More Birds Occupied City Greens During Covid 19 

How has Covid 19 affected the bird population in the cities? A new report from researchers at the University of Washington found that large number of birds flocked the cities’ green areas during the peak of Covid 19 pandemic. 

Several birds occupied the green space in the cities as human foot prints was a little lighter, said lead author Olivia Sanderfoot.  Scientific Reports published the report.

“For about half of the species we observed, neither land use nor canopy cover had an effect on their site use. That’s very interesting, because we would expect that whether a habitat was mostly covered in concrete or vegetation would tell you something about what birds would be there,” Sanderfoot said.

Sanderfoot completed the study as a doctoral researcher in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. The researcher is now a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Sanderfoot and her colleagues recruited more than 900 community scientists in the Pacific Northwest to participate in the study in the spring of 2020.The volunteers chose their own monitoring sites — mostly backyards and parks where they could safely comply with public health orders — and recorded the birds they observed over a 10-minute period at least once a week.

The researchers focused mainly on 46 bird species during more than 6,000 individual surveys. Among the 35 species that showed the strongest changes in behaviour were some of the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic, including black-capped chickadees, great blue herons, downy woodpeckers and Wilson’s warblers, the study said.

In order to compare the volunteers’ bird observations to human activity, Sanderfoot and her colleagues used data from Google’s Community Mobility Reports, which track the relative amount that people moved around at various points during the pandemic. While most people spent spring of 2020 isolated in their homes, many began venturing out again over the course of the study period.

As people returned to public spaces and human activity increased, the volunteers recorded an increase in sightings of several bird species. Because they were mostly monitoring in parks and backyards, which tend to be more heavily vegetated, provide more canopy cover and offer more resources for birds than other areas in cities, this could indicate that these green spaces are an important refuge for urban birds.

“The birds may have been elsewhere at the height of the lockdowns, because human activity wasn’t as much of a disturbance, but then returned to those vegetated areas as the activity increased again,” Sanderfoot said. “This could tell us how important it is to build green spaces into our cities. That’s the biggest takeaway for me.”

Other co-authors – Joel Kaufman, a professor in the UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, and Beth Gardner, an associate professor in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

The National Science FoundationGraduate Research Fellowship Program and the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded the study.

Even after the pandemic is over, the scientists belive that this could continue and more birds could flock our surroundings and our cities.


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