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Individual Highlight

Birds Connect Urban Residents to Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Photo of Robin from kitchen window. J. Amy Belaire, University of Illinois at ChicagoRobin from kitchen window. J. Amy Belaire, University of Illinois at ChicagoSnapshot : Birds can help urban residents make connections to the outdoors. Forest Service scientists surveyed urban residents and found that most of them like most birds, even if they aren’t aware of the full species richness in their neighborhoods. This awareness can be used to reach urban residents and help them move towards an understanding of sustainability.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Westphal, Lynne M. 
Research Location : Chicago metro area
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 854


As our world becomes increasingly urbanized, cities are often where people come into contact with the natural world—not just in parks, but in front and back yards. Observing birds in everyday landscapes is one way that people connect to their environments and thus birds provide a bridge to build sustainable actions into our everyday lives. Forest Service scientists and partners conducted bird surveys and social surveys in Chicago-area residential landscapes to examine residents’ perceptions of the birds in their neighborhoods and the relationship of those perceptions with characteristics of the bird community. They found that residents valued many aspects of neighborhood birds, especially those related to aesthetics and birds’ place in the ecosystem. Although birds were generally well liked and annoyances were minor, several common visible urban species (like starlings and jays) may attract attention for their negative qualities. They also found that residents’ valuations of ecosystem services are linked to their perceptions of bird species richness rather than the actual richness. Although birds provide many important ecosystem services, perhaps one of their most important roles in cities is as a relatable and likable connecting point between city dwellers and the broader environment.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Emily Minor University of Illinois at Chicago
  • J Amy Belaire, University of Illinois at Chicago (at the time of the research)