Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters. Creative Commons photo by Jose Olivares.
On a recent trip to New York City, I made a visit to the Cloisters in upper Manhattan, a museum dedicated to medieval art, artifact, and architecture. Located within Fort Tryon Park, I made my way through the park, enjoying the idyllic setting and views of the Hudson River. By the time I arrived at the Cloisters, I left behind the pace of the city, mellowed by the orchestration of hilly paths, forested enclaves, flowering gardens, and river views by the park’s designers, the Olmsted brothers. Once inside the Cloisters, I felt a quietness and calm inside myself, despite the crowds of visitors.
The slowing down of time seemed stronger for me as I sat in one of the inner open-air courtyards, where nature came alive. Bird sounds interrupted the quiet, and I was able to distinguish different sounds. But I wished I knew more about our diverse bird species.
Photos by Linda Daley
When I closed my eyes, I could hear the flow of the distant Hudson River. I became aware how much of nature’s sounds I tune out or miss as I go about my daily routines—a process of “learned deafness” that we experience as a result of our urban lifestyle.
“My advice is to go to your protected areas and experience what you are missing.” – Derrick Taff, social scientist at Pennsylvania State University
Good advice when you want to unlearn urban deafness! For fun, find a quiet room and take this auditory tunes test to determine your sense of pitch. Good luck!
Every year hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Vaux’s swifts make a nightly stay a few blocks from our Downtown Los Angeles office. The migrating birds bed down for the night on their way from the Pacific Northwest to Central America for the winter. The birds are known for roosting communally in hollowed-out trees, but in Downtown LA they roost in old, brick-lined chimneys—the brick offers a secure grip for the birds while clinging onto the walls (see photo).
If they return in late September this year – and we hope they will – you might spot them around nightfall as they swirl around in the air and then descend, all at once in spiral, into the chimney-bird-hotel for the night.
For more information on Los Angeles wildlife check out SoCal Wild where you can learn more about the Vaux’s swifts, or learn how to volunteer and help survey the local population of bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains. Also coming up is Bird LA Day on May 7, 2016, when the Ace Hotel hosts Birds & Beer, a 21 and older event on their rooftop bar, when attendees are invited to speak with National Park Service bird experts, perched with a bird’s eye view of the city.
I know this month’s AHBE Lab theme has focused upon urban wildlife, but I want to share something more personal. It was during breakfast last week, while considering this month’s topic, when I looked out our window and noticed my my wife’s bird cages and our two birds perched within. While observing the two birds, I thought to myself, “Is this an example of urban wildlife?”
I looked outside my window and saw birds chirping in our tree. I wondered, “Why aren’t our birds considered part of the urban wildlife ecology?”
Looking into it further I discovered that 3.1% of America’s households own a pet bird. With over 3.6 million bird owners in this county, each caring for 2.3 birds per household, that adds up to a total of around 8.3 million birdies nationally. That is a lot of birds living within our cities! The idea also brought me to the conclusion we should create a new sub-category of urban wildlife to account for these type of formerly wild animal populations living amongst us in and around our homes.
Mona, our Parrotlet.
Let me introduce you to our two birds. First, there is Mona. She is a Parrotlet, or as some people call them, a Pocket Parrot, or even Forpus coelestis if you want to get scientific. Mona has been with us for over 7 years, coming from Pomona, California where she was hand-raised. Her ancestors are originally from South America near Peru.
Buddy, the Parakeet.
Then we have Buddy, who is a Parakeet (Melopsittacus undulatus budgerigar). Although Buddy’s family roots are Australian, we first came upon Buddy at our favorite pet shop, Omar’s in Santa Monica. Like most of us whose ancestors came from elsewhere, both Mona and Buddy are also immigrants distant from their native ecologies.
I realized that the only difference between our birds and the birds hanging out in our backyard tree is that we’ve named this pair, they live with us, and that Mona and Buddy have become part of our family (at least in our mind). However, I know they’re still wild at heart, because all I have to do (heaven forbid) is open my front door and watch our family members fly out the door. Whether they’ll decide to fly back in through door at the end of the day is still wildly debatable.