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Birds seek safety from predators in cities, raptors also urbanising

Many bird species are suffering due to human encroachment into their habitats, while others are adapting to urban life.

Meriharakka etsii ravintoa nurmikolta.
An oystercatcher forages for food with its distinctive orange beak. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

An oystercatcher hunts for worms and other food with its long orange beak on the football pitch at Tammela Stadium in Finland's largest inland city, Tampere.

These waders usually live along the coast, but they have also settled in along the shores of Näsijärvi, a large lake just north of the hub. In the past few years they have begun nesting right in the city centre.

"These birds find places to nest on the roofs of apartment blocks, where foxes can't climb," explains Jukka T. Helin, president of the Pirkanmaa Ornithological Society.

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Jukka T. Helin
Helin has observed changes in Pirkanmaa's bird life over many years. Image: Marko Melto / Yle

Helin says that there are signs of oystercatchers moving into urban centres elsewhere in Finland.

Olympic Stadium owl

Jackdaws, highly adaptable members of the crow family found all over Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, are continuously spreading into new areas. They find endless opportunities for places to nest in human structures, as well as a wide variety of food sources, including other birds' eggs.

Some birds of prey or raptors are finding food and even places to nest in urban environments as natural areas shrink. So while city birds are safe from human hunters, but may be at risk from other birds.

Owls, for instance, nest in urban areas where there are old trees. Helin says he hopes that city officials and private landowners think twice before cutting down trees that offer good nesting places.

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The owl, dubbed Bubi, at the Olympic Stadium. Image: YLE

Helsinki is home to a number of owls. In 2007, a men's European Football Championship qualification match was paused when an eagle-owl landed in the Olympic Stadium. The national men's team has since been nicknamed the Huuhkajat (Eagle-owls).

Hunting-free zones

Wood pigeons, which are larger than regular city pigeons, were once solely forest-dwellers as their name suggests. Now they too are moving into suburban and urban areas.

They produce many young, known as squabs, which have a better chance of surviving to adulthood in cities, where there are fewer predators.

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Sepelkyyhky katulampun päällä
Wood pigeons have become familiar sights in towns. Image: Marko Melto / Yle

"The wood pigeon's success in the cities may also partly be an adaption to the early start of the hunting season," Helin suggests. They are among the first species that can be legally hunted as the autumn season gets underway, usually beginning on 10 August.

Wood pigeons, which have several broods during the summer, usually still have squabs at this point. Breeding females in cities are safe from human hunters, though.

Park life

A pair of red-necked grebes are nesting on a pond in a park in the Viinikka district, near one of Tampere's busiest thoroughfares. They too are typically coastal birds, known for their courtship displays and loud mating calls.

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Härkälintu ja pesä
A red-necked grebe and its nest on Pahalampi pond in Tampere. Image: Marko Melto / Yle

Helin says that so far this seems to be a one-off case rather than a broader move toward city life for the species.

"They've gotten very used to people and nested here for many years, but I would hope that they are not unnecessarily bothered. In particular, dogs shouldn't be allowed to harass the birds," he says.

Helin believes it is only a matter of time before goshawks begin nesting in Tampere as they have in other cities, at which point smaller urban birds will face a new challenge.

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