City Slickers – Birding in an Urban Landscape


In this modern, “disconnected from nature” world that we live in, birds may very well be the gatekeepers, the catalysts that will once again open up our eyes to the incredible beauty that nature has to offer. They will be the ones that allow us to reconnect to a world that we have systematically become detached from because of the burden of modern life. One can argue the fact that in order to sustain a living in this strenuous world, most of us now live in urban areas, leaving little avenues for interaction or connection to the natural world. This may hold true in many regards; however, birds remain an anomaly to the reasoning behind this. You see, many bird species have become as urbanized as us humans, inhabiting and thriving in almost all of man’s cities, towns and farmlands. In all their own forms of urbanization, these “City Slickers” have remained truly wild and therefore will always be our window to the wild. They will always be there to remind us of this magnificent natural realm that is alive just beyond the boundaries we have put up.


Birds are one of nature’s greatest marvels and what’s astonishing is that we can observe them every single day without disrupting a single aspect of our daily lives. This may very well be the reason why we seem to have taken these incredible creatures for granted. They possess the gift of flight, and yet we pass them by on the daily, without even a second glance. Are we that vain, or perhaps it’s some sort of subconscious terrestrial envy that has us blinded to this creature that is gifted with an ability that we reserve for super heroes and gods.

Spending time searching for and observing birds is highly rewarding on many fronts. It allows you to reconnect with nature, it gets you outside and active, you can head to your local park or simply walk around your neighborhood. Birding allows you to participate in a fun activity that you can do by yourself, with your kids or even get a group involved. Most importantly it opens your eyes to a beauty that lives alongside you, every single day… once you go birding, you will never look at your world the same way again.


For your average person or for someone starting out on their journey as a birder, bird watching in an urban area can be extremely rewarding, this is because our neighborhoods and cities have become home to an abundance of bird species. From the House Sparrow to the Peregrine Falcon, and not forgetting the many owl species that call our neighborhoods their home. The fact is that birds of all shapes and sizes can be found within a few miles of your home. In fact, many migratory birds use our cities and surrounding areas as rest stops on their annual migrations. Birding during fall and spring gives us the fantastic opportunity to observe transient birds, some of which have already traveled thousands of miles on their migratory journey, right from your very own home or neighborhood.

Now if you are willing to “spread your wings” and venture out of your immediate area, then, I assure you that just beyond the city boundaries that have led us to believe that natures incredible creatures reside in lands faraway, just beyond those boundaries, a birding haven awaits you. If you are willing to travel just a few miles outside of city limits to the areas in the countryside that are less developed, you will not be disappointed. The farmlands and rural settlements just beyond city boundaries are where Raptors rule supreme. Hawks, Owls, Vultures and even Eagles are often seen perched on everything from a fence post to the many tree tops, surveying the open farmlands or remaining prairies for prey. It’s really unbelievable when you consider the large numbers of predatory birds that reside just beyond the outskirts of our daily lives. I have, on many occasions lost count of the number of Raptors that I have seen while out photographing in the countryside.


The reality is that most of us will live our lives doing ourselves a terrible injustice by remaining oblivious to this world of incredible predators that live right on our doorstep. However, if you are willing to try something different, something other than the usual weekend regime and venture out on a weekend morning drive just past the immediate horizon, armed with nothing more than some snacks and open mind, you will be rewarded with sights that will leave you coming back time and time again.

Birds are magical creatures, and they give us a glimpse into the miracle that is nature. The same laws of gravity that have that have bound us to a terrestrial existence are defied by them with an ease that is both beautiful as it is miraculous. They fill the air with beautiful songs and blanket our skies with vibrant colors. They are there as a constant reminder that the most beautiful part of our existence is our connection to the natural world. Birding is not just about going out and looking for birds, it’s about exploring the world around you and developing a relationship and understanding with the creatures that call this their home too. Urban birding is both easy and rewarding, so, take just a few minutes out of your busy day to reconnect with nature and spend it in the company of these incredible creatures…these city slickers, that make extraordinary feats seem as ordinary as breathing.


Want to start birding but don’t know where to begin?
Here are a few suggestions.

Do I have to know a lot about birds before I go birding?

Not at all. You don’t have to be an expert on birds to go birding (I am certainly no expert either)

What do I need to get started?

An easy way to get started is to set up a bird feeder in your garden or back yard. Bird feeders are relatively cheap and easy to set up. Feeders also give you the opportunity to observe birds from your home and get comfortable with identifying a few of the species in your neighborhood. Once you are ready to venture out into the “wilds” of your neighborhood, it’s a great idea to pick up a pocket guide to carry with you (if you have a smart phone there’s a number of apps you can download), this will help you identify and learn a little more about the birds you encounter. Eventually, purchase a pair of binoculars, this just adds another element and tool to help you develop as a birder. Binoculars will also come in handy when you venture our further than your home radius.

Where do I go?

Your neighborhood is a great place to start. After that try your local park, if it has a creek or small body of water this will be a great place to spot some wading birds like egrets and herons. Once you comfortable, venture out into the country side, birding can be done right from your car or even do some research and see if there’s a nature preserve nearby.

Is it costly?

Absolutely not, all it will cost you is your time, and what you get in return is well worth your time investment. Just remember that the most important thing is that you have fun, and enjoy the time you spend reconnecting with nature.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about Urban Birding.

All birds pictured here have been photographed no further than 30 miles from an urban setting.

Faizel Ismail