Habitat influences on urban avian assemblages


*Corresponding author.
Email: karl.evans@sheffield.ac.uk


Urbanization is increasing across the globe and there is growing interest in urban ecology and a recognition that developed areas may be important for conservation. We review the factors influencing urban avian assemblages, focusing on habitat type and anthropogenic resource provision, and analyse data from a common bird monitoring scheme to assess some of these issues. The review suggests that (1) local factors are more important than regional ones in determining the species richness of urban avian assemblages, raising the potential for the management of urban sites to deliver conservation; (2) habitat fragmentation frequently influences urban avian assemblages, with the effects of patch size being greater than those of isolation, and (3) urban bird assemblages appear to respond positively to increasing the structural complexity, species richness of woody vegetation and supplementary feeding, and negatively to human disturbance. Data from Britain's Breeding Bird Survey, combined with habitat data obtained from aerial photographs, were used to assess a number of these issues at the resolution of 1-km squares. Green-space constituted 45% of these squares, and domestic gardens contributed 50% of this green-space, though their contribution to large continuous patches of green-space was negligible. There was no significant positive correlation between the densities of individual species in urban areas and surrounding rural areas. Rural species richness declined with increasing latitude, but urban species richness was not correlated with latitude. This contrast contributes to slightly higher avian species richness in rural squares in Southern England than urban ones. Occupancy and abundance were strongly positively correlated in urban avian assemblages, and some indicator species of conservation concern occurred in few urban areas and at low densities. Such species will require conservation action to be precisely targeted within urban areas. Of the urban indicators of conservation concern, only the House Sparrow Passer domesticus and Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris were more abundant in urban than rural areas. Moreover, the densities of these two species were strongly and positively correlated, indicating that they may be limited by shared resources, such as nest-sites or supplementary food. There was little evidence that high densities of nest-predating corvids were associated with reduced densities of their prey species. Species richness and the densities of individual species frequently declined with an increasing number of buildings. Current trends for the densification of many British urban areas are thus likely to be detrimental for many bird species.