The Urban Birder shares his tips for seeing wildlife in the city © Russell Spencer

David Lindo on wildlife in the city

Read the full transcript of our Science Focus Podcast interview with the Urban Birder, David Lindo – listen to the full episode at the bottom of the page.

Amy Barrett: So thank you for talking to me today. And I wonder if you could just introduce yourself to our listeners. For those that don’t know.

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David Lindo: OK. My name is David Lindow. I’m also known as the Urban Birder. And my whole thing is about trying to get people living in urban areas to connect to their environment, to nature, through the medium of birds.

AB: And how did you get into bird watching?

DL: How did I get into birding? That’s an interesting question.

I’ve always been interested in nature before I was born. In fact, I often say in a previous life, I was a puma and I used to chase after birds. And one day I missed one and it flew off and I thought, ‘wow, that looks amazing’. So I became a birding puma, which led to my demise because I obviously had to feed. So I starve to death. I think that just prior to dying, I thought, ‘this is a very interesting thing I got into here. I wonder if I can explore this in another life?’ and luckily, I was born in northwest London as a human.

AB: And so is it something that you did as a child then?

Yeah. But I was, I was… I’ve been interested all my life, as I say, started with insects. I realised the insects were fed upon by birds. So I was about five when that happened.

I taught myself, because I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have anyone around me who had any interest. No one had an interest. It came from nowhere. Hence the puma story. So I taught myself, and by the age of eight, I was a veritable walking encyclopaedia on the birds of Britain, Europe, Middle East and North Africa. And a good spattering of the world as well. I didn’t meet a birder, another birder, until I was eleven. And by that point I was way down the track.

AB: And you’ve turned what is a hobby for most into a full career.

DL: Yeah. I got lucky about 16 years ago, actually 2006, how long ago was that? 14 years ago.

I’m adding too many years on. 14 years ago, I received an email out the blue from the BBC asking if I want to appear on Springwatch, talking about my local patch in West London called Wormwood Scrubs. And by that, I’m talking about the park and not the prison. And I agreed to that. And I think it kind of kicked off from there and it came very unexpectedly.

And I suddenly realised that there was something I could be doing. So it kind of went from there.

AB: And is it a case that most birders aren’t based in cities? it seems like a countryside type of thing to do. Is that why you probably didn’t meet anyone until you were about 11?

DL: That’s a fair enough assumption. And certainly initially. But a lot of birders actually do live in cities because 82 percent of us, nearly all, live in urban areas in Britain. I think that the urban birding thing has become a lot more popular in the last 20 years. When I started doing it, it was a case of people telling you, “you can only see birds in the countryside.” But urban birding has been in existence as long as, you know, humans thatched roofs and planted parking metres into the ground. You know, people have watched birds all the time. It may not have necessarily been called urban birding at the time, but it was something that people did. But it was always seen as the poor relative. You needed to go out into the middle of nowhere to really go birding. That’s not the case at all and I knew that as a kid. And I’ve been talking about it ever since really.

AB: Do you think it has aspects of – whether it is the community or the way that it’s talked about – that make it inaccessible to some?

DL: Birding? Yeah. I think that’s. I mean, that is an interesting question in that I think that’s… well there’s several things that exclude people from being involved.

One is that people think they need to be an expert to do it. Two, and especially back in the day, people thought you had to be some kind of person to do it, i.e. you know, with a beard and the belly and a bit of a social misfit. And, you know, sitting in your bedroom in your mum’s house at the age of 60, you know, that kind of thing. So it had a very kind of fuddy duddy ish train-spotting type of image, I suppose, back in, certainly back in the 60s, 70s.

But I think nowadays it’s become much more fashionable. I think people realise that there is a lot of stuff to be seen around them, in urban areas. I think the major drawbacks, now, the major barriers now, I mean, people often quote the idea, especially when it comes to ethnically diverse people, that it’s racism that stops them from being involved.

I don’t subscribe to that at all, or at least I don’t think that’s a main issue. I think there’s other bigger issues than that. And I base that on my experience. I’ve been doing this all my life. And I think some of the people that have been sort of purporting that particular opinion haven’t really spent much time in the field anyway, because I’ve been in the field since I was a kid.

You know, I’ve lived through the 70s and 80s when it was really very racist in the UK. You know, I was as a kid from the age of, you know, primary school age, five, until nearly leaving secondary school, so maybe 14, was subjected to racial abuse on an almost daily basis. And it got to the point, especially – I mean, I got used to it fairly early on – it got to the point that it became of water off a duck’s back for me because I just thought to myself, ‘Why can’t you think of something a bit more original to call me as opposed to a blanket name?’

But I never received any of that kind of treatment when I was out birding. I never received that from people involved in nature or conservation. They always, I always felt as if it was my sanctuary. I always felt that, you know, I was treated as an equal. So I think one of the main blocks to people being involved in birding, is education.

I think that, you know, kids are not taught much about natural history and the environment and conservation, as, you know, in primary school upwards. So they grow up in this bubble thinking that, you know, nature is all about being on David Attenborough programmes or in the middle of the countryside away from prying eyes.

So they become, you know, disconnected.

And I also think there’s cultural issues as well, especially when it comes to some ethnically diverse people. You know, they have cultural things, whether they just don’t think it’s right for, for example, young girls and young Asian girls to be spending the night out in the countryside, you know, whatever. So that’s another issue.

I think a big issue is the way that the media portrays nature. I think even to this day it’s still portrayed as the occupation, the pastime of white, middle-class, middle-aged men predominantly. And I also feel that, you know, I don’t ‘feel’, I can see when I turn on the TV, that half the time it’s being presented by white, middle-class, middle-age males. And I think people, regardless of their colour, creed, religion, what have you, are put off by that because I look at that and think that’s not me. So I think that the media have a lot more to be doing to try and make things a bit more representative.

That said, there’s been lots of criticisms levelled at some of the conservation NGOs, for example, for not hiring enough people of colour and for being institutionally racist. I think that, in their defence, even though I do think that some of that does happen. But in their defence, I think that you can’t fish from a pool with no fish.

And it brings you back to the beginning, which is getting people educated, getting people to think that they want to be involved in a career in conservation or think that conservation’s a worthwhile thing to get involved in, birding, or what have you. And I think that, you know, I look at some of the press that supports or, you know, kind of is for the ethnic minorities, i.e., for example, I look at my own group, in the West Indian and African Community, and they got these couple of newspapers that serve them. And when I look those newspapers, all I see is this stereotypical racism being, sort of pushed.

So in other words. It’s like they say, you know, the black kids should be into sports, football, basketball. They should be singing RB and hip hop. You know, it’s just the classic stereotypes. And there’s no reference to you doing anything you wanted to, like being an astronaut or anything else like that. So I think, you know, I think it’s a very multifaceted problem. And it’s it’s more than just pointing fingers and saying “you’re racist, you’re racist”, and what have you – it’s more than that.

Because I think there’s lots of elements that have to be addressed. And that’s why there is such a shortage or such as a small number of non-white people being involved in this. They feel that it’s very English or British and maybe they don’t feel British. I mean, for a long stage in my life, I didn’t feel British. I didn’t feel English at all. Only in the last, I’d say 25 years. And that’s because of the constant racism. You know, “go back to where you come from”. All that sort of stuff, which I’ve had all my life until, you know, well, until 25 years ago or maybe before that.

So it kind of for me… and the other thing that’s interesting, I find is that, you know, it’s also down to your personality, because when it comes to exclusion or the potential of exclusion, you’ve got to be clear that it is actually, it is what you think it is.

Because racism nowadays, it’s very hard to prove, sometimes. Sometimes people might be off with you, but they might be off with everyone. But then you might take it as a racial thing. You know, I might walk into a room and someone else of colour would walk into the room and we’ll have two different experiences, because, for example, you know, I’ve been reading about people who have been going birding, non-white people who felt very conscious, who felt as if they’re victims of micro aggression, as they put it. And I think to myself, you know, if you walk into a hide and you’re black or you’re not white and you’re in the middle of a countryside, you may get people turning around looking at you. But that’s because, I feel, because you’re different. You know, you’re not like, who’s in the hide at the moment. And then once you say, “Alright guys? How’s it going? What’ve you seen recently?” Five minutes later, you know, everyone’s equal. But some people are not that bold. Some people feel very conscious of themselves. And so don’t say anything. And then they kind of feel this pressure. So, you know, I often think about that as well. I mean, obviously. You know, obviously, people have to be made welcome, of course.

But, not every time you have such a sort of situation, is it racism. I mean, for example, I’m in Spain right now. I’ve been in Spain since the beginning of the lockdown. And I mean, I’ve been in this region. I’ve been here quite a bit over the last 10 years. I know the region quite well. The region is called Extremadura and it’s a very rural region. So when you’re driving around, going through the villages and stuff, people stop and look as if they’ve never seen a car before, even though there’s cars in the villages.

And that’s not because of the fact that you’re, you know, you’re a different colour, what have you. It’s because they don’t recognise your car. They don’t recognise you. And, you know, I have had a couple of racial incidents here. I must say. But most of the time it’s been curiosity, stroke, even verging into ignorance in terms of not knowing how to deal with someone who looks different to you.

So an example would be I was birding in a rice fields area in Spain and I went to a cafe to have a cup of tea.

And there was a guy, an old boy, standing by the bar and he basically was looking at me. So my my default situation when someone looks at me is, “hello, how are you doing?” I just say hello to them. And nine times out of ten, they’re kind of shocked, and then they say hello back and it is fine. So he said hello back. And we were speaking in pigeon Spanish. He asked me where I came from, I said I was from London. And obviously he hadn’t met many people from London and he certainly hadn’t met an English guy who was black, before. But anyway, it was fine. And then his mate walked into the bar and not realising I can understand what he said. He said “Who’s that?” to the first guy. And the first guy said, “oh, this is a guy from London.”

Second guy goes, “What? A black English person?” Like that. To which I responded in Spanish. “Yeah. And you’re a white Spanish person. What of it?” And he became very embarrassed and he left. That’s ignorance. You know? So it’s really, this whole subject, it’s really interesting because I think you really need to look at it and not so… You need to actually look at it very carefully and actually analyse it in a very broad sense, not just a case of black and white.

I noticed with some NGOs have become so sensitive to the whole subject that the moment someone’s mentioned the words ‘racist’ or ‘race’, they panic and think that they’re doing something wrong and they try and appease the person saying whatever they’re saying, but they need to think about a bit more really. So, yeah, my opinion is quite different to the other people in this sector. And as a result, I remember being asked by a national newspaper to give an interview about my thoughts, especially during the Black Lives Matter stuff that happened. The tragic situation. And because I said what I’ve just told you, their response was, “yeah, but we need an angle.” I said “what do you mean? That is my angle.” And they wanted me to say, you know, “no you’re a racist.” They want me to point fingers, basically. So there are problems, I think, that affects people getting involved. I know it’s a long winded answer, but that’s that’s that’s basically how I see it.

AB: And all these discussions about what is a microaggression what is racism, what is ignorance actually or detract from the main thing, which is just make it making it accessible to everyone. You know what the discussion should be like, you say, on how we can get into education and how we can get a wider message out and better representation. Whereas if we’re all kind of worrying over whether it’s some particular person or company is racist, it kind of detracts from what the end goal, don’t you think?

DL: Well, totally, and I think a lot of people have become very kind of worried. And I’ve been approached by organisations, individuals [saying] “Oh, my God, what am I doing wrong?” You know, “what can I be saying, who should I be talking to?” you know. And I’m just saying what you should be doing is just being a good person. Simple as that. As a kid, I realised that I was an ambassador. I was an ambassador for birders’, I was an ambassador for black people. And I’m an ambassador for humanity. And they’re the three things I worry about, you know, and I think that’s that’s all we need to think about. People over complicate things. And it really annoys me.

I mean, I remember recently watching a documentary about the soul music scene. I was well into soul music, back in my, well I still am. You know, I was bit of a disco boy. And it was done by, the actual programme was actually produced by some black people who are into music now, but they describe the scene back then as being predominantly white, talked about in a mostly white Essex boys and I thought, hang on a minute, were you there? Because when I was there, I saw a whole mix of different people. And also we didn’t even talk about race. Race didn’t even come into it, it’s just like, we’re all together, we’re having a good time.

Why do people have to then put their stuff onto it or make it an issue, where it’s black and white when it wasn’t at all in the first place?

So I think that’s the situation at the moment. I think people are very, very quick to, I don’t know, to politicise to, you know, make it more than what it is sometimes.

AB: And on the subject of identifying as a ‘birder’. I mean, I, I know especially since, you know, lockdown and having so much more time outdoors where there’s less distraction of cars and other people. I’ve found myself, you know, reading books about bird watching or trying to kind of pay a bit more attention. But I’m still reluctant to call myself a birder.

DL: Why?

AB: I don’t know. It feels like it. I mean, I can’t name the birds that I see them. Should I be able to name them all?

DL: No.

Being a birder has nothing to do with how many birds you’ve seen, how many birds you can identify. You know, for me, it’s about being able to connect with nature. And whether you know what the names are not, it doesn’t matter. So long as you can pick a pair of binoculaurs up or even just look at a bird. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a birder. There’s no club to join. There’s no level to reach. There’s no exam to take. You know, that’s the issue. See, that’s everything. People feel the need to be an expert. That’s not the case at all. You just need to have your eyes open and your mind open, more importantly.

AB: What’s different about urban birding compared to being out in the countryside?

DL: Not much difference. I think, urban birding, if anything, I mean, my life as an urban birder has made me much more aware because in urban areas, I guess you have to look a bit harder. But some of the birds that do show up are much more used to people. So you seem much better. And plus, the habitats within urban areas are much sparser, which means that, again, you are more likely to see them because they got less habitat to hide in. And go back to the first point in terms of being more used to people. I mean, the classic example is the wood pigeon in London, for example, you can walk right up to, in fact they could walk right up to you in Trafalgar Square and stuff like that.

You go in middle of the countryside, you can’t get within a half a mile of one because it’s a whole different way of life for them there. They get hunted there, for example. Whereas in urban areas that they’re fed by us. So that’s a big issue.

That’s a big difference. And also, when you think about urban birding, people are often sort of think that it’s only pigeons and sparrows, even though sparrows have become quite scarce these days.

But in reality, there’s been roughly about 620 different species of birds seen in the UK since records began.

And these include birds are being found once vs. birds, like blackbirds, there’s 9 or 10 million pairs. An of the 620, about 95 per cent have been found in urban areas.

And when you think about London, for example, the bird list, the species list there is about 360. So, you know, it shows that you can actually find anything anywhere.

And that’s why I find such a challenge about urban birding, because it was derided in the beginning as being the ‘poor cousin’. And even to this day, I mean, I’ve got like my last book, which is How to be an Urban Birder. I remember doing a book tour and my publisher approached a couple of sort of bird organisations or bird clubs and went to them, said, ‘well, we don’t want to have him here because we don’t think he’s serious bird watching’, you know. So you got people who are kind of quite elitist about it.

But I think in the main, most people understand that, you know, it has… it’s just as important as any other thing. But for me, it’s not even about that. For me, it’s about people. For me, it’s about trying to get people to understand that we have an environment that’s right outside our front doors.

The moment you step out your door, you look up. It’s around us straight away. And urban birding is a great conduit to get people to realise that conservation starts on your doorstep. So that’s why I’m very keen and interested in talking to people who have no prior knowledge. People like you, Amy. Because at the end of the day, I see myself as a bridge. You know, you see that’s marked ‘environment’. You walk through it, you get interested in birds, you can cross that bridge and then get involved in conservation, get involved in local stuff or not at all.

But you can be exposed to it. And that’s the main thing. And that’s all I’m interested in. And that’s what I see as urban birding, it’s not about, you know, as I said before, getting as many species as possible or whatever. It’s not about that at all. It’s about being aware, it’s about us connecting. And more importantly, it’s about love.

AB: I guess I have this image in my head of being a birder and being quite solitary, almost lonely out in the environment.

DL: It is a very social thing, you can do in groups, you know, you can do on your own. I mean, I think it’s, for me, it’s a very grounding experience. And I know we’re going to talk about this, but it’s also very good for your wellbeing and mental health. It is very, very grounding. You know, birds don’t argue with you. Birds make your heart flutter no matter where you are. And even if you just do it for half an hour in the morning before going to work or school or going having a sandwich on a bench in a park and just trying to blot out the sounds of humanity, the human hubbub, and then let the nature, the natural sounds filter through. And eventually you start tuning into birds singing that people can’t hear because it’s, they’re stuck in a bubble still. Once you crack your bubble open and you realise that there’s a world out there, you get so much joy from that. And I think, you know, it’s like you may have issues or problems. I mean, I’ve had times in the past where, for example you’ve broke up with a girlfriend and you feel a bit kind of down, and you go birding and it just lifts your heart. And then you leave and go back to your life, but you feel as if there’s some kind of solution. You’ve got some clarity. There’s some kind of, you know, end product from this and that’s why I think it’s so great to be connected to nature because there’s something that we’re… most of us – actually more of us are being connected to – but most of us are not. And we need to because it’s so good for us.

AB: You’ve mentioned having binoculars. Is there a lot of equipment that one needs to have to get started? Or what are the basics that you would recommend for you to step outside the door right now?

DL: An open mind. Open eyes and ears. Then I’d say binoculars. And a book. But I think they are secondary. I spent years not knowing anything about birds. I spent years calling sparrows ‘baby birds’ and starlings ‘mummy birds’ and blackbirds ‘daddy birds’. But that didn’t matter because I had a relationship with them. Does the name make you love them more than, you know, than anything else? No. A name helps you to categorise. Yeah, of course. But that can come after afterwards. Plus, once you fall in love with the whole idea and realise this is really lovely, then you want to learn more. You want to learn about it, but at your own pace. It is so important to do it at your pace and don’t feel pressurised thinking that I need to do this. I can’t I can’t call myself a birder because I don’t know whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s a really individual thing.

When I started the whole urban birding sort of brand, as it were, I thought to myself I wanted to sell it to the media and change people’s thinking on the whole subject. And I thought it’d sell it as a lifestyle choice. Up there with meditation and yoga. And it worked. I mean, the media loved it. And I mean, I remember once someone wrote a piece and the headline was ‘Urban Birding: Ornithology’s New Rock and Roll’. Anyone could be involved, you know. And I, I say it again, you don’t need to be an expert. You don’t need…

I mean, I kinda read this book as a kid, ‘Birds of Britain, Europe, Middle East and North Africa’. I, I was a bit weird because I was really totally, you know, I was obsessed. I wanted to learn everything. So I knew all the birds in this book by the time I was eight. But I was different. I think most people, you know, even if it’s just a casual thing, it’s fine. I think it’s more important to connect to nature. It’s more important to plug in and really help your spirit. So important.

AB: Mm hmm. Because, you know, like you say, in terms of helping with wellbeing… the Science Focus book club, have read Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness in July. And Joe talks about the mental health benefits he calls listening to birdsong almost like a kind of meditation, like you’ve said. Do you know if there is any any research that’s gone into the actual impacts of birding on mental health?

DL: There’s been a lot of research. I mean, I can’t, I can’t quote any back to you right now, I can’t think of any right now. But there’s been plenty of research. But the thing is, the research is great because it proves that, you know, there is that issue. But for people like me, I’ve always known that.

And I suppose it’s always been known. Always. I mean, there was a time when I was depressed. I remember going to the doctor, not feeling grea, I was feeling really down. The doctor said to me, ‘you got mild, mild depression, here are some pills’. I said, ‘I’m not taking any pills’. So he said to me, in that case, go out and do whatever you love, do it more. So I went home, got my binoculars and birding pulled me through. So it does have a calming effect. There’s lots of research out there about it in terms of how seeing green and blue is good for our well being.

And the fact that, you know, you’re kind of being quiet and at one with yourself and actually seeing things that make you feel happy. I mean, for me is obvious. But, you know, you just have to think about how you feel when you see a puppy or a kitten. It’s the same kind of thing. You know, it’s just very important to to to keep hold of those things and to realise that we are all part of nature. You know, we’re not separate without nature. We don’t exist. Simple as out. And we need to learn that pretty quick.

AB: And nature obviously has such an impact on us. But are we having an impact on.. are birds evolving in our urban environments? Are they changing because of it?

DL: Yeah, some birds are. There’s a couple of species, like, for example, the great tit.

They did some research in Aberystwyth University in Wales, and they found that the urban great tits are singing louder to combat traffic, but also are not being recognised by their rural counterparts, the song’s not being recognised. So it’s quite interesting where they are sort of developing. There’s other species as well that are kind of developing louder songs to combat the actual urban hubbub.

But it’s got a stage further. There’s a space to the bird in North America called the ‘dark-eyed junco’, I think that’s the official name, or could be ‘slate-coloured sunco’ actually it’s called. It’s like a sparrow. And in the east it’s very grey, looking with a white belly. But the further west you go it becomes browner on its back. But there’s a population, the most westerly population which lives in the mountains above San Diego and California. And historically during the winter, they will travel down a mountain and be on the coastal plain, wintering, which includes San Diego as well. And then head back up to the mountains in spring.

And one day in the 80s, on the campus of San Diego University, a daughter of one of the lecturers discovered that there were juncos, still there during the summer. So she told her father, who is a birder and at first, he didn’t believe her. But then when he checked he realised that they were there.

So they started to study them. And had realised they began over the years to fundamentally change. The birds in the campus, their song was louder. The colours changed, in that in the mountains, the male has a really black head and has really strong white outer tail feathers which are used in aggression and territorial disputes. Whereas in the campus, the head became more diffused, as did the white outer tail feathers. And so they weren’t becoming, they weren’t as aggressive as they were, the ones in the mountains. In the mountains, a bred once a year, once every summer, and the male took no part in raising the young. Whereas in the campus they bred up to four times a year. And the male was the greatest father on two legs.

So and also the birds in the campus are much more approachable than ones in the mountains who are very aloof. So what they did was they captured a certain amount from the mountain, and from the campus, put them in an aviary together, subjected them to the same conditions, same light conditions, same food. And the mountain birds and the campus birds kept separate. Which is effectively evolution in process, which if you extrapolate, that could mean that when the cities become, you know more and more cities are getting bigger and bigger now, gonna have many more mega cities there may become populations of animals that evolve in that one city and become a separate species. Which has already happened in London with a species of mosquito down in the underground. So that could be the future. So to answer your question, yes. Birds do adapt.

But they’re, classically, the birds spend most their lives, if not all, in urban areas. There’s a lot of other birds that are transient visitors, migrants that come through on the way to and from Africa, for example, or birds that just come during the winter or during the summer.

So the changes there may be difference on slower. But that said, there’s one species called the blackcap, which is a warbler. And generally it’s found in Europe and winters in Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and generally used to migrate from north to south. But over the last 40 years – and this could be down to climate change – the birds in east, in the east, like in Germany and Eastern Europe, are flying west and wintering in places like Britain. And over the past 40 years, they normally eat insects, but during the winter, that they’ve kind of substituted their diets or supplemented their diet by feeding on bird foods put out by us and birdfeeders, nuts and peanuts and stuff like that. And their bills have got thicker to deal with the feeders. And that’s in the space of 40 years. So evolution doesn’t necessarily have another millions of years. It can happen very, very quickly.

AB: Wow. I don’t know. Should we be feeding birds? Because sometimes you read differing opinions. Should I be putting bird food out in my garden?

DL: My answer is yes. I think birds should be fed or can be fed all year around, especially in winter. Of course, during this spring, summer and autumn, they tend to find their natural food first before coming to you. But if you put enough food regularly, I mean, obviously lesser amounts during those periods, then birds get to know that you have a food source that when they do need it, they can come to you straight away. Because garden birds have a circuit that they use. And when they are, when by late summer there’s lots of young birds out, young birds start flocking and just doing a circuit. And they realise whilst they’re doing a circuit, “oh, Amy’s got some food, I’ll remember that next time when it gets really cold” and that’s how it works. So I am a firm believer, but I think you need to do it responsibly. You’ve got to try and feed and clean your feeders once a week or two weeks. I think also put out water as well.

Water is just as important as food, and if you are feeding birds on the ground because some birds don’t go on their tables or, you know, feeders, holders, then put the food in a tray and bring it in every evening, because if you leave it out at night, you might be attracting some unwelcome guests. So, yeah, there is some responsibility to it as well. I never put a nest box right next to a bird feeder ever, because it’s like living next door to McDonalds. You wouldn’t want that would you?

AB: That’s a good analogy. And why is it that there are some birds like pigeons and gulls that will happily thrive off our leftovers? But you don’t ever see, like, thrushes or tit’s ambushing you for chips like you’ve seen those pictures of seagulls doing?

DL: Well, obviously, that those birds I mean, even black birds and all those kind of birds, they still feed on some of our leftovers.

They just do it quite discreetly when we’re not there. With the gulls a lot of that behaviour’s learnt behaviour, they’re taught by humans to come down, get chips. So it’s not every one of the species that actually does it, but it’s love behaviour. But yeah birds like gulls and pigeons are essentially victims of our excess because they have learnt that they’ve got an easy food source. For that, they get you know, they become villains, you know they’re demonised by us, but it’s not their fault.

AB: Because those are the birds, you know, when I’ve asked others actually mentioned that I was speaking to you today and I’ve asked for some questions and people said, you know, how can I see things that aren’t pigeons and seagulls? And that obviously that’s a question that would be great for you to answer. But it is also a shame, especially like you say, because we’ve got wood pigeons, which are really interesting. Pretty great to hear. Love to hear the sound of a wood pigeon. It’s a shame they’ve been villanised in that way.

DL: Yeah. By the way, there’s no such thing as a seagull.

AB: Yeah, well, that’s, you know. BBC Wildlife would tell me off for that, wouldn’t they.

DL: Actually there is one seagull, one true seagull. It lives in the UK, but that’s called a kittiwake. And it’s a real true seagull, I believe there is a colony in Newcastle nesting on a bridge and other buildings nearby. And that’s the only inland colony or the most inland economy in the world. But during the winter they clear off into the sea and the ocean they go off and you don’t see them into the next spring. Whereas the gulls that we have, the herring gulls, lesser black-backed gulls, theyr’e coastal but they’re called seagulls because they’re by the seaside. You know, the names’ stuck.

AB: Well, there are, especially in Bristol, in the city centre. There’s a lot of them. Yeah. What other kinds of bird can I see in the city? And where do we need to go specifically to see them? Should I look out for places with certain aspects hedges, trees, what am I looking for?

DL: OK. You can see practically anything in the city, to be honest. But there’s a usual crew of birds you can see. I mean, in Bristol is quite green city. I mean, most cities or most towns and cities up and down the UK have a similar sort of line up. So you’re going to have blackbirds, song thrush, great tit, blue tit, dunnocks, wrens, crows, pigeons, certain species of gull, robin, you know, you’re going to have a whole kind of collection, wood pigeon, that you will see. And then green finches, goldfinches and then you can see other birds.

DL: You can start off, if you’ve got a garden. That’s a great place to start. That’s where I started. If you haven’t got a garden, you can get down to a local park. Birds are everywhere. It’s not as if you have to walk somewhere before you see them, they’re everywhere. I mean, that’s why I use my phrase to look up, because you look up this time of year, you’ll still be seeing Swifts flying around, house martins if you’re lucky, swallows. So those birds are in the air. You can see them straight away.

DL: But parks are good to start in terms of finding birds, and especially when the park has a variety of habitats. So, for example, if the park has a lake. You’re going to see a different set of birds. Then you can see things like, you know, mallards and mute swans, great crested grebe, little brege, cormorants and herons. And then if you walk away from that, around the edges of the lake could be some reeds. And then you have some reed dwelling birds, during the summer you might have reed warblers or sedge warblers.

And then you may have moorhens in the reeds and what have you. So you have a different selection of birds there. You walk along the grassy areas. You can have yet another different selection. You might have starlings, you know, pigeons on the lawn, the grass. You’re going to have gulls in the winter especially. Then you might walk to a wooded area and then you have a whole different suite of birds. Red spotted woodpecker. Several species of tits, longtail tit included, you know, blackbird, song thrush, carion, crow, magpie, jackdaw. And then you walk to another area so you get a collection of different birds. It is the habitats. And what’s great about having a local patch that has a selection of different habitats is that not only do you learn about a whole range of bird, a wide range of birds, which you may not necessarily see in your backgarden, but you also learn about habitats unconsciously.

You learn that you know that the lake is good to see waterbirds, obviously. But you also learn that if too many, if there’s too many stolen scooters and shopping trolleys chucked in there, it doesn’t really help.

So you begin to learn about conservation. And I think you also once you start getting involved in, studying in your own way and I know it’s not officially, but just basically studying what kind of things around, you start falling in love. You start falling in love and you start getting to the point where you think, you know what? I will lie in front of a tractor or a bulldozer, because I don’t want this place destroyed. This is my haven. This is where I come to ground myself, even if it’s just for those reasons. And that’s why it’s so important to open your minds to nature. It’s more than just watching birds. It’s actually in your mind and being connected. So you got to think of it, if you have to, you’ve got to think about it in terms of your own well-being, your own personal wellbeing, your medicine. You need to have this. You need to have areas of green near to you that you can connect to. And birding is just one way of bringing that to you.

SF: Do you have a most memorable or at best birdwatching experience?

DL: Where do I start? Well, every day I have these experiences, every day because it’s not about rare birds. It could be about anything, you know. And it’s how it makes you feel. I can’t even start… I mean, I. There’s been so many. There’s been hundreds, thousands of these. So I’m just happy to be out. I’m happy to be able to see them. The day that I don’t see any birds is, you know, the day that it’s time to die, as far as I’m concerned.

AB: So if there’s anyone listening who has left, he took but it still maybe be a little bit unsure about beginning. What kind of final words do you have to say to him?

DL: Don’t be afraid. Just open your eyes and and just try and get yourself engaged. Try and meet up with people who have similar interests and maybe learn from them so you can actually go out in groups and hang out with people. I think it’s important to the most important thing is to enjoy yourself and not to lots of case of pressurised by anything and anyone, because you end the day experience in nature. I think not only can be done as a group, they can also be done on a very personal level. And it’s how you know, how it is, how you make it, how it makes you feel, which is the most important thing. And it should make you feel great.


This podcast was supported by brilliant.org, helping people build quantitative skills in maths, science, and computer science with fun and challenging interactive explorations.

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