While out birding the other day, I was standing on a bridge, trying to shoot (photograph!) Cliff Swallows that roosted under the bridge and were flying all over the place feeding on flying insects. A car drove by, stopped and backed up, and asked what I was doing. I told the couple, then they started asking a bunch of questions about birds in the area. They asked how many bird species there were in South Dakota, and I told them there have been about 420 different species seen here. They were shocked that there was such a variety of birds.
I was probably the same 15 years ago, right before I started birding. People are often aware of the most commonly visible birds in their yards, such as Robins or Blue Jays. However, for the most part people are very unaware of just how many kinds of birds might pass through their yard. When you think about how extensively an urban landscape is altered from whatever former natural vegetation used to be there, it really is amazing how birds adapt, and how you can find a wide variety of species, even in an suburban setting sometimes.
For raptors in urban areas, I typically would think of Cooper’s Hawks or Sharp-shinned Hawks, two species that have learned to use cities to their advantage. Both species will often take advantage of bird feeders and the concentration of prey that they attract. Peregrine Falcons have become adapted to a human presence, learning to hunt and breed in even the densest of cities to take advantage of Pigeons, European Starlings, and other prey that live in an urban environment. Around here, you do see Red-tailed Hawks on the urban fringe, but I guess I don’t normally think of them as “urban” raptors, even with the fame of those that inhabit the Central Park area in New York City.
The Outdoor Campus isn’t exactly Central Park (and Sioux Falls isn’t exactly New York City), but it is a nice oasis of habitat in an urban setting. I do bird there on occasion, but typically only on an early Sunday morning or other time when people aren’t around, as it can be very busy. I recently went to the Outdoor Campus, looking for spring warblers, but found more screaming kids and joggers than I did warblers. Despite all the activity, there are definitely many birds that have adapted to the loud-but-semi-natural habitat at the Outdoor Campus. As I walked around the park on that day, I saw the Red-tailed Hawk pictured above sitting on a tree branch, RIGHT above the path where the children, joggers, and others were passing through. It was definitely in active hunting mode, looking downward and scanning the area for prey. It didn’t seem to mind the noise or activity. It happily obliged while I took photographs at quite close range, something that I typically find VERY hard to do for raptors around here in a more “wild” setting.
From a bird photographer’s standpoint, the noise and activity at a place like the Outdoor Campus CAN be a blessing in disguise, as the birds that use the area get used to a human presence and are often much more “camera friendly” than birds found elsewhere.