Thursday, February 17, 2011

Urban Wildlife in the News

The subject of urban wildlife has always been near and dear to my heart because of my own experiences with various birds, mammals, herps, and invertebrates in the various cities where I have lived. I am delighted that more focus is being directed to our wild neighbors lately, as evidenced by a couple of articles brought to my attention recently by friends on Facebook.

Dr. Douglas Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware, made ”A Call For Backyard Biodiversity” in a recent issue of American Forests. The article is a condensed version of Tallamy’s brilliant book, Bringing Nature Home, where he makes the case for landscaping with native plants. He then articulates a strategy for creating wildlife corridors by linking backyard habitats.

Another recent article in the New York Times highlights the surprising diversity of mammals and birds to be found in both urban areas and natural forests. The surprising subject of this study is the Fisher, a large mammal in the weasel family that had for decades been on the decline due to excessive trapping and conversion of its habitat to agriculture and subdivisions. A secretive predator, it is apparently now adapting to human presence and reclaiming some of its historical distribution patterns.

All this causes me to reminisce about the days when I was part of a volunteer team at the Audubon Society of Portland (Oregon) that worked together to publish a quarterly magazine called The Urban Naturalist. I joined the effort in about 1984 at the invitation of the editor, Mike Houck. Mike was already a friend and mentor, so I welcomed the chance to contribute to what became an award-winning journal. I wrote and illustrated articles on insects, and occasionally short pieces on a specific park or greenspace.

The Urban Naturalist frequently had themes for a particular issue, so I wasn’t always able to get a story in, but I always felt respected and welcomed at editorial meetings. Eventually the “staff” all went our separate ways and the publication ceased to exist. It was not soon to be forgotten, though.

In the late 1990s, the Oregon Historical Society approached us with the idea of compiling some of our best essays in a book. Wild in the City: A Guide to Portland’s Natural Areas was published in 2000. I was honored to have several of my stories included, and also some new illustrations to complement articles authored by other people.

At some point I will be sharing some of those old stories in this blog and my “Bug Eric” blog. I also hope to make available species lists for insects and arachnids I have observed and collected in Portland, Cincinnati, and Tucson. I encourage my readers to do the same. Your observations over time can be of great significance. The National Phenology Network can certainly make good use of them.


  1. Great post! Urban biodiversity is something that really needs to be stressed, especially as we lose more and more of our natural areas to development.

    Very interesting article by Douglas Tallamy, I'm going to check out his book after reading that.

  2. Thank you for the compliments, Derek!