As a child growing up in London, David Lindo was the odd man out when it came to interests. Unlike other boys, he didn’t live and breathe sports and games. Instead, he watched birds.
Even his own family had trouble comprehending his enchantment with the sparrows, robins and crows that inhabited their urban neighborhood. Kids at school called him “Bird Brain,” but Lindo just couldn’t ignore the wondrous world of winged creatures that others barely noticed. He spent hours observing them, devouring books about them and teaching himself everything he could.
“I think my interest in birds was with me before I was born,” Lindo says. “My mother found it strange that her son pestered her to buy binoculars and stuff. She thought I would grow out of it, but little did she know I would grow into it.”
Today Lindo, aka the “Urban Birder,” is still slightly out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to his reverence for birds, but he’s considered a whole lot cooler now. In fact, he’s found a way to translate his bird-nerd calling into a meaningful livelihood inspiring others to see the feathered world as he does.
The 51-year-old Lindo, who still lives in London, now appears regularly on TV and radio, offers courses on urban birding, leads local birding tours and longer tours to cities around the world, and has even written a book called (what else?) “The Urban Birder.”
“There’s such a disconnect around the world,” Lindo says. “People are buried in their iPads and iPhones, and think that nature is only out in the countryside or on television. They don’t see birds in cities because they don’t expect to see them. My mission is to communicate that wildlife — in particular, birds — can be found in any urban area anywhere in the world. I want people to stop for five minutes, look up and open their eyes. They’ll be surprised by what they might find.”
Lindo leads an urban birding tour. (Photo: The Urban Birder)
A wealth of wings
Many of us equate city birds with ubiquitous “pests” like pigeons and sparrows, not exotic species usually associated with wild areas. But Lindo is keen to dispel that myth. He recalls participating in a challenge with the BBC World Service to find as many birds as possible within a one-mile radius of London’s famed Trafalgar Square.
“The presenter thought we’d see only about five species, but after two hours I think we’d clocked in at 55,” Lindo says. “He was completely and utterly surprised by the wealth of birds to be found.”
In fact, of the 600 bird species recorded in Britain since 1900, Lindo notes that only about five or six haven’t been sighted in an urban area. Londoners, for example, are likely to see everything from ospreys and woodpeckers to owls and peregrine falcons.
Oh, and those pest birds? Don’t be so quick to discount them as not worth watching, Lindo says.
“Pigeons, for example, are much maligned,” he says. “They’ve been called rats with wings. But they are decreasing in London because people are putting up barriers outside buildings and they’re running out of nesting sites. I tell people to look at how intelligent they are. They’ve learned how to use subways and get on and off the train at certain stops, and they’ve learned to recognize the faces of people who feed them.”
The Urban Birder also travels to other cities, such as Madrid, to lead tours. (Photo: Vanesa Palacios)
Lindo’s newest venture is an online Urban Birder Club that he hopes will connect city birdwatchers around the world when it launches in May 2015. He’s also smack in the middle of helping Britain choose its long overdue national bird. The robin was named the nation’s favorite bird back in the ’60s, but it’s not an official national symbol, Lindo says. Recently, voters finished choosing six favorites from a list of 60, and next spring the top picks will go “beak to beak” to determine an official winner.
As always, Lindo’s core mission remains the same: to inspire urban dwellers to find magic and spiritual connection in the natural world around them.
“There’s nothing greater than seeing a bird you never expected to see out your window,” he says. “Don’t worry about what you’re looking at, especially if you’re a beginner. If you hear a strange bird song, just enjoy it. There’s no curriculum, no exams to pass, no standards to reach. At the end of the day, it’s about your mental well-being and feeling whole. It’s about looking up and believing that anything can turn up anywhere, anytime.”
Why do birds want to live in cities anyway?
Not all humans relish the idea of sharing their urban turf with birds. Partial credit goes to old superstitions about creepy birds (think crows and vultures), and some credit surely goes to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film “The Birds,” which Lindo admits scared him silly as a kid. “To this day, I have a problem with birds flying around my head,” he says.
Birds, though, make no such distinctions between human and wild habitats, Lindo says. It’s all good from their perspective. “Within cities, there are often relics of the countryside that birds continue flocking to — bits of woodlands, grasslands, rivers and lakes that the city was built around,” he says.
Even the manmade stuff like buildings may resemble cliffs to birds looking for a roosting spot. Plus, cities are often superior breeding grounds because they offer more food and fewer predators than natural habitats.
“One of the things I want to do is get governments and planners to think about developing towns that are good for nature, such as creating buildings with holes that birds can nest in and parks with wild areas,” Lindo says. “It’s also nice for people to have that green-lung effect.”
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