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Get to know your feathered neighbours

National Bird Week, Monday October 17 to Sunday October 23, is a great opportunity to do something to help understand and preserve our urban bird diversity.

Participating in the Aussie Bird Count will connect people with local wildlife and that, according to a growing number of experts, can help protect animal species, including our own.

Sydney is home to about 365 species of native birds, many of which, with Covid lockdowns, we have come to know more intimately.

Zoë Sadokierski, one of the authors of A Guide to the Creatures in Your Neighbourhood, said lockdowns allowed us to discover how the world becomes larger as you slow down.

And that was good for us.

Griffith University ecologist Carly Campbell is the author of the study, “Big Changes in Backyard Birds: An Analysis of Long-term Changes in Bird Communities in Australia’s Most Populous Urban Regions”, published in Biological Conservation.

She said there were important but unseen functions that birds played in our environments. The loss of bird biodiversity was not only an indication of a breakdown of ecosystem functions; it was also a loss for humans.

Simon Mustoe, author of Wildlife in the Balance: Why Animals are Humanity’s Best Hope, places even more importance on understanding how much we depend on the animals we have been pushing out of existence.

“In order to rebuild a habitable world we need to surround ourselves with wildlife and re-find our place within nature,” he said.

Urban environments can be hotspots for threatened species and may even serve as the last refuge for some species in the future.

But the increasing infill of greenspace and the densification of existing urban landscapes are likely contributing to a homogenising process that is reducing biodiversity.

Campbell’s study used citizen science data to examine the prevalence and diversity of bird species across Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.

She found some birds like the very aggressive noisy miner were doing really well in cities and urban areas but they were driving other species away.

Species disappearing weren’t just the rare and threatened ones – some were those considered common or iconic. In several areas, the galah and kookaburra were experiencing relative declines.

Campbell said not only were cities and suburbs expanding, but also more people in urban areas were subdividing and removing trees, plants and bushes in the process.

“We need to change how we’re structuring our vegetation, because what we do with the vegetation in cities and suburbs is really important as to what species thrive,” she said.

“Planting more diverse forms of native vegetation, particularly less nectar-rich species like wattles and she-oaks, can help maintain a diverse ecosystem that keeps encouraging a diversity of bird life to thrive in our cities and suburbs.”

Citizen science

Campbell’s study highlights the importance of monitoring and conservation action in suburbs.

Birds in Backyards said it was a timely reminder of the importance of citizen science in monitoring bird species.

You can get involved by joining Birds in Backyards (www.birdsinbackyards.net) or Birdlife Australia (birdlife.org.au) or by becoming an urban field naturalist (www.urbanfieldnaturalist.org) or a citizen scientist and participating in the biggest bioblitz across the southern hemisphere (www.greatsouthernbioblitz.org).

Read A Guide to the Creatures in Your Neighbourhood (www.urbanfieldnaturalist.org/book) and tune in to the richness and diversity in your local environment. The book is packed with interactive projects, and nature writing and sketching activities. Combining science with art, philosophy, and storytelling, it aims to cultivate a sense of wonder and appreciation for our remarkable natural world.

Follow @southsydneyherald on Instagram to see our birds of the day and learn about protecting urban biodiversity.

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