Urban wildlife

Two foxes, at night on a pavement beside cars 

Many wildlife species have successfully adapted and learned to live alongside us in the hidden corners of our towns and cities. Phil Pickin examines the creatures most frequently found living in our midst.

An urban environment can meet all the needs of certain animals – as long as they are willing to put up with the noise, traffic and constant human activity here. For some species, our towns and cities can provide additional security, although the occasional pigeon that falls prey to city-dwelling peregrine falcons might dispute this. 

Built-up areas can provide warmth on cold nights - many birds can be seen roosting in bushes and trees in cities during the winter. And then there is the food; we humans waste vast quantities of food and often fail to dispose of it properly. This waste provides rich pickings to opportunist birds and animals seeking an easy source of nutrition (although the nutritional benefits of a half-eaten kebab are debatable). But all too often it's the wildlife that is blamed when they are seen taking advantage of this opportunity.

Fleet foxes, stealthy stowaways

Urban foxes have been known to set up home in gardens with territories stretching over many residential streets and neighbourhoods. They set up dens under sheds and make full use of the plentiful food on offer in bins and gutters or strewn all over the streets on a Friday night. Bats, roosting in lofts and old buildings, can often be seen at dusk on a summer’s evening flitting over gardens catching insects on the wing. 

And at ground level rodents can often be found living in close proximity to people. But there's a fine line between having a few interesting mice scurrying around your garden and a whole nest happily chewing their way through parts of your home and leaving other unpleasant tell-tale signs of their existence. They are a vital source of food for owls, foxes, peregrines and other animals, though.

A peregrine falcon in flight, with a catch in its claws

A prickly subject

Hedgehogs used to be commonly spotted in gardens or scurrying around urban areas at night. Known as the ‘gardeners’ friend' due to their love of slugs and other pests, these hibernating creatures are now seldom seen in many parts of the country. Climate change, habitat loss and the use of pesticides are all contributing factors in their decline. Our desire for managed, manicured gardens is also making it difficult for hedgehogs to roam from garden to garden. Adult hedgehogs travel between 1-2km per night searching for food and mates. The Wildlife Trusts has some great advice about making your garden hedgehog friendly

Parks, ponds, towpaths and verges

It's not just gardens that provide a home to wildlife, parks, allotments, canal towpaths, riverbanks and even verges alongside roads and railway lines all play a part in providing a vibrant habitat in the city. They also act a valuable network of corridors connecting different green spaces and enabling wildlife to move around, often unnoticed. 

A house martin nest with two babies poking their heads out

Ponds and small watercourses are a haven for amphibians and insects such as dragonflies. Swallows, house martins and swifts are naturally drawn to these insect-rich environments and additionally make use of the mud found here to build their distinctive nests which are often found under the eaves of houses.

Other common species found in and around urban areas include the ever-present grey squirrel, rabbits and moles. When you think about it, there really are plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife without heading into the wilderness. And that’s before even mentioning the abundant bird life that also calls these same areas ‘home' – such as house sparrows, blackbirds, blue tits, robins, pigeons and great tits. When you are walking in your neighbourhood try to remember what naturalist, David Lindo - the Urban Birder says: ‘look up’.

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