Can Birds and People Coexist?

Why should we bother to sustain birds in urban/suburban areas?

First, the world is becoming more urban (percentage of humans worldwide in urban areas passes 50% this decade, 70-80% in N America and Europe). Simply put, the land left over is not enough to sustain the world's biodiversity.

Second, having nature near the places we live enhances human quality of life.

Third, bringing people in contact with nature where they live, work, and play can increase appreciation for all nature, wherever it may be.

Using the Tucson Bird Count and mapped data on human population from the US Census, we can actually put numbers on the bird community that exists near where people live. Of the roughly 520,000 people living in the area surveyed by the Route Program, three out of four live where the number of bird species is below the TBC average. If bird diversity is any indication of nature in general, that translates to billions of people worldwide with reduced opportunities to interact with and benefit from nature.

TBC results suggest that we can change this unfortunate situation. We know that a few places, even in the heart of Tucson, appear to help sustain diverse native bird communities. Ongoing work is investigating TBC data in conjunction with high-resolution land cover maps to determine what it is, exactly, about places with high bird diversity that makes them special.

We need the details. For example, what is the minimum area of upland Sonoran vegetation required for Black-tailed Gnatcatchers to show up? Is clustered or dispersed development better for sustaining bird species? What species are most vulnerable to development, how can we make future development easier on them, and what important areas should we avoid developing entirely? The Tucson Bird Count's Route Program will help answer these and other important questions.

Will Turner
Tucson Bird Count