Perfect Habitat

Recently I was in Anaconda, Montana visiting friends. I love the mountains in Montana and birding there is a treat. An eBird list from Anaconda had shown an American Dipper close to where I was, and considering how difficult it is to see our local Dipper, I decided to look for it. The location was a small city park with a perfect fast moving shallow stream running through it, so I followed the stream for about 0.3 miles without any luck. I came to a larger city park with a small, shallow, concrete aeration pond in it. Who should be poking around in this twenty foot diameter manmade pond but the American Dipper. Absolutely not in the place I would have looked for it; all the lovely habitat seemingly ignored for a bit of concrete and water.

American Dipper – Photo by CS Klabunde

This observation dovetailed perfectly with an article in the magazine of the American Birding Association, August, 2021. The author, Brendan Murtha, talks about how birds view habitat and how we do. First, it is important to acknowledge that loss of habitat has proven to be one of the major reasons for the decline in the number of species and the total number of birds. No one can or should dispute that. But Mr. Murtha has come to the conclusion that it is important to “rewild” our urban/suburban environments. By that, he doesn’t mean physically changing the landscape, but changing how we view it. “In an age of increasing urbanization, finding and sharing the wild in developed habitats will be an essential task of educators and conservationists alike; for every person who loses sight of the wild amid habitat loss, many more never find it in the first place.” For those who may never be privileged to see the beauty of the cloud forest in Ecuador, they must be helped to see the “wild” in those places they can explore. I live in an area with a beautiful lake surrounded by acres of wonderful habitat readily acknowledged as a great place to bird. Does that mean that a budding birder or nascent naturalist living in the middle of Los Angeles surrounded by mostly concrete and asphalt cannot, also, appreciate the wonders of migration because the only place available to look for birds is an empty lot with a few trees and some grass? Certainly not as far as the birds are concerned. A tired migrating warbler will look at that grass and those trees as a perfect place to settle for the day. To help those for whom the wild is that empty lot so sparsely green is to introduce not just more people to birding, but to increase the diversity of those who appreciate the beauty of all the world around them. We have to start somewhere, why not the concrete pond in the middle of a city park? The American Dipper found it to be perfect.

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