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Commonly heard birds for various major urban locations around the world

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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 00:21   #1
Jim Langford`
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Commonly heard birds for various major urban locations around the world

Greetings!

I am a sound designer in the games industry. Without going into too much (most probably boring!) detail, my job is to construct a complete audio experience for the user out of lots and lots of individual elements. Sound in games is not like sound in film where everything happens in a set, sequential order -- the person playing the game is deciding what to do, and when to do it, so the software has to respond dynamically to what is going on in the game at any given moment - including playing appropriate sounds from a large pool of individual snippets of audio (frequently 10,000+ sounds).
This brings me to why I am here! Part of the audio experience in games of course involves background ambience, and quite a few of the games I find myself working on feature major urban centers from all over the world. In the interest of authenticity, I am looking at including individual bird sounds appropriate to each available region. I would love to take it to a level where it also includes variations for time of day (eg. dawn/dusk chorus)... but one step at a time!
I have gone and done a bit of research in order to find out what sort of birds frequent these places of interest, but what I am finding is that I'm not getting a good picture of what birds are most commonly *heard*. That is where I am hoping you can help me.

The locations I am looking at are:
  • Paris, France
  • London, England
  • New York, USA
  • San Francisco, USA
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Kingston, Jamaica

It feels a bit presumptuous to come in to a community expecting this kind of assistance, but any help would be greatly appreciated, and I will see about crediting any good leads appropriately :)

Many thanks!
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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 00:54   #2
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Excellent idea, I for one am tired of hearing the same old recordings of random, mostly American birds in the background of every movie, game, or TV show regardless of setting.
It would help though if you could specify how many species you want for each location, and if they're to be just the typical species of city centres, or if you want to include ones that occur in the suburbs or larger parks as well. Also, a rough timeframe is important because of the adaptation of birds to urban environments, and the introduction of neozoa at certain points in time.

Here's my suggestions for Madrid (in no particular order of importance; also, this is not meant to be authoritative, just a selection of some of the more common birds I've observed there. Other people might have slightly different experiences):

Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove Columba livia
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Common Swift Apus apus -> very typical, but only during the summer
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus -> this species was introduced from South America not very long ago, so it should be absent in most historical settings
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica -> not to be confused with the notorious Australian species, which sounds very different and is not closely related
Great Tit Parus major
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
European Robin Erithacus rubecula
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
House Sparrow Passer domesticus

There are a lot more to choose from, but I think these would be among the most commonly heard ones.
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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 01:44   #3
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Originally Posted by Sangahyando View Post
Excellent idea, I for one am tired of hearing the same old recordings of random, mostly American birds in the background of every movie, game, or TV show regardless of setting.
It would help though if you could specify how many species you want for each location, and if they're to be just the typical species of city centres, or if you want to include ones that occur in the suburbs or larger parks as well. Also, a rough timeframe is important because of the adaptation of birds to urban environments, and the introduction of neozoa at certain points in time.

Here's my suggestions for Madrid (in no particular order of importance; also, this is not meant to be authoritative, just a selection of some of the more common birds I've observed there. Other people might have slightly different experiences):

Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove Columba livia
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Common Swift Apus apus -> very typical, but only during the summer
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus -> this species was introduced from South America not very long ago, so it should be absent in most historical settings
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica -> not to be confused with the notorious Australian species, which sounds very different and is not closely related
Great Tit Parus major
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
European Robin Erithacus rubecula
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
House Sparrow Passer domesticus

There are a lot more to choose from, but I think these would be among the most commonly heard ones.
Thanks very much Sangahyando! That's some really good information to get the ball rolling.
I had to laugh regarding your comments about the Australian Magpie - they are indeed notorious around these parts. I recall somebody saying recently that they'll actually pick on certain individuals (people) a lot more than others. I personally have never had a problem with them, so perhaps there is something to this? Could it be that some birds simply don't like the way some people look??

Anyway, some really good info there, thank you again. The seasonal thing is something I didn't consider. I'm not sure if this data is something that actually exists in the games I am working on, but if it does, it would be trivial to work it into the equation. This kind of detail is exactly what I'm hoping to capture.

In answer to your questions:

Q: How many species for each location?
A: As many as one might hear on a semi-frequent basis in that location. By "semi-frequent", I'd say anything you would hear more than once in a 2 hour period of actual listening in that location would qualify. The way it works is I build the bird song behaviour of each bird - that is how frequently it chirps, what sort of patterns it follows etc, then create virtual bird "sound objects". I can then control bird population, frequency etc procedurally. Changing any of these parameters is as easy as changing a few numbers. Maybe I should ask for this information as well, although I already feel like I'm asking a lot! It's something I can research myself at any rate.

Q: Limit species to include suburban locations, or just inner city?
A: Oh boy. I would love to do both! But let's just say inner city for the moment.

Q: What is the timeframe?
A: Present day.
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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 23:30   #4
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New York really depends on what part of the city you're talking about. If your talking about the hard-core urban areas (e.g. Times Square or similar) you're probably limited to House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon, and European Starling. For coastal areas, you can include gulls, Mourning Dove, Robin, Song Sparrow, Cardinal, Blue Jay, House Finch, Goldfinch, and in the spring/summer Catbird and Chimney Swift. In the parks, especially central Park, you get a full set of migrants plus possibly Great Horned Owl at night.
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 01:06   #5
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New York really depends on what part of the city you're talking about. If your talking about the hard-core urban areas (e.g. Times Square or similar) you're probably limited to House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon, and European Starling. For coastal areas, you can include gulls, Mourning Dove, Robin, Song Sparrow, Cardinal, Blue Jay, House Finch, Goldfinch, and in the spring/summer Catbird and Chimney Swift. In the parks, especially central Park, you get a full set of migrants plus possibly Great Horned Owl at night.
It might be important to point out that you're referring to the American Robin Turdus migratorius and the American Goldfinch Spinus tristis, not the European species of the same generic names, which one is more likely to encounter in the London and Paris scenarios (and probably Madrid, too). People unfamiliar with the subject matter are likely to confuse those species in particular, which probably accounts for quite a few of the "misplaced wildlife" situations in media.
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 02:29   #6
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Thank you Jeff (and Sangahyando for the clarification there) - I've added these to the list for New York. I will probably do profiles for both inner city and coastal regions, seeing as I have info for both :)

Sounds like NYC city center has a lot of similar species with Melbourne here in Australia. I imagine this is probably a fairly common theme everywhere the English settled.
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Old Saturday 21st September 2019, 02:26   #7
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Thank you Jeff (and Sangahyando for the clarification there) - I've added these to the list for New York. I will probably do profiles for both inner city and coastal regions, seeing as I have info for both :)

Sounds like NYC city center has a lot of similar species with Melbourne here in Australia. I imagine this is probably a fairly common theme everywhere the English settled.
It's certainly true for many US cities. My sister used to live in central Boston, and the only birds I ever saw in her "yard" were the three I described for NYC.
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Old Monday 30th September 2019, 21:23   #8
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For city centers, unless your character is moving around at four in the morning, they're not going to hear a damn thing over the traffic noises.

I haven't been to New York City in a few years, but at that time it was *much* louder than other cities, with particular emphasis on honking and sirens.

For New York and Paris, the most common birds are:
- (rock) pigeon. These are fairly quiet, but numerous and bold. You'll usually see them before you hear them. You may hear some cooing if one is roosting right above you, and you'll definitely hear wing flapping from time to time.
- house sparrow. Mostly quiet. Travel in large groups so you may hear wing noise when you see them, especially in particular spots where they're frequently fed (like outside Notre Dame de Paris, at least before the fire).
- Common Starlings. These might make suitable background noise - they nest in buildings and streetlights and so on, so you may hear them calling (especially in springtime) without seeing them.

For new york, especially in Central Park, there is a chance of hearing a red-tailed hawk high overhead. You may also see Canada Geese, especially during migration, though the city proper doesn't have a lot of grass to feed them. They make a distinctive honking that carries pretty far.

In San Francisco there are wild parrots which may pass by from time to time - they can be noisy.

I have a vague memory of hearing owls (chouette) in Paris at night, but couldn't tell you which species.
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Old Monday 30th September 2019, 22:57   #9
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I have a vague memory of hearing owls (chouette) in Paris at night, but couldn't tell you which species.
Probably Tawny Owl, they can be found in some city parks in Europe and are pretty common in general.

I think London would be pretty similar to Paris, but have more gulls (Herring, Black-headed, Common, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls). But others might know more about the place.
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Old Tuesday 1st October 2019, 22:48   #10
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Just use House Sparrows. They are practically omnipresent in all major urban areas around the world (except Japan, for some reason).
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Old Wednesday 2nd October 2019, 01:04   #11
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Well, probably not in city centers (except maybe in parks?) but if you stray into the suburbs, the Eurasian Collared Dove is now heard just about everywhere in the States.
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Old Thursday 3rd October 2019, 02:13   #12
nartreb
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Well, probably not in city centers (except maybe in parks?) but if you stray into the suburbs, the Eurasian Collared Dove is now heard just about everywhere in the States.
It's still extremely rare in the Northeast. E-bird shows a sighting of exactly one bird within a hundred miles of New York City this year. Compare that with a couple dozen Bald Eagle sightings just within Central Park...

But a good suggestion for San Francisco.
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Old Thursday 3rd October 2019, 03:20   #13
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It's still extremely rare in the Northeast. E-bird shows a sighting of exactly one bird within a hundred miles of New York City this year. Compare that with a couple dozen Bald Eagle sightings just within Central Park...

But a good suggestion for San Francisco.
Interesting, I didn’t know that, but assumed it was as common on the east coast as it is in the west. I hear (and occasionally see) the doves regularly in the Portland suburbs while in Nevada (where I formerly lived) the population exploded in the course of a decade or so from a few strays at the beginning of the century to near-ubiquity in suitable habitat—small towns, highway reststops, city suburbs—all over the state.
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Old Friday 4th October 2019, 02:24   #14
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Interesting, I didn’t know that, but assumed it was as common on the east coast as it is in the west. I hear (and occasionally see) the doves regularly in the Portland suburbs while in Nevada (where I formerly lived) the population exploded in the course of a decade or so from a few strays at the beginning of the century to near-ubiquity in suitable habitat—small towns, highway reststops, city suburbs—all over the state.
For some reason, they're uncommon north of the PA state line. There are occasional breeding records, but only intermittently. I've only seen them a handful of times in PA.

I always find it interesting how widespread they are out west, compared to the Northeast. But one other thing I remember from when I was going to Kansas on a regular basis about 15 years ago was that collared doves were not everywhere. Some towns had collared doves while others had mourning doves. Nothing to explain it.
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Old Friday 4th October 2019, 08:22   #15
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Greetings!

I am a sound designer in the games industry. Without going into too much (most probably boring!) detail, my job is to construct a complete audio experience for the user out of lots and lots of individual elements. Sound in games is not like sound in film where everything happens in a set, sequential order -- the person playing the game is deciding what to do, and when to do it, so the software has to respond dynamically to what is going on in the game at any given moment - including playing appropriate sounds from a large pool of individual snippets of audio (frequently 10,000+ sounds).
This brings me to why I am here! Part of the audio experience in games of course involves background ambience, and quite a few of the games I find myself working on feature major urban centers from all over the world. In the interest of authenticity, I am looking at including individual bird sounds appropriate to each available region. I would love to take it to a level where it also includes variations for time of day (eg. dawn/dusk chorus)... but one step at a time!
I have gone and done a bit of research in order to find out what sort of birds frequent these places of interest, but what I am finding is that I'm not getting a good picture of what birds are most commonly *heard*. That is where I am hoping you can help me.



Many thanks!
Nice.

I imagine that unless it's a Zombie Apocolypse type game traffic noise will have to be muted down a bit otherwise it may be a bit overmuch, but yes I'm sure a small degree of artistic licence can be included wrt birdsong, otherwise there'd not be much point.

Collared Dove - maybe a bit of a Red Herring then.

Most big cities have extensive parks and areas of greenery throughout - whether these show up in the gameplay or they can be assumed 'to be just around the corner' will up the potential species list if you like. There are also derelict/brownfield sites which can have scrubby vegetation and hence greater diversity. Migration times (Spring/Autumn) almost any migrating passerines could pass through.

Also got to distinguish between flight calls of birds passing through/over or song of resident breeders.

At dawn and the first few hours of the day and prior to dusk there is usually greater bird activity - song and random species flying over.
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Old Friday 4th October 2019, 08:37   #16
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The locations I am looking at are:
  • Paris, France
  • London, England
  • New York, USA
  • San Francisco, USA
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Kingston, Jamaica


....

All locations, unless anyone says otherwise -

House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon

London -

Starling, Pied Wagtail, Jackdaw, Herring Gull (all throughout the day)

Parks, gardens - Eurasian Robin, Wren, Blackbird (All- Dawn and dusk especially) for starters

Flyover - Grey Heron (Fraaank call), Egyptian Goose(?), Swift flocks in the evening (iconic)

Paris -


Starling, White Wagtail, Jackdaw, Black Redstart

Parks, gardens - Eurasian Robin, Wren, Blackbird (Dawn and dusk especially), Chiffchaff in Spring

Flyover - Grey Heron, Swift.



Birds also have to be reasonably vocal species, and not too retiring.


Another way to do this would be to post up the top 20 ebird species or so for each location, then get folk to look at the list and say which you would be likely to actually hear, as a non-birder, going about your business in that location on foot ...
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