London's feathered friends by Keeping it Wild Trainee Ishmael

Kestrel credit Hadi El Ali

From first glance, it may seem like London can only be a habitat for birds which thrive in built up areas. Pigeons, for example, have curled toes, once adapted to life on rocky cliff faces, which are now perfect for an environment packed with high-rises. The common gulls see litter as far richer pickings than depleted fish stocks in seaside areas. However, in part thanks to the effort I’ve seen put in at many of London’s nature reserves, London is in fact home to a huge variety of birdlife, including African migrators and the occasional bird of prey.

The main reason for London’s variety of birdlife is the variety of habitats the city provides. Although we are seeing an increasing dominance of urban sprawl and uniformly mown grass, pockets of reed bed, which can be found at Woodberry Wetlands (where I’ve been based for most of my Traineeship) and Walthamstow Wetlands provide a welcome change for birds like reed buntings and reed warblers. This is a small migrator, which values the protection of the beds when it nests here in the summer to escape the intense heat of Sub-Saharan Africa. The diversification of London’s wildlife has been so successful that these birds tend to gravitate to the same locations every year.  

As well as the hugely popular reed beds, Woodberry’s oak trees provide perfect nesting grounds and feeding stations for many species which inhabit the UK all year round. Including great-spotted woodpeckers, with their distinctive drill-like rattle, and green woodpeckers, with their equally mesmerising laughing call. The decline in green spaces and woodland areas has hit invertebrate populations too, so these trees have become an even more vital source of ant and other insect populations which these birds almost solely rely on.  

Common reed bunting

Common reed bunting credit Hadi El Adi

The reservoirs at Walthamstow and Woodberry, as well as many other rivers and lakes across London, are also home to much larger waders like grey herons and little egrets. These birds build nests often well over one metre in size in tall trees, hunting small fish and insects. These wetland environments are also home to a whole range of ducks and water birds, from the classic mallards and tufted ducks, to great crested grebes (known for their mesmerising courtship dances) and red crested pochards, the males clearly distinctive with their vibrant orange head and red beak. These pochards are a rarity in the UK, with only a few hundred mating pairs, so the fact that they consistently frequent and even nest in these sites is a testament to the work of the Trust.  

Little egret

Little Egret credit Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Rarer sightings across London (although not as rare as many may think) come in the form of birds of prey. Kestrels, medium sized falcons (their numbers have decreased by 25% over the past four decades), can often be seen making fly-bys over large green spaces, including my own Woodberry Wetlands and other nature reserves like Gunnersbury Triangle in West London.  

peregrine falcon

peregrine falcon credit Bertie Gregory/2020VISION

As both a volunteer and Keeping it Wild Trainee at Woodberry Wetlands, I’ve seen first-hand the value of practical conservation work in maintaining a habitat which welcomes a variety of birds. Since reed beds aren’t naturally occurring habitats in London, they are constantly at risk of being over-run by woodland features like trees and bramble.

However, I’ve also had the opportunity to see the effect of small, local efforts across the site to help support our avian populations. With the decline in invertebrate habitats, a garden log pile could provide your local avian population an ideal source of food in quite a small area. If a garden or small outdoor space isn’t to hand, simple acts like installing bird feeders have helped support everything from wrens to parakeets.

Even placing a dinner bowl-sized water container outside is a huge help to blackbirds, starlings and other feathered friends, who require bathing all year round to clean their feathers and be fit for flying.  

Keeping it Wild Wild Action Day

Credit Penny Dixie

About Keeping it Wild

Keeping it Wild is a new project, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, that will empower and inspire 600 young people aged 11-25, from backgrounds currently under-represented in natural heritage, to gain vital skills while discovering, conserving and sharing their experiences of the capital’s wild spaces. 16-25-year-olds are invited to apply for a 12 week Traineeship, paid via a bursary. They based at one of our reserves, where they spend time learning from the London Wildlife Trust team, gaining valuable practical skills in urban nature conservation. Additional support for the Traineeships has been generously donated by the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers.

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