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Have you tried: Urban Birding?

Written by Fiona

April 12 2017

There’s a new trend for Urban Birding, which is bird spotting, or twitching, in towns and cities. I wrote about it for my Sunday Mail column. See pdf or read below.

Have you tried? Urban birding

What is it?: Urban birding is bird spotting, or twitching, in towns and cities.

Tell me more: While traditionally associated with the countryside, a new generation of bird watchers are discovering a rewarding hobby in urban area.

There appears to be a number of reasons why the trend has caught on, including affordable new bird watching technology, such as digital and automatic cameras.

Research also shows that the British public are more environmentally aware and keen to attract birds and wildlife to their gardens.

In addition, a number of celebrities, including Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, TV presenter Alex Zane, Blur’s Damon Albarn and artist Matt Sewell have declared their love of urban birding.

Why do birds live in cities?: While not every bird species can survive in built-up areas, many towns and cities do provide nesting and feeding sites in numerous habitats.

In part, this is because urban centres generate a “heat island”, which means the temperature can be 3C warmer in the day and 10C higher at night compared to the countryside.

Added to this, people living in urban areas like to feed garden birds so that naturally attracts more to tables for easy feeding.

How do I do it?: You need to rethink the traditional rural bird spotting locations and find new places to spot birds in urban areas.

Buildings replace cliffs and crags, while parks, gardens and allotments are substitute urban moorlands and hills.

You’ll find rivers and streams in towns and cities, similar to the countryside, and if you live in a coastal town or city, you can also spot birds on estuaries or at the shore.

Urban birders prefer to keep track of birds using modern technology, rather than a notebook and pen.

Binoculars can be used to spot the birds while digital cameras will give a picture record of bird sightings.

Another option is an automatic wildlife camera to record sightings of birds in a garden while you’re not there.

Drones also allow skilful birders to take images of wildlife in flight.

On-line bird identifying guides and apps, rather than books, help the modern birder to keep track of what they have seen.

And it can be useful to mark an urban birding “territory” so you can record common sightings as well as more unusual spots.

Find an area close to your home and start watching it on a regular basis.

Get to know the resident birds and through all the seasons you will notice changes in the populations as the seasonal visitors make their appearance.

Meanwhile, there are a number of useful websites for urban birders, such as Scottish Natural heritage (SNH), the RSPB and The Urban Birder.

Founder of The Urban Birder, David Lindo, said: “Surprisingly, every British city has something to offer the curious birder.

“You only have to look upwards to notice gulls, wood pigeons and perhaps even a peregrine soaring through the skyline.

“I’ve seen, as well, snipes, pied wagtails and meadow pipits on brownfield sites, ringed plovers living in gravel pits on urban wasteland and a black redstart singing on top of an aerial on a city building. How amazing is that?”

Gardens can be a great place to spot birds, especially if make it attractive for them to visit.

Set up a nest box or provide a table with food and then sit back indoors and watch through the window.

Five birds to spot in urban areas

While you will quickly compile a list of more common garden birds, here are five lesser-seen birds to spot in urban areas.


A colourful bird of rivers and streams, the kingfisher can usually be spotted sitting quietly on low-hanging branches over water. If you are lucky, you might see one diving into the water to catch a small fish.

Urban kingfishers might be found on rivers, canals or lochs and they have even been known to occasionally visit gardens.


You will hear the clear wood-tapping sound of a woodpecker before you see it. Listen out – and then try to spot – these birds in areas of woodland or trees at the side of lochs and river in town and city parks.

Sparrow hawk

As surprising as it may seem, a survey by Lothian and Borders Raptor Study Group found that sparrow hawks are colonising urban areas of Scotland in increasing numbers.

In particular, Edinburgh is a hotbed for sparrow hawk survival with more than 100 nests recorded in the city.

Tawny owl

You will need to be urban birding after dark to spot a tawny owl, which has a brown back with a paler streaked underside and dark eyes. In flight, can be identified thanks to distinctive short broad wings and a short tail that helps it to manoeuvre through the trees when hunting.

Pied wagtail

A more urban common sighting but still a delight to see, the small black and white bird will be seen standing and frantically wagging its tail up and down.

You may spot it dashing over lawns or car parks in search of food or hear the calls at night as the birds gathers at dusk to form large roosts in city centres.

Contacts:,, and

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