Biodiversity in Avondale Park

Avondale Park may not be a wilderness like Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve or Red Mountain Park, but there are plenty of native plant and animal species for people to observe.

The pond, fed by waters from King Spring, is home to several fish species that can be seen from the bank. These include small surface minnows known as Western Mosquitofish, a species of bream known as the Bluegill, and Largemouth Bass. Roaming the pond are also several large Common Carp, an introduced species from Asia. Fishing is permitted, and some fishers have good success catching Bluegill and the occasional bass.

The pond also attracts many birds. The most obvious birds are not native but are hybridized blends of various exotic and domesticated duck breeds that were introduced to the pond years ago. The ducks nest on the island, which provides refuge from stray dogs, Virginia Opossums, raccoons, and other mammals that have adapted to urban life. During the warm months, visitors can enjoy watching ducklings learn the ropes while their mothers stand guard nearby. A small flock of Canada Geese have taken up residence in recent years. People often bring scraps of bread or other foods to share with the ducks and geese, plus the numerous Rock Doves (i.e., pigeons) that convene at the park.

There are also many native birds that visit the park regularly. During the warmer months, fast-flying Chimney Swifts and Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows will circle the pond, catching insects drawn to the water and swooping down to skim water off the surface when thirsty. During the summer, Yellow-crowned Night Herons and Green Herons will patiently stalk the pond margins, catching minnows and crayfish. Both heron species probably breed in the trees on the hillside, as their young are seen regularly in the park after mid-summer.

The park’s forest and wooded areas above the pond provide opportunities for tree and wildflower identification, the seeking of small reptiles and amphibians, and the study of bugs, beetles, and other invertebrates. To find critters, young children can sift through the leaf litter, while older children can overturn logs and rocks. Birds typical of woodlands and forest, including Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, and Tufted Titmice, are found in this area throughout the year.

Male Watercress Darter with breeding coloration

One interesting anecdote about the park is that it was one of two sites where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and faculty from Samford University attempted to establish a new population of the endangered Watercress Darter. This fish is known only in a few locations in Jefferson County and is at risk of extinction. In 1988, 200 darters were released into the pond. When biologists returned in the next few years, they were unable to catch any of the darters. However, it is noted that sampling for the fish is difficult in the pond, and there is a remote possibility that the population survives there.

-R. Scot Duncan