Posts tagged urban wildlife

Image 1_Bird in the City

Birds are everywhere. Sometimes the first sound of my morning is the song of a green parrot in front of the window. Later in the day in Pershing Square or FIDM Park during my lunch break, I’ll watch pigeons or sparrows wandering around in the hopes of some leftover food from the lunch crowd. It is fascinating to observe how birds have adapted to urban environments, altering their diets and navigating natural predators or manmade threats (especially pigeons and sparrows).

Graphic sourced from presentation by Travis Longcore

Graphic sourced from presentation by Travis Longcore

On the other hand, anywhere between 365 to 988 million birds die from crashing into windows in the United States every year. A staggering figure when considering these deaths equal somewhere between 2 to 10 percent of the total bird population in the United States. Birds are prone to death by crashing into windows because of their inability to discern open skies from reflections created by reflective building windows; from their perspective, buildings and the skyline are one continuous line of sight to navigate. Birds also tend to focus on distant objective, ignoring the extraneous surroundings along their route, an explanation for why birds are easily trapped within 3 or 4-sided courtyards.

In order to save bird from collision, we need to build cities more cognisant of bird behavior:

Design visual noise to send signals that bird will recognize.
Birds can fly through visible openings larger than 2 inches tall or 4 inches wide. Therefore, we should keep the reflective sight of vision or open space that bird can see smaller than 2”-4”. Balconies, window screens, varying panel materials, perforated panels, awnings that shade reflective glass, or anything else that breaks down a continuous plane of sight could help birds avoid crashing into buildings. The challenge also presents an opportunity for designers to experiment with architectural detailing across building façades, adding an element of fun and energy to their design.

The building on the left is an example of bird-friendly architecture, vs. the traditional highly reflective skyscraper responsible for many bird deaths.

The building on the left is an example of bird-friendly architecture, vs. the traditional highly reflective skyscraper responsible for many bird deaths.

Design buildings with dimmable indoor lights and outdoor architectural uplights, focusing light downward at night:  
Birds are attracted to light at night much like moths are to a flame. When birds reach a light source, they can become disoriented or blinded by the glare. Attracted by bright red lights on top of towers, birds will mistakenly circle the light source, risking injury by surrounding cables attached to tower tops. The results can be disastrous, resulting in 6.8 million deaths by communication tower alone.

Ornilux is a new type of glass that birds can see more easily.

Ornilux is a new type of glass that birds can see more easily.

The total figure of preventable bird deaths per year is staggering. Designers can really make a difference, but it’s important to note most avian casualties are not attributed to collisions with skyscrapers, but instead small buildings, including single and multi-family residents. Therefore, it is our responsibility as designers to educate people about the importance of selecting the right building materials and lighting to help make Los Angeles – and every city across the globe – a safer place to live, whether feathered or not.

Additional information about a bird-friendly city:

Creative Commons photo by BiteYourBum.Com Photography

Creative Commons photo by BiteYourBum.Com Photography

Have you ever been outside in northeast Los Angeles or Pasadena and heard the loud squawking of wild parrots? I always hear them before I can see them. Their vibrant green feathers make them easy to spot while in flight, but harder to see when they’ve landed in large canopied trees. They usually fly in large flocks and can be quite loud, which according to my research, is the way these birds normally communicate. Per the Parrot ID Guide of The California Parrot Project, I believe these are the Yellow-chevroned Parakeets or the Red-lored Parrot, both of which have been documented in Los Angeles.

The Rose-ringed Parakeet in flight, one of the six species of Amazona found in California, as shown over at The California Parrot Project.

The Rose-ringed Parakeet in flight, one of the six species of Amazona found in California, as shown over at The California Parrot Project.

Urban legend has it that these parrots – not Southern California natives, but originally from tropical and subtropical regions of the northern hemisphere – were released from a pet store in Pasadena when it closed for business some years ago. And according to a local ornithologist, parrots have preferred roosting areas that are made up of tall dense trees that provide shelter from the elements. If the trees they land on are damaged in a storm, heavily pruned, or removed, the parrots will move to another group of trees. Their food consists mainly of a year-round source of seeds, fruits, and nectar from the many non-native plants growing in the urban and residential areas in our city. And, there are no known predators here in Los Angeles, such as snakes in the tropical parts of the world where these birds come from originally to consume their eggs.

Kimball L. Garrett, Ornithology Collections Manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County says this about them on the website:

Parrots are symptomatic of the expansion of urban habitats dominated by non-native plants; they also illustrate the capacity of humans to move wildlife around the planet for economic, social or aesthetic reasons.  They are here, for better or worse, and continue to pose interesting biological questions.

Ah, yes, it’s not just us humans who come here to Los Angeles for the food and year-round warm weather!

Brown Rat, Creative Commons photo by Jean-Jacques Boujot

Brown Rat, Creative Commons photo by Jean-Jacques Boujot

Can you guess the nation’s most rat-infested cities? You might be surprised to discover Los Angeles ranks number 2.

But it’s really our neighbors far eastward in New York who are most famous for living with rodent neighbors. I recently watched a video of a determined New York brown rat dragging a slice of pizza down the stairs into a subway station. Afterward, other rat videos ensued: Pita Rat, Cannibal Rat, and Selfie Rat – all enjoyed for their similar delightful, viral quality.

rats

For those interested about how rats adapted to city life, Robert Sullivan’s book Rats is highly recommended reading.

Two main species of rats, Rattus norvegicus (brown rat) and Rattus rattus (black rat) arrived to the United States from Europe during the 16-18th centuries. The city rats that you see are the brown rat, which have outcompeted the black rat throughout history.

Despite their negative reputation, rats are extremely intelligent, sociable, and altruistic little creatures. There is a reason why they are so prevalent and have survived for centuries in urban environments and why they are used in scientific testing. In addition, the brown rat is the same species that has been bred and used as laboratory rats and as pet rats.

Due to their adaptability and many centuries of cohabiting with human civilizations and migrations, it’s difficult to identify a rat’s “natural habitat”. Rats live all over the world in a wide variety of environments: forests, tropical islands, plains, agricultural fields, swamps, rivers, cities and more. The brown rat and black rat are believed to have originated from woodlands in Asia. There are other rat species that actually have specialized habitats and limited geographical ranges such as Rattus argentiventer (Ricefield Rat), which lives in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia.

All things considered, these adaptable rodents have come to not only survive in nature, but also thrive within the makings of human infrastructure. So one must consider, where there are humans, there shall always be rats!

 

LAUSD_Point Fermin Outdoor Education Center_AHBE project

Our office has worked on many LAUSD projects throughout the years, and it always brings a smile to my face when we find a special place for a mulberry tree. The district’s School Design Guide stipulates each project must “provide at least one mulberry tree on each Primary Center or Elementary School Campus.”

Why a mulberry tree? One of the science experiments conducting during elementary school is the silk worm experiment, which introduces students to the lifecycle of the silkworm, following its development from egg to caterpillar to moth. I remember this elementary school experiment as the most memorable and my favorite science project: taking home silk worm eggs, watching them hatch and evolving into their larval state the silkworm, spinning a cocoon, emerging as an adult moth, mating, and then beginning the life cycle anew. I vividly remember plucking leaves from the mulberry tree on campus to feed my precious silkworms. Of course, I released my silk moth back into the mulberry tree at the end of experiment. As a kid, I believed they’d survive to continue the cycle again.

Creative Commons photo by CameliaTWU

Creative Commons photo by CameliaTWU

The silkworm (Bombyx mori) is believed to have been first domesticated for silk production in China 5,000 years ago. Over generations of selective breeding, the larvae are especially adept at producing cocoon and silk for industry. A shocking revelation is that the cost of this domestication – including tolerance to human presence and handling – is the silk month has lost all ability to fly and also lacks a fear of potential predators. These characteristics has made the silkworm entirely dependent upon humans for survival! I guess the silk moths that I released didn’t survive after all!

The good news is that there are still wild species of silkworms in the world. A few of these wild species are used for sustainable “wild” silk foraging, a.k.a. Peace Silk. The “wild” silk is harvested after the moths have left their cocoons, versus the domesticated production method, which kills the silkworm before harvesting the cocoons through boiling with the insect still developing within the cocoon.

LAUSD Playa Vista Elementary School_Demostration Garden_AHBE Project

The LAUSD elementary school I attended as a child was an asphalt jungle featuring very little landscaping. But I do remember my school’s mulberry tree, an integral part of my educational experience. It’s inspiring as a landscape architect today knowing LAUSD schools is actively integrating landscape into the curriculum with the inclusion of vegetable gardens, outdoor classrooms, and demonstration gardens where students can learn about Southern Californian native habitats, plant communities, and storm-water management.

It’s nice to think all across Los Angeles, somewhere out there, there’s another generation of children learning about the lifecycle of the silkworm, weaving memories similar to the ones I still cherish today.