Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 1823–1846 | Cite as

Urban birds and planting design: strategies for incorporating ecological goals into residential landscapes

  • Joshua F. CerraEmail author
  • Rhiannon Crain


Private residential property occupies a major part of the urban land base, yet considerable potential remains for improving the ecological performance of private gardens and landscapes. Ecologically-oriented approaches to design of residential properties, however, are only valuable if they are compatible with private landowner interests and needs–otherwise they may never be implemented. Landscape designers would benefit from more comprehensive guidance for ecologically-oriented planting design that best fits within residential settings. This paper identifies plant-based design strategies that may improve avian species richness, reviews scientific literature supporting these options, and describes three years of structured design research to evaluate how these strategies can be compatible with the programmatic and aesthetic goals of residential landowners. We worked with three New York State communities beginning with a community/neighborhood-scale visioning and goal setting process and ending with parcel-scale landscape designs. The project, in total, developed residential landscape designs for 50 private properties, each incorporating urban ecological benefits in combination with the interests and needs of the owner. We share here a set of planting design strategies for enhancing avian habitat on residential private property generated during this process. They include planting strategies that: a) contribute to landscape networks; b) build vegetative structure at sites; c) provide microrefugia; d) optimize forage resource availability; and e) enhance plant diversity. Qualitative and quantitative evaluation of design results for the strategies is discussed.


Urban avian habitat Residential landscape Planting design Private gardens Landscape design 



We would like to thank the many property owners who participated in this project and our collaborators at Cornell Cooperative Extension. We would also like to thank the reviewers of this manuscript for their valuable comments, as well as reviewers of a preliminary conference proceedings paper that this manuscript builds on.

This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Smith Lever project number 2012-13-119. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


  1. Alberti M (2008) Advances in urban ecology: integrating humans and ecological in urban ecosystems. Springer, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Society of Landscape Architects (2012) Designing neighborhoods for people and wildlife. Video Accessed 23 December 2015 at:
  3. Baird JW (1980) The selection and use of fruit by birds in an eastern forest. Wilson Bulletin 92(1):63–73Google Scholar
  4. Beck T (2013) Principles of ecological landscape design. Island Press, WashingtonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beckerman AP, Boots M, Gaston KJ (2007) Urban bird declines and the fear of cats. Anim Conserv 10(3):320–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beissinger SR, Osborne DR (1982) Effects of. Urbanization on Avian Community Organization 84(1):75–83Google Scholar
  7. Belaire JA, Whelan CJ, Minor ES (2014) Having our yards and sharing them too: the collective effects of yards on native bird species in an urban landscape. Ecol Appl 24(8):2132–2143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Beumer C, Martens P (2016) BIMBY’s first steps: a pilot study on the contribution of residential front-yards in Phoenix and Maastricht to biodiversity, ecosystem services and urban sustainability. Urban Ecosystems 19(1):45–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bonnington C, Gaston KJ, Evans KL (2013) Fearing the feline: Domestic cats reduce avian fecundity through trait-mediated indirect effects that increase nest predation by other species. J Appl Ecol 50(1):15–24. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12025 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Booth NK, Hiss JE (2012) Residential landscape architecture: design process for the private residence, 6th edn. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  11. Borgmann KL, Rodewald AD (2004) Nest predation in an urbanizing landscape: The role of exotic shrubs. Ecol Appl 14(6):1757–1765CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Burghardt KT, Tallamy DW, Shriver GW (2009) Impact of native plants on bird and butterfly biodiversity in suburban landscapes. Conserv Biol 23(1):219–224CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Burghardt KT, Tallamy DW, Philips C, Shropshire KJ (2010) Non-native plants reduce abundance, richness, and host specialization in lepidopteran communities. Ecosphere 1:art11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carbó-Ramírez P, Zuria I (2011) The value of small urban greenspaces for birds in a Mexican city. Landsc Urban Plan 100(3):213–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chamberlain DE, Cannon a R, Toms MP (2004) Associations of garden birds with gradients in garden habitat and local habitat. Ecography 27(5):589–600. doi: 10.1111/j.0906-7590.2004.03984.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chamberlain DE, Gough S, Vaughan H, Vickery JA, Appleton GF (2007) Determinants of bird species richness in public green spaces: Capsule Bird species richness showed consistent positive correlations with site area and rough grass. Bird Study 54(1):87–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chamberlain DE, Cannon AR, Toms MP,  Leech DI (2009) Avian productivity in urban landscapes: a review and meta‐analysis. Ibis 151:1–18Google Scholar
  18. Cody ML (1974) Competition and the structure of bird communities, vol 7. Press, Princeton UniversityGoogle Scholar
  19. Cook EM, Hall SJ, Larson KL (2012) Residential landscapes as social-ecological systems: a synthesis of multi-scalar interactions between people and their home environment. doi: 10.1007/s11252-011-0197-0 Google Scholar
  20. Cooper CB, Dickinson J, Phillips T, Bonney R (2007) Citizen science as a tool for conservation in residential ecosystems. Ecol Soc 12(2):11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Daniels GD, Kirkpatrick JB (2006) Does variation in garden characteristics influence the conservation of birds in suburbia? Biol Conserv 133(3):326–335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Day TD (1995) Bird species composition and abundance in relation to native plants in urban gardens. Hamilton New Zealand Notornis 42(3):175–186Google Scholar
  23. Dearborn DC, Kark S (2010) Motivations for Conserving Urban Biodiversity. Conserv Biol 24(2):432–440CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Deming ME, Swaffield SR (2011) Landscape architecture research: Inquiry, strategy, design. Hoboken, N.J.WileyGoogle Scholar
  25. Dirr M (1998) Manual of woody landscape plants: their identification, ornamental characteristics, culture, propagation and uses. 5th Ed Rev. Champaign, Ill: Stipes Pub.Google Scholar
  26. Dobson LL, La Sorte FA, Manne LL, Hawkins BA (2015) The diversity and abundance of North American bird assemblages fail to track changing productivity. Ecology 96(4):1105–1114CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Dorney JR, Guntenspergen GR, Keough JR, Stearns F (1984) Composition and structure of an urban woody plant community. Urban Ecology 8(1–2):69–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Evans KL, Newson SE, Gaston KJ (2009) Habitat influences on urban avian assemblages. Ibis 151(1):19–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Felson AJ, Pickett STA (2005) Designed experiments: new approaches to studying urban ecosystems. Front Ecol Environ 3(10):549–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fernandez-Juricic E (2000) Avifaunal Urban Use of Wooded Streets in a Landscape. Conserv Biol 14(2):513–521CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fontana S, Sattler T, Bontadina F, Moretti M (2011) How to manage the urban green to improve bird diversity and community structure. Landsc Urban Plan 101(3):278–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gaston KJ, Warren PH, Tompson K, Smith RM (2005) Urban domestic gardens (IV): The extent of the resource and its associated features. Biodivers Conserv 14:3327–3349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Goddard MA, Dougill AJ, Benton TG (2010) Scaling up from gardens: Biodiversity conservation in urban environments. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25(2):90–98CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Goddard MA, Dougill AJ, Benton TG (2013) Why garden for wildlife? Social and ecological drivers motivations and barriers for biodiversity management in residential landscapes. Ecol Econ 86:258–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Goldstein EL, Gross M, DeGraaf RM (1986) Breeding birds and vegetation: A quantitative assessment. Urban Ecology 9(3–4):377–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grove JM, Troy AR, O’Neil-Dunne JPM, Burch WR Jr, Cadenasso ML, Pickett STA (2006) Characterization of Households and its Implications for the Vegetation of Urban Ecosystems. Ecosystems 9(4):578–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hope D, Gries C, Zhu W, Fagan WF, Redman CL, Grimm NB, et al. (2003) Socioeconomics drive urban plant diversity. Proc Natl Acad Sci 100(15):8788–8792CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  38. Ikin K, Knight E, Lindenmayer DB, Fischer J, Manning AD (2013) The influence of native versus exotic streetscape vegetation on the spatial distribution of birds in suburbs and reserves. Divers Distrib 19(3):294–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. LaPoint S, Balkenhol N, Hale J, Sadler J, van der Ree R (2015) Ecological Connectivity Research in Urban Areas. Funct Ecol 29:868–878. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12489 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Leopold DJ (2005) Native plants of the northeast: a guide for gardening & conservation. Timber Press, Portland, OrGoogle Scholar
  41. Lepczyk CA, Murray KG, Winnett-Murray K, Bartell P, Geyer E, Work T (2000) Seasonal fruit preferences for lipids and sugars by American Robins. Auk 117(3):709CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Leston LFV, Rodewald AD (2006) Are urban forests ecological traps for understory birds? An examination using Northern Cardinals. Biol Conserv 131(4):566–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Loram A, Tratalos J, Warren PH, Gaston KJ (2007) Urban domestic gardens (X): The extent & structure of the resource in five major cities. Landsc Ecol 22(4):601–615. doi: 10.1007/s10980-006-9051-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Loss SR, Will T, Marra PP (2012) Direct human-caused mortality of birds: Improving quantification of magnitude and assessment of population impact. Front Ecol Environ 107:357–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Loss SR, Will T, Marra PP (2013) The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nat Commun 4:1396CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Luck GW, Boxall DP, Smallbone L (2011) Relations between Urban Bird and Plant Communities and Human Well-Being and Connection to Nature. Conserv Biol 25(4):816–826CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. MacArthur RH, MacArthur JW (1961) On Bird Species Diversity. Ecology 42(3):594–598Google Scholar
  48. Martin AC, Zim HS, Nelson AL (1951) American wildlife and plants: Guide to wildlife food habits. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  49. Marzluff J (2012) Worldwide urbanization and its effects on birds. Marzluff J Bowman R and Donnelly R (Eds). Avian ecology and conservation in an urbanizing world Springer Science and Business Media.Google Scholar
  50. Marzluff JM, Ewing K (2001) Restoration of fragmented landscapes for the conservation of birds: A general framework and specific recommendations for urbanizing landscapes. Urban Ecology 9(3):739–755Google Scholar
  51. Marzluff J, Rodewald A (2008) Conserving biodiversity in urbanizing areas: nontraditional views from a bird’s perspective. Cities and the Environment 1(2):1–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. McDonnell MJ, Hahs AK (2008) The use of gradient analysis studies in advancing our understanding of the ecology of urbanizing landscapes: Current status and future directions Landscape. Ecology 23(10):1143–1155Google Scholar
  53. Morrish WR, Brown CR (2000) Planning to stay: a collaborative project. Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis MNGoogle Scholar
  54. Nagy LR, Holmes RT (2004) Factors influencing fecundity in migratory songbirds: is nest predation the most important? J Avian Biol 35(6):487–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Nassauer JI (1995) Messy ecosystems orderly frames. Landscape J 14(2):161–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nassauer JI (1997) Cultural sustainability: aligning aesthetics and ecology. In: JI N (ed) Placing Nature: Culture in Landscape Ecology. Island Press, Washington DC, pp. 65–83Google Scholar
  57. Nassauer JI (2012) Landscape as medium and method for synthesis in urban ecological design. Landsc Urban Plan 106(3):221–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Nassauer JI, Wang Z, Dayrell E (2009) What will the neighbors think? Cultural norms and ecological design. Landsc Urban Plan 92(3–4):282–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Opdam P, Steingrover E (2008) Designing metropolitan landscapes for biodiversity: deriving guidelines from metapopulation ecology. Landsc J 27(1):69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Paker Y, Yom-Tov Y, Alon-Mozes T, Barnea A (2014) The effect of plant richness and urban garden structure on bird species richness diversity and community structure. Landsc Urban Plan 122:186–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Palomino D, Carrascal LM (2006) Urban influence on birds at a regional scale: A case study with the avifauna of northern Madrid province. Landsc Urban Plan 77(3):276–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Reichard SH, Chalker-scott L, Buchanan S (2001) Interactions among non-native plants and birds. Avian Ecology and Conservation in an Urbanizing World:179–223Google Scholar
  63. Rodewald AD, Shustack DP, Jones TM (2011) Dynamic selective environments and evolutionary traps in human-dominated landscapes. Ecology 92(9):1781–1788CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Rudd H, Vala J, Schaefer V (2002) Importance of backyard habitat in a comprehensive biodiversity conservation strategy. A connectivity analysis of urban green spaces Restoration Ecology 10(2):368–375Google Scholar
  65. Sandström UG, Angelstam P, Mikusiński G (2006) Ecological diversity of birds in relation to the structure of urban green space. Landsc Urban Plan 77(1–2):39–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Savard JPL, Clergeau P, Mennechez G (2000) Biodiversity concepts and urban ecosystems. Landsc Urban Plan 48(3–4):131–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Shanahan DF, Miller C, Possingham HP, Fuller RA (2011) The influence of patch area and connectivity on avian communities in urban revegetation. Biol Conserv 144(2):722–729. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.10.014 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Shochat E, Lerman SB, Anderies JM, Warren PS, Faeth SH, Nilon CH (2010) Invasion Competition and Biodiversity Loss in Urban Ecosystems. Bioscience 60(3):199–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sirgy MJ, Cornwell T (2002) How neighborhood features affect quality of life. Soc Indic Res 59:79–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Smith SB, Mcpherson KH, Backer JM, Pierce BJ, Podlesak W, Mcwilliams SR, Pierce BJ (2007) Fruit quality and consumption by songbirds during autumn migration. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 119(3):419–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Smith SB, DeSando S, Pagano T (2013) The Value of Native and Invasive Fruit-Bearing Shrubs for Migrating Songbirds. Northeast Nat 20(1):171–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Stiles EW (1993) The influence of pulp lipids on fruit preference by birds. Vegetatio 107-108(1):227–235Google Scholar
  73. Stokes D, Stokes L (2003) Backyard Bird Book: the complete guide to attracting identifying and understanding the birds in your backyard. Rodale Press Inc., Emmaus PAGoogle Scholar
  74. Stracey CM (2011) Resolving the urban nest predator paradox: The role of alternative foods for nest predators. Biol Conserv 144(5):1545–1552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Summers C (2011) Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJGoogle Scholar
  76. Tallamy DW, Shropshire KJ (2009) Ranking lepidopteron use of native versus introduced plants. Conserv Biol 234:941–947CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Thomas RLM, Fellowes DE, Baker PJ (2012) Spatio-temporal variation in predation by urban domestic cats (Felis catus) and the acceptability of possible management actions in the UK. PLoS One 7(11):e49369CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  78. Thompson K, Austin KC, Smith RM, Warren PH, Angold PG, Gaston KJ (2003) Urban domestic gardens (I): Putting small-scale plant diversity in context. J Veg Sci 14(1):71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Tratalos JF, Warren RA, Davies PH, Gaston KJ (2007) Urban form biodiversity potential and ecosystem services. Landsc Urban Plan 83(4):308–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Uren HV, Dzidic PL, Bishop BJ (2015) Exploring social and cultural norms to promote ecologically sensitive residential garden design. Landsc Urban Plan 137:76–84. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2014.12.008 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. van Heezik Y, Smyth A, Adams A, Gordon J (2010) Do domestic cats impose an unsustainable harvest on urban bird populations? Biol Conserv 143:121–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. van Heezik YM, Dickinson KJM, Freeman C (2012) Closing the gap: Communicating to change gardening practices in support of native biodiversity in urban private gardens. Ecol Soc 17(1):34Google Scholar
  83. Walker JS, Grimm NB, Briggs JM, Gries C, Dugan L (2009) Effects of urbanization on plant species diversity in central Arizona. Front Ecol Environ 7(9):465–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. White JG, Antos MJ, Fitzsimons J, Palmer GC (2005) Non-uniform bird assemblages in urban environments: The influence of streetscape vegetation. Landsc Urban Plan 71(2–4):123–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Landscape ArchitectureCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Cornell Laboratory of OrnithologyIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations