In addition to humans, buildings and infrastructure, many wildlife species can also be found in urbanized areas. Although it’s a simplified way to look at wildlife in human-dominated landscapes, we sometimes think of urban wildlife as urban exploiters, urban adapters and urban avoiders (Blair 1996, McKinney 2002, Fischer et al. 2015, Soulsbury and White 2015).
Urban Exploiters are species that exploit urban ecosystems despite the drastic habitat change. For example, these species take advantage of human-provided sources of food, water and shelter that are made available intentionally or unintentionally. These species are often not native to the United States, are considered pests and are characterized by their dependent relationship with humans and generalist lifestyle in regard to their habitat selection and foraging behavior. Common species categorized as urban exploiters include European starlings, English (also called house) sparrows, Norway rats and house mice, just to name a few.
Urban Adapters are usually generalist species that flourish in fragmented landscapes with an abundance of edge habitat. Edge is a location where two habitat types converge; for example, an edge could be a forested area abutting a field. Urban adapters are species that rely mainly on natural resources for survival but are able to take advantage of resources provided by humans like crops, garbage and supplemental food (birdfeeders). Common species include robins, raccoons, Canada geese, crows, deer, squirrels and opossums.
Urban Avoiders are wildlife species that avoid urban areas because they are sensitive to human activities, sufficient habitat doesn’t exist to support them or humans will not tolerate them. These animals are often the first to disappear from areas of development. Species categorized as urban avoiders include larger mammalian predators like wolves, bears and cougars; grassland bird species like bobolinks, upland sandpipers and grasshopper sparrows and reptiles like rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes.
Common wildlife species found in urban areas
Here are some examples of mammal, bird, amphibian and reptile species you may encounter in suburban and urban environments. For more information about the species listed here or other wildlife, please consult a wildlife identification guide for mammals, birds, amphibians or reptiles. You can find these guides at your local library, bookstore or online.