Biodiversity In the Heart of Downtown

Giant Cone Flowers
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
- Photo Credit: Greg Harber
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross

The human-wildlife connection can be a new experience for some in an urban park. Expert park designers chose plants for Railroad Park that provide plenty of natural food for the birds – seeds and berries – so the birds can feed themselves. The park has created a green island in a sea of gray for birds and other mobile creatures. The 19-acre oasis invites creatures on-the-wing to find cover and food in the park’s waters, shrubs, and trees. Bird watchers keep an eye on the park and have found some unusual visitors. Chimney Swifts are seen on summer evenings flying above the park and dipping into the large lake for a sip of water before they head to their evening roosts.  Yellow-crowned Night Herons feed at the wetland by the pavilion. In the winter, Savannah and Song Sparrows eat the seeds of the native grasses in the park and the weedy areas in the railroad right-of-way that borders the north side of the park. American Kestrels have been observed along this right-of-way, too. They are feeding on mice and insects in these grasses. A female Bufflehead (a species of duck) was observed one afternoon in the large lake, but it did not stay long. Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Sora, Swamp Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, and shy Wood Ducks have stopped to rest, eat, and drink. The more common Mallards turn their curly tails up and bob their heads underwater in the ponds to feast on roots, tubers, aquatic insects, and seeds.

The variety of plants, topography, and water features in the park provide numerous habitats to suit the needs of these birds. Wildlife in an urban setting is separated by roads, noise, and moving vehicles similar to how a wild deer population would be separated from their natural migration by a new highway or a grand-scale flood. As cities grow, habitats once continuous become fragmented. Although the park is isolated from other green space, linear paths to other urban places are being developed that will connect both wildlife and humans to other parks. Long linear pathways can assist animal travel as well as human travel. A piece of the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail, the 1st Avenue South Greenway at the Cut, will connect Railroad Park to Sloss Furnace National Landmark, among other urban destinations.

-Francesca Gross