Animal urbanization

Frank Backwinkler, Diplombiologe Stadt Heinsberg

More and more people are moving to cities – living spaces in urban regions are in greater demand than ever before. Moreover, the phenomenon of urbanization is not limited to humankind alone: More and more animal species are starting to feel at home in cities as well. One of the reasons for this is that their habitats in the countryside are being destroyed.

Everywhere that man has settled down, animals have followed,” says urban biologist Frank Backwinkler. For millennia, stockpiles of food and waste generated by human activity have represented an appealing source of nutrition for animals. Cultivated meadows and fields in particular provided many animals with ideal habitats.“The intensification of agriculture has reversed this development, though. Monocultures, severe overfertilization, and high volumes of pollutants have ruined living conditions for many animals that normally dwell in fields,” says Backwinkler. While industrial agriculture is destroying animal habitats, the opposite is the case in many cities. For instance, some young industrial sectors create suitable alternatives for certain field animals. Additionally, the number of trees, green spaces, and gardens in urban environments is growing ­ creating adequate habitats for many kinds of species.The presumed inhospitality of cities as compared to the open wild also puts some animals at an advantage. “They are also moving to deserts and high mountains. Animals who can do well under those circumstances enjoy great advantages: little competition and hardly any predators or enemies,” explains Backwinkler. For instance, pigeons originally lived in rocky landscapes. Tall buildings have long served as secure ersatz mountains for them, and offer them an ample range of food to boot. An old foe of the pigeon, the peregrine falcon, has only recently come to city centers as well. “The wealth of food in cities also attracts wild boars, foxes, magpies, and rooks. These animals have learned from experience that they’ll be hunted to a far lesser extent in cities. They feel safer there,” says Backwinkler, citing another reason behind the urbanization of certain animals. He adds: “The higher temperatures in cities also play a large role. For example, that’s one of the reasons why heat-loving, exotic rose-ringed parakeets are establishing colonies in more and more cities.”

Wild neighbors

Ravaged front lawns, bird droppings everywhere, and loud croaking all night – certain markers of animal neighbors aren’t always welcome. “You only have to intervene when species become overpopulated, cause damage, pose a threat or spread disease. In these cases, though, it’s common to take moderate action,” says Backwinkler. “That’s because most species are very discreet and don’t cause any problems. Wild animals in cities represent a big opportunity: They might be a bit disconcerting for people who are no longer used to nature, but for many others, their presence creates a touching, soothing reminder of the natural world that city-dwellers would otherwise have to travel a long distance to experience.”

Picture Credits: © Ralf Bille