John Marzluff, the scientist, is well known for his research on, among other topics, the intelligence of crows and ravens. In his new book, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods With Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (Yale University Press), Marzluff examines the effects of urbanization on a variety of birds…In more than a decade of research in and around Seattle, where he is a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington, Marzluff and a small army of graduate students discovered a consistent pattern: Bird diversity grew from the city center, peaked in the suburbs, and dropped again in the forested areas between Seattle and the Cascades.
“We had discovered subirdia,” Marzluff writes. “Now I was really perplexed.”…
For many birds, the suburbs, as Marzluff explains, afford a wide variety of habitats. The trees, flowers, shrubs, ponds, and bird feeders that dot our neighborhoods make them attractive to many species. Add the golf courses, office parks, and retention ponds that are hallmarks of many suburban landscapes, and subirdia becomes downright appealing.
The suburbs are often criticized for their environmental faults including sprawl that chews up land and destroys natural habitats. Yet, these findings offer some evidence that the suburbs may not be all bad. It also leads me to two other questions:
1. Does this apply beyond birds? It sounds like it took a lot of work to establish these findings for birds. Yet, I assume some of the ideas would work for other animals as well as some would adapt and thrive to the suburban setting and others would not.
2. Such findings shouldn’t be used as evidence that suburbia is a positive for the natural environment. But, we shouldn’t continue to think in terms of pristine nature versus dirty cities. All of the environments in the United States, whether rural or urban, have been heavily affected by human activity.