Berlin’s Urban Wildlife

By Rowan Sylva

It was early March, and spring seemed to come all in one day. Around the neo-gothic courthouse which dominates the local park, snowdrops and buttercups had seemingly sprung up over night. I went to buy some breakfast from the local supermarket and saw another sure sign that spring had come; the corporate auguries were as finely attuned to the change of seasons as the snowdrops and the supermarket had been decked-out with garish looking bunnies wielding baskets of chocolate. It was no longer winter. As march turned to April the snowdrops were replaced by bluebells and crocuses. The willows, the last to shed their leaves were the first to regrow them and broke out in spring green. And though the Berliners have not yet donned their summer skirts and are still wrapped in winter coats, the sporadic sun does drive them from their flats.

Spring in Berlin is a great time for observing urban wildlife, which is perhaps more diverse than I might have thought, and in this post, I offer a summery of the local fauna I have been observing.

The bog-standard birds: they too deserve mention.

Pigeons: the local gang is active roosting on the roofs of flats staining building with their excrement and cooing in loud deep voices.

Crows: These large black and grey scavengers are possibly the most numerous bird in Berlin. The local unkindness (apparently that is a collective noun for crows)are the established bosses of the neighborhood. Their ominous caws and large flocks are emblematic of the city’s winter.

Ducks: living the good life, the local crew, of about twenty, floats up and down the river, reaping the bounty of the hominid’s generous bread donations. Now spring has started the iridescent males are fighting. Whenever I see them I am put in mind of a spaniard I knew who would tempt urban ducks with bread before breaking their necks and eating them.

Sparrows: no surprise that these promiscuous little buggers are found here.

Magpies: these large brutes are undoubtedly the most magnificent of the bog-standard birds. White and black, with a long iridescent blue tale and wings, they like to strut their stuff both in the park and on the street.

The not so bog-standard birds

Tits: there are a lot of tits in Berlin, great tits, blue tits, and long tailed tits. The blue tits appear to be the most prolific and are highly visible this time of year, drawing a lot of attention to themselves. Their chirp is much greater than their beak; they make a lot of noise.

Herons: these large majestic blue-grey fish eating wonders, a one of my favorites. Generally Loners these long necked, long legged pescetarians can be seen during the warmer months, hanging out on islands of debris in the middle of Berlin’s canals and rivers.

Falcons: without a doubt the most regal of the local birds. There are a breading pair nesting by the river just across the road. These apex predators control the pigeon, rat and rabbit population. I had an unusual incident at a party a month or so ago when I was explaining to a pair of serbian chicks how impressed I was to see how many falcons were active in the city. They did not believe me that they were here. I was rescued by a Berlin male who proved by use of his smart phone their well established position.

Starlings: these highly social sparkled backed beauties, are back from basking in the warm south for spring time. When the are not gathering in vast murmurations, they can be seen picnicking on worms along riverbanks or in parks.

Blackbirds: almost a bog-standard bird, I’ve never really understood why its called a black bird when the females are, in fact brown. These mildly aggressive, relatively small dudes, prefer nuclear families to larger social gatherings they are relatively common and their song can be heard above the ceaseless chirping of the tits.

Robins: these small yet buxom red breasted betties are not so common, but I have spotted one or two hanging among the tits, keeping a low profile.

Blue Bum: now we come to the mysterious and elusive Blue Bum. When walking along the Panke river right in the middle of urban Berlin, I from time to time spotted a bright turquoise bum speeding upriver, looking for all the world like a colorful humming bird. Blue bum was always traveling too fast to ever be observed properly, and for many months the identity of this exotic beauty has remained a mystery. Until recently that is, when discussing the appearance of blue bum with my neighbor I was able to identify him as an Eisvogel, the small not so common kingfisher. These shy and colorful little bastards are extremely territorial and if another of the species enters its stretch of water it will fight it to the death, attempting to drown it under water. The appearance of blue bum, however, is good news for the river as he or she requires good water quality and the existence of fish.

Stalks: these allegiant baby bringers have not yet arrived from their winter residence in Africa.

Treecreeper: As their name suggests these unusual fellows appear to spend their entire lives erratically scuttling up and down tree trunks. Their plumage is so well camouflaged that they can only be spotted when on the move, a definite weirdo.

Nightingale: Finally this all night party animal can occasionally be heard, singing on the treelined streets, when the drunks stagger home. Rumored to have the greatest vocal range of any bird, the nightingale is a sigil of poets and musicians.

Woodpecker: While the treecreepers are more discrete in bark scouring activities, the woodpeckers exhibits none of their inhibitions, proudly and loudly hacking into wood to extract invertebrates whenever they please.

Mammalia

Rattus Rattus: There is a local crew of common rats who have extensive network of holes down by the river and appear to spend much of their time swimming around. While the well intentioned hominids feed copious amounts of dried bread to the duck gang, I have a well founded suspicion that is in fact the rats that benefit most from this bounty. I have to remind myself that in Europe rats are not quite the evil introduced villains of New Zealand, but a natural part of the ecosystem.

Rabbits: I was surprised to discover that there is a sizable urban population of these diseased pests, the common bunny.

Red Squirrel: they’re red and their squirrels and they’re cute.

Fox: One of these lean, bushy tailed seductive vixens lives a short walk from my apartment, her hole opposite a kindergarten. Despite being a surprisingly large predator, she is a master of not being seen. So the one cool autumn day, caught in morning traffic, I saw her running for the trees.

Canis Lupus Familiaris: the common hund is a serous plague in Berlin, coming in every imaginable shape and size and littering every patch of green with their excrement. I have difficulty imagining what these large carnivores are doing when they are not straining on the leash of their corresponding hominid. Something should really be done to reduce their number.

Homo Berlinis: certainly the most numerous of all the urban fauna the hominid population of Berlin is as diverse as its bird life: some are migratory others are permanent residents. There are long legged loaners and flouncing beauties, and small yet territorial specimens. One thing they appear to have in common is an ample amount of leasure time that they spend lounging in parks or by waterways.

  Pictures by   Daniela Gast

Pictures by Daniela Gast