In fact, there is often much wildlife to see — not including Pizza Rat and his or her ilk — even in urban or suburban areas, which can often seem so far away from nature, often purposely planned as such. But nature is everywhere and bird, tree, and insect identification make for a great way to get kids connected to the outside world. Where we live in Jersey we often see cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, doves, American robins, and on occasion, predator birds like hawks. I even saw a vulture once out on a jog — on someone's front yard!
In addition to identifying and naming them — Audubon has an online identification guide for birds by the way, check it out — if you or your wee ones keep an eye out, you can catch these animals (and others) interacting with and in their environs. My two kids enjoy having "Nature Club Journals" — of course, as is often the case with young kids, these often get lost, forgotten, stepped, on, etc., but I will say that if I ever do point out an animal (no matter how "ordinary") the kids enjoy watching them do their thing. The American robins, for example, love to hang out in the backyard and scrounge for worms fairly regularly. (Warning, it's not exactly a gazelle being taken down in the savannah by a lioness, but the birds do pull up squirming, struggling worms and just gobble them up — so be aware, ye who are easily grossed-out.)
Along those lines, WNYC launched a "Wild NYC" project and spoke to several scientists about what New Yorkers (and others in the larger metro area) could find in their environs. They launched a #WildNYC hashtag and you can find the accompanying images they received here. Chris Bowser, with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservations's Hudson River Estuary Programs talked about a citizen science project that local families can participate in, tallying American eels.
The World Science Festival also took part in putting the spotlight on local wildlife during the Great Fish Count, in which I had the chance to participate as a volunteer. Dr. Peter Park from Nyack College headed the count at our location (there were several throughout the boroughs), at the Englewood Boat Basin in the Palisades. He and his team brought up sand shrimp, tomcod fish, and anchovies, among a few other critters. Tomcod fish, Dr. Park said, managed to adapt best to the period when the Hudson was at its worst state of pollution. It's much cleaner these days (though some of the litter pollution along its shores is still pretty obvious) and finding anchovies, he also said, is good news for the estuary (which is what the Hudson is) as it means the river's levels of oxygenation are healthy enough for the wee fish to live in.
The latter emphasized the human impact that we create for surrounding wildlife and ourselves. Noticing "Wild NYC" and local indeed all local wildlife is just a matter of being aware and taking note and enjoying everything that's outside! Enjoy — and please, feel free to send along some pictures of what you and yours find in your back
(Check back in with us as we hope to feature Dr. Park in our "Under the Microscope" features section to have him tell us more about the fish he studies!)