Rare Birds Raise Secret Brood in Birmingham

black redstart bird nest birmingham photo

The black-redstart population in Birmingham has four new chicks. Photo via the BBC

Like a celebrity couple sneaking off to a remote island to wed or give birth away from the paparazzi and the spotlight, a breeding pair of one of Britain's rarest birds has "successfully raised four chicks at a secret location in the centre of Birmingham," reports the BBC, which has a video on its website of the baby birds feeding. It's a hopeful sign for a species that flourished during and after the Blitz, but suffered as its human neighbors rebuilt their lives in the post-war period.According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, there are no more than 70 breeding pairs of black redstarts -- small, robin-sized birds that feed on insects -- in all of England and Wales, and just three pairs in Birmingham.

Nesting in Old Industrial Sites
Interestingly, the redstart's fortunes in Britain have risen and fallen nearly exactly in opposition to that of the country's cities. The birds favor nesting in nooks of crannies of abandoned buildings, preferably near water, and have seen their population fall as dilapidated factories, warehouses, and other industrial sites have been refurbished and torn down, The Guardian wrote recently:

Slender, with grey, black and white plumage and a rusty-red tail, the protected bird had a small stronghold in the steel city [of Sheffield] during the mid- to late-20th century. Normally a resident of Alpine scree slopes, it took a liking to the Yorkshire city's temporary wildernesses -- much like post-war London bombsites -- during the trauma of the steel industry's collapse. Redstarts could be heard from Bessemer House, where the celebrated system for converting iron to steel was pioneered.

Once a popular home for the birds, Sheffield is now the center of an effort to bring the nationally rare species back by creating a network of green roofs on new and redeveloped buildings, imitating the sparse, wild vegetation the birds favor. According to The Guardian, the black redstarts "have become a high-profile indicator of green roof success in London, where the bird's bombsite toehold has expanded thanks to the new, high-rise form of urban greenery."

Green roofs in Birmingham would likewise help stitch back together the habitat fragmented as the bird's "traditional" nesting sites in the city -- open arid urban wasteland and old buildings -- are given new life. Hopefully the discovery of the new brood will boost interest in incorporating redstart-friendly elements into future redevelopment plans.

More about urban nature:
An Urban Orchard Appears in London
Indianapolis Gives Up 53 Acres of Urban Real Estate - To a Nature Reserve
Urban Forest Map: Wikipedia + Google Maps, But For Trees
City Trees: Photographers Explore the Urban Forest (Slideshow)
Bird-Friendly Building Certification
Urban Parks Help Defeat Inequality
The TH Interview: Beth Fetterley of the Urban Ecology Center

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