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PHL - Urban Bird Sanctuary

There is a direct link between the health of bird populations and human health and well-being.

The inaugural bioPhilly 360 Mapping Charette took place last night and our Geodesign Strategist, Veronica Anderson, volunteered to create and present a bird habitat map for the entire city, which re-imagines Philly as a place of wild nature, habitat for a multitude of species living with and among us humans.

Birds present wonderful opportunities for human connection to nature in cities, however birds also face many challenges to survival in urban areas. Recent research explores the connection between birds and the city, and suggests ways to improve the important connection between birds and urban habitats.

- Julia Triman, Biophilic Cities

Fall Bird Migration 

The Atlantic Flyway is one of the most important bird migration routes in the world.

Every fall an incredible number of birds cross paths with one third of the United States population...

Spring Bird Migration 

And every spring, the birds migrate back home, crossing paths again with so many humans.

We are an urban species and our cities have been built to suit us, but what about the other inhabitants of our streets and parks?

Mapping Bird Habitat

Much research has been done about different types of birds and what kinds of habitats suit these species. Programs for preservation of habitat have been developed at global, continental, and local scales.

Philadelphia’s Role

With relative proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and an abundance of natural spaces, Philadelphia's metropolitan area represents a significant node in the migration of many bird species.

Geographically speaking, programs that influence waterbirds can be valuable in Philadelphia, but songbirds, for example are likely to not be a specific priority.

Philadelphia is also an important area of urban activity because the Audubon has identified the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge as a globally important point in overall bird population health.

Philadelphia has a huge variety of publicly and privately owned green spaces, some of which have also been identified as important bird areas.

The love of nature - biophilia - originally directed Philadelphia's growth into what William Penn hoped would be a "Green Country Town," with five public squares that still remain today.

Habitats for People and Birds

Looking at bird sightings recorded on, a popular forum for bird-watchers, we are able to assess where most sightings occur and begin to develop an understanding of where habitat is most favorable for both birds and humans.

Overlaying these sightings with data about bird deaths, begins to tell another story, a tragic one of deception and illusion.

The role of Architecture & Design

Finding a correlation between large numbers of bird sightings with green spaces and frequent street trees may lead us to believe that greening the city is the best way to co-habitate with our avian neighbors.

But what service are we doing if our buildings are so reflective that they become nearly invisible to the birds and the panes of glass become their death sentence? Witness the small sampling of data on bird collisions in one downtown area of the city that was gathered over a short period of research and know that this is just part of a larger phenomenon.

Where Do We Go From Here?

City councilpeople, schools, and other city agencies will be important allies in a biophilic approach to creating better bird habitats.

Both directing future development and mitigating current habitat conditions will make a difference in human and avian populations in Philadelphia.


See what other cities are doing:

Check Veronica’s presentation to see how powerful tool GIS can be. We can visualize, analyze and connect existing data to better understand bird movement in the city, and promote smart urban planning and designing in order to prevent bird collisions and deaths.