Encountering a few surprises above the rooftops of the city
Have you ever visited Europe? Some come here to investigate ancestors, while others arrive to encounter history or explore nature. Austria recognizes the importance of its tourist industry and receives visitors with a warm welcome. But, here in the beautiful city of Vienna, be prepared for pigeon proof netting to feature in your photography!
There’s Stephansdom, the horse-drawn carriages, and the Mozart lookalikes who want to sell you a ticket to a show. It can be both overwhelming and intensely dramatic in its historic beauty. Yet, in the midst of all this, it’s hard to miss the pigeons when you arrive in this incredible city. They fly freely through the magnificent archway at the Hofburg, theykeep the pavements clear of breadcrumbs around the wurstel stands at numerous street corners, and theyoccasionally seek shelter from a cold winter wind down in a pleasantly cleanU-Bahn station. Welcome to Vienna!
The urban birds remind us that, no matter what, many European cities have certain things in common. In terms of greenspace, however, Vienna excels. The fact that it is one of the greenest cities of over a million inhabitants in the world brings good newsfor birds as well as people. Parks are plentiful and usually resplendent with trees and bushes as well as providing playspace for young families. You’ll see fountains, where waterfowl spend the spring and summer. Watch for crowds gathered around some of these in the month of May, when a flock of ducklings can attract the attention of young families and hardened businessmen alike, whether it is in the gardens of Schonbrunn palace, the centrally located Stadtpark or the magnificent Volksgarten, where you can also sit back on a green chair, relax, and literally smell the roses. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? We guarantee that it doesn’t disappoint.
Birders will take care to listen for birdsong while taking a stroll, renting a bicycle or having a picnic at the community-oriented Prater. The nature trails around Lainzer Tiergarten are also a good option as a place to unwind. Check out this wonderful destination if you are considering a day away from the hustle and bustle of the museums or the shops.
Cemeteries continue to attract many tourists due to Vienna’s historic past; the Zentralfriedhof is the largest in the city and provides abundant foliage for birdlife. Hooded crows and the somewhat more foreboding carrion crows are a regular here, and add atmosphere to photographs if you will be taking time out to visit the resting places of famous philosophers, composers or writers.
Exploring the outdoors is always a multi-sensory experience and this is especially true for children, who are often acutely aware of sights, sounds and smells that adults might otherwise miss. It is always interesting to approach a day trip into the countryside with a minimal plan since children frequently show us how to appreciate the details in life. Take time, walk slowly and savor the gentle sounds of nature. Out in the Viennese Woods, the sighting of black wings might be associated with the blackbird’s song, if we are open to hearing it. The blackbird featured on last year’s list of most common birds in Vienna’s Bird Census, along with the great tit, siskin, rook, chaffinch, goldfinch and the house sparrow. (Incidentally, the Austrian near-equivalent for “sweetie” is “spatz”, which is also the nickname for the house sparrow). In the Wienerwald you might also be lucky enough to spot a pheasant, an owl or possibly a bird of prey. Some interesting hiking points begin at Grinzing, amid the vineyards, or at Kahlenberg, where you can even spend a few hours at the Forest Rope Park and your children can practically live like a bird in the Austrian treetops.
Our family enjoys a walk along the banks of the famous Danube river and the environs of the Donauinsel ( an artificial island of roughly 25 km in length and 200 km in width). This area brings a different perspective to bird life around the city. We can see mute swans in all seasons despite the transformation of the island into a busy, noisy festival site during the summer and the frequent winter freeze. These birds are well used to visitors; indeed, many people come prepared to feed them although the birds rightly seek out more appropriate sustenance from nature’s provisions. The Donauinsel is also home to a variety of gulls and the elegant great blue heron.
It came as a surprise to learn that kestrels have been making their way into the city over the past number of years. Students involved in the Vienna Kestrel Project collected an impressive amount of data in 2010 regarding the urban ecology and varying habitat of this bird. This study concluded that the common kestrel has become the most abundant aerial predator in the city in recent times. Vienna’s architecture, punctuated by high rooflines andelaborate stonework with crevices in which to nest have tempted the birds into an urban environment. This has created challenges for the kestrel, however, with respect to diet choice and the availability of food in general. Another difficulty exists in the ability to maintain a nest in an artificial surrounding, which may have affected overall reproductive performance. These urban kestrels do leave Vienna in the winter but return in the spring to lay their eggs, when we’ve seen them swoop over busy streets in the light of a late spring morning. Their lifestyle, their behaviors and their graceful presence has inspired us to create one of our own beautiful books for early readers around this interesting bird, whose call is uniquely identifiable among a chorus of common songbirds and natural springtime reverberation. You can learn more about Vienna’s kestrels from this informative link
Check out www.bird.at if a day from your trip to Vienna might be allocated to the serious pursuit of tracking down some more of the area’s avian inhabitants. Even if your time is somewhat limited by family demands, there are ways to take a bird’s eye view of the city just by factoring in an outdoor lunch, an afternoon walk or a trip to the playground during your visit to this beautiful city.