Chirp, Chirp, Squawk: Rediscovering Nature in the City

By Olivia Clarke

“Look!” my classmate said excitedly, pointing up into a tree in the Montgomery courtyard. “A crow!”

We were on a bird-watching field trip for our urban ecology class, led by a member of the Audubon Society. Our guide had arrived in our classroom thirty minutes earlier to give us an overview of Portland’s bird species. Then he led us outside to observe the ornithology of the campus. Our inner birders awakened, we announced each sighting with greater enthusiasm. We gleefully identified “Rock Pigeons” and “Glaucous-winged Gulls” as if they were rare and exotic specimens.

After a steep hike into the hills south of campus, we reached a clearing where we could look out over the entire city to glimpse Hood, Adams, and St. Helens in the distance. Our guide called us over to a tree to train our binoculars on a little black bird with bright red eyes and wings to match. “Ooh,” we all crooned.

We tend to think of ourselves as separate from nature, especially here in the city – “urban” and “wildlife” seem like contradictory terms. But if that disconnect were real, I don’t think my classmates and I would have found ourselves huddled together to admire a Spotted Towhee against a mingled backdrop of buildings and mountains.

Nature is persistent. We forget that it sings songs around us constantly, even in the middle of Portland. I hear these songs chirped and squawked around campus all the time, now that I’ve adjusted my ears.

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