In the last decade, the conditions in urban ecosystems have changed significantly and several bird species have suffered. Not only are species in the wild disappearing, but species living in cities are also under threat. It was confirmed by the Report on the Status of Birds in Slovakia (1), according to which the number of White-tailed Godwits has declined by 100 000 pairs in six years.
The decline in bird numbers is linked to human activity. People living in housing estates want to live more comfortably and so they are changing their dwellings and surroundings. As birds need a stable environment, dynamically changing landscape and destruction of ecosystems are causing life-threatening problems for them.
URBAN BIRD DECLINE
Pupils of the Narnia Church Elementary School in the Bratislava housing estate have also noticed it. They decided to investigate the causes and make changes to the situation in their environment. With the help of experts, František Cimerman from NGO Živica and environmentalist Tomáš Kušík, they looked for answers and took steps to change the situation.
One of the reasons for the dwindling number of birds on housing estates is the lack of cavities to build nests in. “Cavity nesters have the ‘disadvantage’ that if no one creates a cavity for them, they have nowhere to nest. The same is true if someone destroys or closes their cavity. Therefore, those species that almost exclusively nest in cities on buildings – the common swift, the souse sparrow and the common house martin – suffer greatly when buildings are renovated. Common swift and house sparrows lost all their nests when building were insulated – so they have disappeared. Fortunately, bird-sensitive insulation of buildings has been largely successful in Slovakia with our project Protecting Common Swift and Bats in Slovak Cities. With the passage of time, we are even more aware of its uniqueness, because nowhere in the world has anything similar been implemented on such a systemic scale,” says Kušík.
Another threat to birds is also increasing light pollution, which disrupts their life cycle, changes their behavior, orientation in space, and migration routes. Housing estates are illuminated all night, including sidewalks, high-rise buildings and parks. Increasing noise levels also has a negative impact on the behavior and life of birds.
In the construction of new buildings, there is again a problem with façades – inappropriate forms of insulation or large glass panes. Birds crashing into the glazed parts of buildings usually result in mortality, and this is a huge problem that requires a targeted and systemic solution.
The clearing of lawns and the disposal of bio-matter (grass clippings, leaves, branches and shrubs) outside housing estates cause food shortages. “This is, among other things, a problem from the point of view of pollinators (which are also food for birds), which do not have enough flowers – nectar and pollen – on the frequently mown grass. This again reduces the biodiversity of the environment and, in addition, the fuel burned for mowing increases the carbon footprint,” Kušik stated.
Other species are bothered by the clearing of shrubs, or the destruction of trees and bird nesting sites. For example, the common magpie, the hooded crow, the rook, the eurasian collared dove , the common wood pigeon, the common kestrel, the common blackbird, the long-eared owl, the mallard duck, the goldfinch, the nightingale and others build nests to survive.
THEY INVITED THE BIRDS BACK
Fourth-grade pupils from the Narnia school decided to take action. With Eco-Schools expert F. Cimerman, they created a plan to restore a housing estate’s biodiversity and began to implement it. They also presented the plan to the Mayor, Matúš Valo, and received financial support for its implementation from the City of Bratislava’s Children’s program.
A dark corner with trees was equipped with student-made nesting boxes. In winter, they stocked the bird feeders with a mixture of food from different types of sunflowers seeds. They only added seeds when the feeder was empty. They learned that the plastic feed nets sold in stores for hanging on trees were a common trap for birds, in which they would get tangled, and die. Therefore they hung apples from the trees as a natural food source. They planted herb beds and shrubs with berries edible for humans as well as birds. They are turning part of the lawn into a meadow.
Thanks to the efforts of the students, birds have gotten used to finding food in bird feeders in winter, and are now nesting here.
BIRDSONG BRINGS JOY
There are many ways to support bird life in the city. Peter Lipovský, a practical nature conservation expert from BROZ (Bratislava Regional Conservation Association), praised the initiative of the pupils and added further advice: “Birds need to be provided with sufficient nesting places – birdhouses, rarely mown meadow areas and proper feed. There are many examples of good practices in Bratislava – for example, Karlova Ves, where thousands of bird houses have been installed in the facades of houses. There are also meadow areas, which are mowed only twice a year. The situation is getting better in other districts of Bratislava, towns and villages in Slovakia, too. The ideal situation would be if the local governments would deal with this issue on their own and not expect someone to do it for them.”
The pupils’ project is also supported by parents, the school and residents. They all appreciate the return of the birds to the environment. With their children, they have watched students feeding the birds and hanging their birdhouses. One of the mothers living in the housing estate described it this way: “It is very nice to be able to watch the birds at the bird feeders when we stayed at home. Our movement to the countryside was limited and the morning birdsong that we now hear every day in the housing estates makes everyone happy. It improves the mood and helps relieve the stress of the pandemic.”
Wildlife-friendly school garden. The untended lawn increases biodiversity, and provides food and shelter for insects. Photo by Ľubica Noščáková
Feeder with fruit. A feeder on school premises during winter. Photo by Ľubica Noščáková
Source: 1) Stav ochrany vtáctva na Slovensku v rokoch 2013-18, vydala Štátna ochrana prírody (2020), ISBN: 978 – 80 – 8184 – 084 – 5
Authors: Ella Radimská a Júlia Noščáková
Age Group: 15-18
School: SZŠW Vihorlatská 1O, Bratislava