What’s Wild in a City?By Hannah Schardt
Next time you’re walking through a city neighborhood, slow down and look around. Do you see an empty lot, a place that looks like nothing but weeds and maybe even trash? Or maybe you see a tiny park—just a playground and a few trees—tucked between tall buildings? It often seems as if people were the only living things in a city. But take a closer look. You may see a flash of fur or a flutter of wings—just a hint of the many kinds of wildlife lurking in even the biggest cities.
On the next few pages, you’ll meet a few of the animals that live in North American cities. Some, such as pigeons and squirrels, are so common that you may forget they are wild animals. Others, such as insects, spiders, and snakes, are so small or shy that you may not even know they’re there. Once you start noticing these city dwellers, you can turn any walk around the block into an urban safari! All you need are sharp eyes and a little curiosity. But first, read on to learn more about why some animals choose to live the city life.
The city can be a tough place for plants and animals to live. All those buildings, roads, and sidewalks mean there’s less space for plants to grow. And wild animals often rely on plants for food, shelter, and places to raise their young.
But some animals are great city survivors. They are tough and scrappy. And they usually aren’t too picky about what they eat or where they rest. In a forest, a squirrel may live on acorns and seeds. A city squirrel may eat acorns, too—but also garden plants, tulip bulbs, and discarded pizza! And for a pigeon, a highway underpass or a building’s eaves makes a perfect place to roost.
Many of the animals that do best in North American cities aren’t native to the continent. That means they were brought by people from far-off places—either accidentally or on purpose. Brown rats hitched rides to the New World on ships with European settlers hundreds of years ago. Starlings arrived in the 1800s, brought by Shakespeare fans who wanted all the birds mentioned in his plays to live in America. In the 1850s, just for fun, people shipped several pairs of house sparrows from England and released them in New York City. Now rats, starlings, and house sparrows are among North America’s most common city animals. Unfortunately, these super survivors often take the place of native animals that are pickier about where they live and what they eat.
Want to meet some of the animals you might see on a walk around a city? Turn the page! You can even check off your wild neighbors as you spot them on your walk.
A good place to start your hunt is at the base of a tree. Even in a city, a single tree can host a whole lot of life. To get a glimpse of the action, look at the tree from all sides. Do you see any holes? Animals from owls to opossums sometimes make their homes inside trees.
Now look up into the branches. See some rustling leaves? That could be a bird or a squirrel looking for food or collecting material for a nest. You may spot a hornets’ nest, a bird nest, or a squirrel nest. If so, watch the nest for a while and see if anything goes in and out. If you’re patient, you might see some animal parents bringing food to their babies.
Even if there are no trees around, you may want to keep your eyes up. Animals from house sparrows to raccoons sometimes make their homes inside the walls of buildings. And telephone wires and window ledges make great perches for doves, crows, hawks, and other birds.
- American crow
- Cooper’s hawk
- white–throated sparrow
- American robin
- gray squirrel
- downy woodpecker
- squirrel nest
- hornet’s nest
- cedar waxwing
- white oak tree
- eastern redbud
There’s plenty of animal activity closer to the ground, too—especially in a place with lots of shrubs and weeds. You may think of weeds as plants no one wants. But some weeds are wonderful—for wildlife! For example, most people try to keep dandelions from growing in their lawns. But for bees, those bright yellow blooms may offer the only nectar around in early spring. Even poison ivy has animal fans: More than 60 kinds of birds are known to munch on the berries. And in fall, the dried seed heads of weeds make nutritious meals for city birds.
Just as animals that live in wild places do, urban animals need shelter. Many, such as snakes and toads, look for cool, quiet, protected places to hide. In the woods, that might mean a rotten log or a hole in a rock. But in the city, sometimes a pile of junk will have to do!
Now you know which animals you might see on a city walk. Don’t you think it’s time to get out there and meet them yourself?
- monarch on milkweed
- Fowler’s toad
- rock pigeons
- poison ivy
- house sparrow
- garter snake
- bumble bee
- garden snail
- black garden ants
- red fox
- European starling
- brown rat
- garden spider