Free as a Bird: Urban birds in the time of COVID-19

As the state and federal governments continue to restrict our movement and access to facilities to slow the spread of, and potentially eradicate COVID-19 in Australia, many of us living in cities are turning to our local parks and greenspaces for a reprieve from time otherwise spent in our homes. Greenspaces offer us space to exercise and socialise (to a very limited extent currently), as well as to take a break from our work, kids, siblings, parents, partners and housemates. What may come as a surprise to many, however, is that much of our native wildlife, particularly birds, also find refuge in these greenspaces.

The iconic Australian magpie is commonly found in our parks and gardens, although there is recent evidence they are in decline (Photo: Simon Gorta).

The iconic Australian magpie is commonly found in our parks and gardens, although there is recent evidence they are in decline (Photo: Simon Gorta).

Urban greenspaces act as a bird biodiversity hotspot in cities, offering habitat and food which is otherwise unattainable for many species amongst the urban sprawl. The greater the size of the greenspace and the more varied the habitat within it, the greater the biodiversity of birdlife it can support. Inner Sydney is no exception to this, with large parks scattered throughout the suburbs, and even the city centre supporting a wide range of native residents, nomadic and migratory species, as well as some introduced species.

With a bit of effort, a quick walk in the park can find you many of our common native species such as rainbow lorikeets, Australian magpies, pied currawongs, welcome swallows and silver gulls. If you’re lucky enough to find a small lake or stream, perhaps you’ll find a few waterbirds such as Pacific black ducks, Australasian swamphens and an array other waterbirds including herons and egrets. Sometimes you might even fluke a sighting of something rarely seen in your area!

This Pacific baza was quite a rare sighting back in 2015 at Orphan School Creek, where it spent a lot of its time hunting stick insects (Photo: Simon Gorta).

This Pacific baza was quite a rare sighting back in 2015 at Orphan School Creek, where it spent a lot of its time hunting stick insects (Photo: Simon Gorta).

Migratory cuckoos such as the raucous channel-billed cuckoo and Pacific koels can be found in the summer months feeding in fruiting trees, before laying their eggs in an unwary pied currawong or red wattlebird’s nest, and lazily letting these foster parents raise their young for them. Autumnal migrants including an array of species such as yellow-faced, white-naped and scarlet honeyeaters as well as silvereyes (some all the way from Tasmania) and pardalotes, flock through our parks by day and some even by night (silvereyes) in April and May. Some of these birds stop briefly in trees to feed on lerps (a sugary deposit left by a group of insects called psyllids), nectar-filled Eucalyptus blossoms and invertebrates, most heading north in a partial migration we still understand relatively little about.

This juvenile Pacific koel was being fed and raised by its foster parents, a pair of red wattlebirds, in suburban Glebe (Photo: Simon Gorta).

This juvenile Pacific koel was being fed and raised by its foster parents, a pair of red wattlebirds, in suburban Glebe (Photo: Simon Gorta).

Occasionally, nomadic species following the seasonally or intermittently available food sources, such as topknot pigeons following fruiting fig trees, will also visit our parks. You can read more about them in my other post here.

And where there are foragers, there are predators. Brown goshawks and peregrine falcons are regularly found circling over parks, searching for unsuspecting birds to prey on. You may also see a white-bellied sea-eagle glide over, high above, or nankeen kestrels and black-shouldered kites hovering over an open, grassy patch hoping to snag a small rodent or reptile for tucker. Even at night, the well-camouflaged tawny frogmouth can be seen peering down at you from the odd lamp post or low branch with a look of incredulity as it waits patiently for a meal to wander by. And if you are very lucky, the enormous powerful owl, the smaller Australian boobook, or even the angelic eastern barn owl may hunt for prey, from possums to invertebrates, in your local park.

The black-shouldered kite is often found perched up high, or hovering over open grassland in our urban parks looking for a meal (Photo: Simon Gorta).

The black-shouldered kite is often found perched up high, or hovering over open grassland in our urban parks looking for a meal (Photo: Simon Gorta).

Undoubtedly our greenspaces are heavily developed and placed amongst the dense, urban sprawl of the city and surrounding suburbs. Yet they still offer a refuge for a wide variety of species. The diversity supported by these areas is often overlooked, despite being literally on our doorsteps! Knowing where to look to find such an array of wildlife in the middle of our cities can be very rewarding. You never know what you’ll find…

A nocturnal tawny frogmouth in a Glebe backyard (Photo: Simon Gorta).

A nocturnal tawny frogmouth in a Glebe backyard (Photo: Simon Gorta).


You can find Simon Gorta on Twitter and Instagram using the handle @GortaBirds

For more posts on Glebe and Inner West Sydney:

The Last Mangroves in the City: Jubilee Park Mangroves

Under the Terrace Houses: Glebe before European Settlement

Historical Palms at Jubilee Park

Where the River Meets the Sea: Glebe’s Coastal Saltmarsh

A Concrete Creek: Glebe’s Johnstons Creek

One thought on “Free as a Bird: Urban birds in the time of COVID-19

  1. Shared it on the glebe society FB page.

    Virginia Simpson-Young Glebe NSW ph: 0402 153 074

    On Thu, 30 Apr 2020, 05:12 Little Things Ecology, wrote:

    > simongorta posted: “As the state and federal governments continue to > restrict our movement and access to facilities to slow the spread of, and > potentially eradicate COVID-19 in Australia, many of us living in cities > are turning to our local parks and greenspaces for a reprie” >

    Liked by 1 person

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