Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles.

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

‘Feral Cities’ takes account of the wildlife right on our doorstep

BirdWatching may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. BirdWatching does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting BirdWatching.

Feral Cities_300x450Whether urbanization is good or bad for birds and other wildlife is an especially hot topic these days, and an important one, since the area of developed land in the United States is projected nearly to double between 2000 and 2025.

We reported in “Birding Briefs” in February about a study suggesting that robins, catbirds, cardinals, and Song Sparrows survive better in suburban and urban habitats than in rural areas. And in December, we reviewed a book in which a University of Washington professor described avian diversity in and around Seattle. He had expected it to increase as he moved from the city center through the suburbs to wild areas on the outskirts, but, surprisingly, the greatest diversity was in the suburbs.

In this book, journalist Tristan Donovan casts a wider net, reporting not only about birds but also about snakes in Tucson, red foxes and rats in London, wild boars in Berlin, and coyotes in Chicago and Los Angeles. “Cities,” he writes, “are possibly the most exciting, most surprising, and least understood ecosystems on the planet.”

They are mixes of good and bad — good, for a few birds at least, because of the nesting opportunities they provide, and because of the abundant food we make available via our feeders, plantings, and garbage; and bad because of their disorienting noise, lights, and glass, predatory cats, pollutants, and other hazards.

That cities also, by definition, fragment or obliterate natural habitats, displacing their original inhabitants, Donovan leaves unsaid. He looks at metropolises as they are today, not how they came to be, and describes great murmurations of European Starlings over Indianapolis, Monk Parakeets in stick nests in Brooklyn, more than 30 species of parrot thriving in Los Angeles, and House Sparrows and Rock Pigeons from coast to coast. That all these species are introduced, not native, doesn’t disprove his conclusion that “the city is alive,” but it certainly qualifies it.


Feral Cities: Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle, by Tristan Donovan, Chicago Review Press, 256 pages, paperback, $16.95, $19.95 CAN.

Read more reviews from our June 2015 issue

Author Deborah Cramer dives deep into the Red Knot’s complex story in ‘The Narrow Edge.’

New reference guide makes identifying birds as simple as recognizing family members.

New Kaufman guide essential for nature lovers.


A touching memoir from a hummingbird rehabber in Hollywood.

‘Project Puffin’ tells how a kid from Ohio brought puffins back to the coast of central Maine.

Picture book shows what we most want to know about nesting birds.

In new book, Tony Angell presents personal stories and stunning drawings of owls.


A field guide to five boroughs of feathered New Yorkers.

A new edition of the Costa Rica guide you can carry in the field.

Book tells fascinating history of the feeders, seeds, and suet in our backyards.

A guide to Minnesota’s bird-rich state parks.


Publishers and authors:

If you’ve brought out a book that we should consider reviewing, send it here:

BirdWatching Magazine
Madavor Media, LLC
25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404
Braintree, MA 02184
[email protected]

Originally Published

Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free
Chuck Hagner

Chuck Hagner

Chuck Hagner is the director of Bird City Wisconsin, a program that recognizes municipalities in the Badger State for the conservation and education activities that they undertake to make their communities healthy for birds and people. He was the editor of BirdWatching from 2001 to 2017, and his articles have appeared in Nature Conservancy and Birding. He is also the author of two books about birds and the board chair of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, Inc., located in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

Chuck Hagner on social media