Have You Noticed How Urban Birds No Longer Fear Man?

Have You Noticed How Urban Birds No Longer Fear Man?
Martha Rosenberg

I have been a bird watcher for many years and name among my sightings rare green and tricolored herons, Mississippi kites, yellow crown herons, great horned owls and more. Last year I saw some newborn eaglets in a huge eagle's nest.


But I don't have to travel too far to see another interesting bird phenomenon right here in Chicago--wild birds are becoming tame and even bold.


Twenty years ago, sea gulls abounded on Lake Michigan as they do now. But only recently do they approach and beg from people. Anyone who goes to the beach during the summer has experienced sea gulls brazenly walking on their beach towels and raiding any food they have left while they are taking a dip in the water. Seagulls now come within a foot of humans when food is offered.




And speaking of eating out of your hand, house sparrows actually do when you are seated at outdoor cafes like Starbucks. Not a true sparrow but actually a member of the weaver finch family, diminutive house sparrows now "beg" next to your coffee and croissant and eat out of your hand, if you so offer.


At Chicago's Millennium park these new bold avians are especially apparent thriving on the tourists, food and the lack of natural predators. Red-winged blackbirds, which have agricultural roots though they have certainly adapted to urban environments, have also become fearless. They beg on outdoor tables where people are eating and eat out of people's hands like the house sparrow, if people feed them.


And pigeons? Rock doves of course are plentiful in urban environments and have adapted to being fed by man for years. During the cold weather, they warm themselves under heat lamps at the transit stations. The cold weather is rough on these birds. Possibly 25 percent of Chicago pigeons have missing toes or even feet from freezing to metal when they tried to perch and being stuck. If they are in pain they don't show it. These amputee birds stay with the flock and continue to beg and forage for food despite only having the full use of one foot.


And they have learned a new trick. While pigeons certainly know the sound and sight of potato chips, cookies or granola bars and beg, the smarter ones have begun to play "helicopter." At exactly the height of your hand with a snack in it they will hover in place as if to say--"notice anything"? "Hey--over here!"


Certainly the bird six inches from your hand--or less--is more likely to get a morsel from your granola bar than his brethren on the ground. So losing the fear of man is clearly evolutionary behavior for these urban birds.



Martha Rosenberg is a nationally recognized reporter and author whose work has been cited by the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Public Library of Science Biology, and National Geographic. Rosenberg’s FDA expose, "Born with a Junk Food Deficiency," established her as a prominent investigative journalist. She has lectured widely at universities throughout the United States and resides in Chicago.