By Keith Russell, Fairmount Park Outreach Coordinator
Most of the 83 Important Bird Areas (IBA) currently recognized in Pennsylvania are located in relatively rural sections of the state. But one of Pennsylvania's newer IBAs, Fairmount Park IBA, which received IBA designation in May 2005, is located within the state's largest city, Philadelphia.
Although this IBA is located within a city of nearly 1.5 million people (the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area), it is an extraordinary natural area that easily qualified for IBA recognition due to three factors. 1) The area annually attracts a large number and variety of birds 2) it contains representative bird habitat and 3) its bird populations have been well studied for many years.
Nearly 200 species of birds occur within the Fairmount Park IBA each year, including 90 species of breeding birds and a similar number of wintering species. Bird diversity within the IBA reaches its peak, however, during the spring and autumn when numerous species of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, sparrows, tanagers, finches, woodpeckers, waterfowl, hawks, shorebirds and other groups utilize the woodland and aquatic habitats as a stopover site during migration. Species observed during migration include peregrine falcons, great egrets, olive-sided flycatchers, sedge wrens, and others that are listed as being officially endangered, threatened, rare, or at-risk within the state.
The park system itself is composed of a number of separate parcels that are well distributed throughout Philadelphia County. While some of these are as small as a single acre, others are as large as 2,000 acres. Together the park's various parcels comprise a total of 9,200 acres or 10% of Philadelphia's land area, making the Fairmount Park system one of the largest city parks in the world. The Fairmount Park IBA also includes Benjamin Rush State Park (an undeveloped 275-acre state park that is located in northeast Philadelphia), as well as portions of the Wissahickon and Pennypack Creek watersheds in Montgomery County. As a result, the entire IBA includes over 11,000 acres of land.
Since Fairmount Park was recognized as an IBA, Audubon PA has been working with the park's staff to create a series of new educational and conservation initiatives designed to raise public awareness of the park's role as a bird sanctuary and to help protect declining bird species within the park. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the William Penn Foundation generously provided funding for these initiatives.
To date, these initiatives have included the creation of a basic fact sheet about the Fairmount Park IBA, a cleanup of the Roosevelt Park section on Earth Day 2006 (resulting in the removal of 70 bags of trash and the planting of 40 native trees and shrubs), and the erection of a nesting box for barn owls - one of the park's rarest resident bird species and a species considered to be At-Risk in Pennsylvania. During the summer of 2006, Audubon sponsored nature walks for children living in Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion section. Future education and conservation initiatives have been planned for this urban IBA and as these exciting projects unfold we will keep you informed of their progress.