Much of the wildlife we see every day blends into the background, simply because we aren’t looking for it. Next time you are out and about, whether you’re walking to work or strolling through your local park, stop for a minute. Look around, listen carefully, take a deep breath and absorb the sights and sounds of the world around you. Can you hear birds singing? Are seagulls cawing? Can you see squirrels scurrying, or insects buzzing?
Here are some of our most common, everyday species that you may see out and about – and there’s more to them than you might think.
Pigeons are reviled among some city-dwellers, but in reality they have benefited our species and we have a great deal to thank them for. Charles Darwin studied them extensively to develop his theory of evolution, and in both world wars pigeons were frequently used to carry vital communications that saved thousands of lives. Of the 70 Dickins medals awarded to animals for gallantry, 32 went to pigeons. As well as being capable of extraordinary heroism, pigeons are also highly intelligent. With the right training, they are able to distinguish music by Bach and Stravinsky and paintings by Monet and Picasso! They are also a valuable food source for foxes and birds of prey such as sparrow hawks and peregrine falcons.
The red fox is our only wild member of the dog family. They are omnivorous, feeding on small mammals, birds, frogs, earthworms and carrion, as well as berries and fruit. Foxes are just as likely to be seen in towns and cities as they are in the countryside, and are now well-known for scavenging food scraps from bins, as well as catching feral pigeons and brown rats. Males (dogs) bark, but females (vixens) make a spine-chilling scream, heard mostly in the winter when their courtship takes place.
You could be forgiven for thinking that gulls are everywhere. In fact, most gull species are in decline, and it is only their versatility that enables them to survive. Herring gulls are the familiar, large gulls of seaside towns. They used to nest on cliff tops, but now increasingly use rooftops, especially those on warehouses and office blocks near the coast. Nesting closer to us gives the impression that they are increasing in numbers, but the national breeding population of herring gulls has suffered a steep, long-term decline. In fact, the herring gull is red-listed as a priority species for conservation.