratory birds begins and placing them in preferred locations.


The Benefit of Urban Birds

There are many advantages to having birds in your area. Not only are birds an excellent source of insect control, but they also pollinate plants and reduce weeds. Birds can improve the natural environment for plants and many other species, all of which make birds an important asset to urban areas.


Having birds in your area can also build community spirit. We were able to witness this first-hand as we watched members of our community become engaged with the bird’s nest downtown this past summer and now with our Urban Bird Project. We hope to inspire nature walkers, along with attracting more birds to our area with the installation of these birdhouses. Being able to listen to the birds sing will give a calming, peaceful feel to our busy downtown.



How Can You Encourage Birds in Your Neighborhood

An easy way to encourage birds in your neighborhood is to provide them with birdhouses. Many birds, including the European Starling and House Sparrow, prefer to nest in areas that are hidden and protected from any predators. Birdhouses provide a space where birds can safely lay eggs and raise their families. Suitable habitats for birdhouses can be your backyard, parks and other areas, making it an easy way to attract birds near your home.


Another way to attract birds to your area is to put up a bird feeder. It is important in urban areas for the feeders to have small perches to prevent seed from spilling, which could attract rodents or unwanted larger birds. Hummingbird feeders (or nectar feeders) are a great way to attract hummingbirds, orioles, and downy woodpeckers to your area. To make the food, dissolve ¼ cup sugar in 1 cup hot water and allow the mixture to cool. Remember, do not use red dyes!



Credits

Attracting birds. (2017, August 01). Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://celebrateurbanbirds.org/learn/birds/attracting-birds/

European starling life history, all about Birds, Cornell lab of ornithology. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/European_Starling/lifehistory#habitat

House Sparrow life history, all about Birds, Cornell lab of ornithology. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Sparrow/lifehistory#

Providing nest materials and boxes. (2017, November 28). Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://celebrateurbanbirds.org/learn/gardening/providing-nest-materials-and-boxes-for-birds/