Bird watchers get glimpse at city's offerings

It's just a spit of woods buffering a creek that winds through a cluster of apartments and houses in Northwest Baltimore. But it's a cozy winter home to the city's birds.

These aren't the average urban pigeons. These are hawks, crows, sparrows, doves and woodpeckers that stay all seasons in Baltimore, foraging for insects, seeds and berries, or hunting for rodents or even the eggs or nestlings of other birds.

A handful of humans, who also live in the city year-round, ventured out in the chilly air late Saturday afternoon to get a look at and appreciate them. It was the first in a series of bird walks planned by Baltimore Green Space, a nonprofit group founded in 2007 that works to protect community gardens, pocket parks and other open spaces adopted by city residents.

"This time of year in a wooded area like this, you could see 15 to 20 species," said Mike Hudson, a City College sophomore who learned birding from his outdoors-loving grandfather and guided the group. "All the birds here now are likely here to stay. Those that were leaving for the winter left sometime in November."

Never out of eyesight of an apartment complex, a house or a road, the group spotted 11 different kinds of bird and heard three more species in the span of an hour and a half, according to the day's official bird counter, Roberta Strickler, a Baltimore Green Space board member and city resident.

The sojourn into this wooded and grassy area off Pimlico Road was mostly for fun, but the group plans more outings that could also serve as a reminder that people must share the city with feathered, and other, creatures, said Miriam Avins, founder of Baltimore Green Space. The group also soon plans to get an accounting of all the forest patches in Baltimore.

"They're valuable," she said of the wooded lots that dot the city. "Looking at the habitat is a first step to show that there is more than poison ivy out there."

That wasn't a hard sell to this crowd. Olyssa Starry of Pigtown and Vera Jaffe of Cheswolde have already been appreciating the birds in their own backyards.

They carried binoculars and a bird book and their own bit of avian education. When Hudson demonstrated a bird call, Starry quickly whispered "screech owl" just before Hudson identified the sound himself.

Hudson was trying to attract songbirds, which are owl prey. The songbirds will often fly nearby to get a look at the owl roost before fleeing.

Hudson said that he and others have counted 164 species near his Patterson Park-area home. Some nest high in trees, some much closer to the ground. They need little territory, but he said, of course, if food becomes short they can fly.

They do adapt to their conditions. Starry noted that some chickadees now call at higher pitches, perhaps to overcome the hum that never really quiets in urban areas.

By the end of the walk, called off a bit early because of the cool weather and dwindling daylight, all seem satisfied with the sightings.

David Myers, who lives near this stretch of woods hidden from the road by an apartment complex, said he'd driven by many times and never given any thought to what was there.

"The number of birds in the city is incredible," he said. "I think we did pretty well today."

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