via Telegraph : For encounters with unusual birds, there is no need to go off the beaten track to some remote wilderness lodge or wildlife reserve in Africa or South America. Even the most time-poor and casual of bird-lovers can spot these avian beauties in the world’s great cities – and enjoy a decent cup of coffee at the same time. All they have to do is look up.
During my years as the “Urban Birder”, on Springwatch, Countryfile and The One Show among other programmes, I have visited more than 270 cities to sample their ornithological riches – and I have yet to be disappointed. In the United States, I once watched a red-naped sapsucker probe a solitary palm tree on a tiny traffic island on Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood; it should have been in the forests of the Rocky Mountains, more than 1,000 miles away.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I discovered a building site close to my hotel where I notched up an incredible 60 species, including some on the migration path to Britain. Common whitethroat, sedge warbler and red-backed shrike were among them.
Perhaps my most mind-blowing urban discovery was a population of long-eared owls which spends the winter in northern Serbia. One town, Kikinda, is known as “The owl capital of the world”. Walking around the snow-covered main square was like being on the set of a Harry Potter film, with more than 800 long-eared owls using the trees as daytime roosts. Having taken many birding groups to the city since, I have been made a “Son of Kikinda” by the locals and re-christened David Lindovich.
These are unusual highlights, but new scientific evidence published this week suggests that even the most ordinary of birds can have a positive effect on our mental health and wellbeing in an urban setting. The study, led by Dr Daniel Cox from the University of Exeter, found that lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress were associated with the number of birds people saw in the afternoon, irrespective of the species.
Casual bird encounters can, it seems, improve your life as well as your holiday. Here, then, is my selection of six cities around the world that are big for birding, each with a recommended place to stay:
1. Malaga, Spain
Enjoy a beer near the Roman theatre, in the heart of the old city, and watch black wheatears and blue rock thrushes forage on the walls of the ruins. Walking the crowded streets of Malaga, you will hear the squawks of the many monk parakeets, the chirps of house sparrows and the scratchy song of the black redstart from the rooftops.
Look up, and among the plentiful yellow-legged gulls you might glimpse a drifting booted eagle or one of the peregrines that nest on Malaga Cathedral. Scan the ledges of this magnificent Renaissance building and you might see one of the mighty falcons pluck an unfortunate pigeon from its perch. They are of a smaller type than those seen in Britain, with an attractive, bluer back and a peach-coloured breast.
The city council, recognising the tourism value of Malaga’s wildlife, has created several conservation areas. One is at the mouth of the Guadalhorce River on the south-east edge of the city, covering 67 acres. Here you will find Malaga’s star bird, the endangered white-headed duck. As many as 15 pairs live in the reserve and are thrilling to watch.
Hotel choice: Room Mate Larios is an institution in Malaga, popular with visitors and locals alike, the latter of which you’ll find in the buzzing bar and roof terrace. Interiors are bold, contemporary and work well with the original Art Deco features of the building, which is centrally located and handy for everything; from £69 per night. Read a full review and check availability.
2. Berlin, Germany
The German capital has the largest urban population of goshawks in the world – and the best place to see this alpha predator is in the Tiergarten, the city’s 250-acre version of Kensington Gardens, where up to five pairs breed. Also look out for flocks of greenfinch, the odd great spotted woodpecker and, in summer, common redstarts and handsome pied flycatchers parading in the woodlands.
But the goshawks are the main draw, even if most Berliners are unaware of their presence. Resembling buzzard-sized sparrowhawks, they can be seen swooping through the trees or quietly perched overhead. In the height of summer, the piercing, begging calls of young goshawks cut through the noise of human activity in the park. Despite their apparent confidence, they are inherently wary, melting away after revealing themselves briefly.
Hotel choice: Das Stue Hotel is a reasonably priced five-star on the south-western edge of the Tiergarten, giving immediate access to a vast green wonderland; from £184. Read a full review and check availability.
3. Tallinn, Estonia
At the airport in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, you will see pictures of birds adorning the walls and hear the “piped” songs of common rosefinch and thrush nightingale through the PA system in the lavatories. In fact, the airport’s logo is a bird.
In the city’s parks, expect to see and hear icterine warblers, pied flycatchers and, over the many park lakes, terns – common, Arctic and little – that nest on the rooftops of office blocks and hotels. Tallinn is also a coastal city, so make time to visit Rocca al Mare Beach where in winter you may spot the enigmatic bearded reedling, a kingfisher and even a reed-haunting bittern.
Don’t miss Paljassaare Special Conservation Area, comprising reedbed, lakes, wet meadow and coastline which are home to more than 230 species. In summer expect marsh-loving birds such as red-necked grebe, penduline tit, Blyth’s reed warbler and common rosefinch. The adult male rosefinches are splendid with their red plumage and distinctive song, echoing from the tops of riparian vegetation.
Hotel choice: Stay centrally at the elegant Hotel Telegraaf, just 70 steps from Tallinn’s medieval square, then hire bikes to get to Paljassaare; from £108. Read a full review and check availability.
4. New York, United States
In addition to its vast swathes of concrete and steel, the Big Apple has 28,000 acres of parkland and 14 miles of beaches. Helpfully, it lies along the Atlantic Flyway – one of four major migration routes taken by neotropical birds transiting between Canada and the United States in the north, and Central and South America. Millions of birds can pass through the city during migration times.
As a result, anything can turn up anywhere. One recent example was the chuck-will’s widow (a member of the nightjar family) that broke off its journey for a few days to perch on a tree branch just a few blocks from Times Square.
In Central Park, you can spend a spring day wandering around in the Ramble area and clock 120 species including porthonotary, black-throated green and Wilson’s warbler; the latter are often seen alongside scarlet tanagers, downy woodpeckers and northern cardinals.
But the bird action is not just confined to Manhattan. In Brooklyn, Prospect Park has a lovely selection of woodland birds including brown creeper and northern flicker, a species of woodpecker. Or head to Queens and the wild expanses of Jamaica Bay, where waterbirds gather in winter, with thousands of snow geese heading the cast.
Hotel choice: 1 Hotel Central Park, a luxurious eco hotel filled with plants and covered in ivy, is as close as you’ll get to glamping in Central Park; from £211. Read a full review and check availability.
5. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina is a paradise for the urban birder. Wandering through any park will bring you into contact with rufous horneros, Argentina’s national bird, and the ubiquitous eared doves that jostle for space with picazuro pigeons.
For a real treat, visit the wetlands of Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve in the capital, Buenos Aires, which boasts the highest number of species anywhere in the city. This area of reclaimed land, sandwiched between the Rio de La Plata and city skyscrapers, is a truly urban wetland. To observe the birds, simply walk along the main street that runs parallel to it.
The list of species reads like a compendium of South American birds – but the one to look out for is the coscoroba swan, the smallest in the world. It looks like a slim domestic goose with a duck’s bill, but has a distinct swan-like character. The bird’s name is onomatopoeiac, resembling its honking goose-like call: “Cos-cor-ooo”.
Hotel choice: In the cultural heart of the city but within easy reach of Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve, Loi Suites Recoleta – with its airy white interiors – is the place to stay; from £125. Read a full review and check availability.
6. Darwin, Australia
This coastal city faces the Timor Sea and is closer to Timor in Southeast Asia than it is to Brisbane on the east coast. Most visitors see it as the gateway to Kakadu National Park, a three-hour drive to the east, but the city itself has many avian delights and is a great preparation for learning to identify the birds found in Kakadu.
In Darwin, you will see masked lapwings padding around on almost every available patch of green, conspicuous by their peculiar flappy yellow facial wattles. In streets and parks, inquisitive magpie larks are evident – looking like a cross between a magpie and a starling on steroids.
Darwin Botanic Gardens is a good place to start. Of the many species inhabiting its 42 acres, not all will be instantly recognisable. You will doubtless come across orange-footed scrubfowl shuffling noisily through the undergrowth or strutting on the park lawns like giant chicken-shaped moorhens. If you are lucky, you might spy a gorgeous, very large and very scarce rufous owl roosting in the forest area, surprisingly out in the open.
This is a coastal city, so check out East Point Reserve where you could be watching seabirds such as lesser frigatebirds or brown boobies. More likely sightings, however, are silver gulls and, during migration periods, whiskered and white-winged terns which skim the water’s surface.
Hotel choice: Skycity Darwin, a sprawling lagoon resort, is within walking distance of the Botanic Gardens and on the same stretch of coast as East Point Reserve; from £68. Read a full review and check availability.