When snowy owls were spotted in New York City, locals flipped. Many residents of the nation’s largest city had no idea they could spot any bird more exciting than a pigeon in the concrete jungle. New York isn’t alone: All kinds of fantastically adaptable and seemingly exotic birds have made their homes (some temporarily, some permanently) right in major urban centers, all across North America. From southern California to New England, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, people who live in huge cities don’t need to miss out on seeing amazing avian life. Here's a round-up of unexpected visitors that would surprise even the most jaded city-slicker.
In the spring and fall, huge flocks of Vaux’s Swifts make their migration from their breeding grounds as far north as Anchorage down south to Central America. (It’s still a mystery precisely where they end up.) Their migration route takes them right over Los Angeles, which isn’t so unusual—what is unusual is that the tiny, aerodynamic birds don’t pass right over the legendarily smoggy city. Instead, they roost on chimneys, one in particular (but not exclusively), right in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles. Hundreds of swifts all converge on their favorite flues, to the amazement of Los Angelenos. Check out a video of the event here.
The wide shores of Lake Michigan offer views of plenty of waterfowl, but the huge, gorgeous Sandhill Crane, which can get up to four feet tall, might seem like an unexpected guest in the Windy City. And yet every fall, usually around November, the cranes fly overhead, numbering in the thousands, on their way to nesting sites in Georgia and Florida. Keep an eye out overhead!
The endless quasi-urban sprawl of Arizona’s capital and largest city hasn’t managed to totally subdue wildlife native to the surrounding Sonoran Desert. Audubon Arizona, along with Wild at Heart and the city government, are working to save a pretty amazing species: the Burrowing Owl. The Burrowing Owl is unusual among its wide-eyed cousins in that it lives in open land rather than in forests. It makes its home in burrows, often those abandoned by prairie dogs. Facing dwindling numbers due to habitat destruction, the owls were reintroduced at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, which runs along the namesake river running through Phoenix. Anyone can go see them any time, though they’re most active in the morning and evening.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a … wait, no, actually, it’s a bird. On top of the most recognizable feature of Providence, Rhode Island’s skyline, the Bank of America building—often called the “Superman building” for its resemblance to the ziggurat-looking Daily Planet offices—is one of the only buildings in the city that offers a perch high enough up for Peregrine Falcons to roost. Formerly rare in the region due to years of DDT poisoning, the falcons have made a comeback, now numbering 1,650 breeding pairs in the U.S. In the past ten years, a pair of peregrines have taken up residence on the 30th floor of the Superman Building every year, birthing over 50 chicks. When they’re there, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island hosts a webcam for those who can’t head over with binoculars and check out the falcons in person.
Located along the Colorado River bisecting Texas’s capital city, Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park is probably best known for its disc golf courses. But it could just as easily be known for its bird-watching, especially as a nesting site for some highly unusual birds. The Crested Caracara, with its distinctive orange beak and habit of stalking its prey on the ground, has been repeatedly sighted in the park. Other oddballs, like the Clay-colored Sparrow and Painted Bunting, have also been spotted.
All Across North America
North America’s last native parrot, the Carolina Parakeet, was declared extinct in 1939. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find various parrot species all across the U.S. and Canada. In fact, there are established populations of parrots, usually feral flocks of escaped pet parrots, in many of the continent’s biggest cities. Monk Parrots can be found in the New York boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, and have even been spotted as far north as Montreal; a flock of Cherry-headed Conures in San Francisco are famous enough to be the star of their own documentary; escaped macaws make their home in Miami; and a flock of Peach-faced Lovebirds reside happily in Tucson. Of course, it’s not only in North American cities that parrots can be found; a population has even been recorded in Tokyo.