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Wildlife Watching in the City

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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When I first started doing science outreach, leading an afterschool biology and environmental science club in a St. Louis area public high school, I soon realized the biggest obstacle I had teaching ecology and conservation.  Among the students, there was an overwhelming sense that outside was full of noise and clutter of human innovation such as buildings and vehicles.  If I probed them more, then they would admit to seeing squirrels, birds, flowers and trees (yes, botanicals count as wildlife). And if I really pressed hard I could get them to acknowledge insects.   You see it was far easier for them reference ‘wild animals’ that lived at our amazing zoo or the stray dogs and cats (which are urban wildlife, too) than to recall the butterfly or sparrow that flew past them on the walk to school that morning. .

And since my outreach has emphasized helping people to ‘see’ that metropolitan areas are teeming with wildlife.  There are trees, birds, grasses, flowers, weeds, butterflies, moths, lichens, squirrels, dragonflies, earthworms, ducks, and geese.  Even predators like owls, hawks, coyotes and foxes live in cities and suburban areas.

Just like us, these living things that are apart of the ‘Urban Ecosystem’ – the circle of life that involves the interaction of different organisms with each other and their environment.  And what makes urban ecology special is that it throws us – people - and our contraptions and innovations and pets and stuff in the mix.

So, if you hadn’t looked outside your window and noticed anything special, how about using this list as a place to get started.

Members of the Urban Ecosystem
Birds: robins, sparrows, blue birds, starlings
Raptors: owls, hawks, eagles, kestrels
Rodents: squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rats
Insects, Spiders, and other Arthropods
Ants, Bees, and Wasps
Coyotes, Foxes,
Aquatic Animals
Waterfowl: Geese, Ducks, Swans, Herons, Egrets
Snakes, Turtles, and other Reptiles
Frogs, Toads, Salamanders and other Amphibians
Trees, Flowers, Grasses, and Sedges

Plus, let’s not forget the signs of wildlife for those hard to catch animals
Birds nests in trees, shrubs and eaves and overhangs of your house.
Dirt tunnels in your lawn that are travel tunnels for moles and shrews and the earthworms they hunt.
Animal scat (poop) along your walking trail or nearby the dumpsters
Discarded egg shells from birds
Dead animals including road kill

Finally, check out my slideshow of urban nature scapes including plants and animals.



DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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