Birds in the City

Ink Berry
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Mallard Ducks in park ponds
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Washington Hawthorn berries in fall
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Washington Hawthorn on pond (Crataegus phaenopyrum)
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Berries of wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Wood Duck in park pond
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Native Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross

Urban birds, those resourceful, low-maintenance animals, love the new 19-acre open space in downtown. Birdwatchers in Railroad Park enjoy taking a break from work to search out these durable birds, regardless of season. The Birmingham Audubon Society has spotted more than 18 birds species within the first two years of the park’s opening.

Migrant birds use the park as a resting place during long flights to their nesting or wintering grounds in spring and fall. Resident birds stay here all year round but have different needs in different seasons. A few species that use the park’s green spaces wouldn’t be in an urban setting at all were it not for this pocket of habitat.

If you’re just starting to notice the birds, take a look in the various plant groupings around the park. Some birds will go for the seed-bearing pink Muhly grass, while others are attracted to the dark berries of the Wax Myrtle or the bright orange berries of the Washington Hawthorne. Some, including migrating herons and ducks, prefer the pond and stream water for feeding and nesting.

The Cornel Lab of Ornithology’s website,, is a great website for beginning urban birders. Visit the site to see photos and videos of common urban birds, read life histories, and, most important, listen to bird songs. Start with the short list of birds below by RRP habitat to learn your basic urban birds. Then look up and out to find more. You can report your bird sightings and ask questions at the Birmingham Audubon Society.

Birds by Food

Insects/seeds in wetlands, lakes, and streams

Buffelhead Duck – a winter migrant; dives underwater to catch aquatic invertebrates
Yellow-crowned Night Heron – eats crustaceans, insects, fish, snails, and earthworms
Sora Rail – a marsh habitat; eats crustaceans and seeds
Swamp Sparrow – winters in the wetland; eats seeds, fruits, and aquatic invertebrates
Common Yellowthroat – prefers wet thickets; eats insects and spiders

Seeds from native grasses and coneflowers

Eastern Meadowlark – seen in the native grasses
House Finch – occasionally seen; eats seeds on the ground
Mourning Dove – common; forages for seeds on the ground
Rock Pigeon – common; eats seeds on the ground and food scraps
Savannah Sparrow – winter bird; switches from insects to a diet of mostly small seeds in the winter
Song Sparrow – winter bird; eats mainly seeds and fruits

Insects and invertebrates found near the grasses and near lights at night

Northern Mockingbird – common; eats mainly insects in summer but switches to eating mostly fruit in fall and winter
European Starlings – eats nearly anything but focuses on insects and other invertebrates when available; common prey include grasshoppers, beetles, flies, caterpillars, snails, earthworms, millipedes, and spiders
Chimney Swift – late-summer bird
Yellow Warbler – eats mostly insects it picks from foliage or captures on short flights or while hovering to reach leaves

Mice are nice for these raptors, and smaller birds, too

American Kestrel
Red-tailed Hawk (seen year-round)
Cooper’s Hawk (seen year-round)
Peregrine Falcon (winter)

 Birds by the Season  

Resident birds: Northern Mockingbirds and Mourning Doves, seen on almost every trip. House Finches on occasion. Rock Pigeons and European Starlings are abundant.

Late Summer only: Chimney Swifts are seen every evening flying above the park, 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.

Winter birds: Savannah and Song Sparrows eat the seeds of the native grasses in the park and in 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 Duck was observed one afternoon in the large lake, but it did not stay long.

Birds seen from time to time during migration because the park provides the habitat that they need to feed and rest: Look for Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Sora Rail, and Swamp Sparrow (winter) at the wetland and Eastern Meadowlark in the native grasses.

Raptors observed flying above/through the park, foraging for prey, include: Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk (both year-round species) and Peregrine Falcon (winter).

List by Greg Harber, Birmingham Audubon Society