The Urban Birder

by David Lindo

I had already heard of David Lindo when I noticed this book on the shelf at the library. He writes a regular column for the British magazine Bird Watching. At first, I thought the book would be a step by step guide on how to bird in cities and towns. In a way, I suppose it was. However, the format was that of autobiography.
From the first page, David Lindo describes how he became an urban birder himself. “I was grabbing at what I must have thought was a pair of binoculars, only to find that it was the doctor’s stethoscope.” This fanciful description of his birth on August 22, 1963 made me laugh. The son of immigrants to the U.K. from Jamaica, the author admits that birds really entered his life some years later, in 1969, when his sister was born. Sitting outside the hospital where his father had taken him to see the new addition to the family, he discovered a flock of House Sparrows and was so fascinated by them that he didn’t want to go inside. What better species to start off with in the city!
Early library books like Observer’s Book of Birds fed his need and by his 8th birthday, he was able to talk his mother into buying him a pair of 10×50 binoculars. Another book, Birds of Britain and Europe with North Africa and the Middle East by Heinzel, Fitter, and Parslow, became his constant companion and he admits, somewhat apologetically, that that volume, once borrowed, never made it back to the library.
He hated Primary School, but there developed a friendship with an Irish boy named Alan McMahon. Alan would be his early birding buddy. They called themselves Cornelius Ravenwing III and Thelonious Monk.
In the early years of their association, they birded the local patches, but eventually spread out to other U.K. hotspots. Some of their adventures, including a visit to Scotland, were in the company of the St. Michael’s Youth Club.
In 1976, Lindo discovered the book Birds of Town and Suburb by Eric Simms. He credits this book with having a great effect on his life as it introduced him to the concept of local patch birding. He goes on to mention other individuals who helped hone his observational skills along the way.

Working for a time as a media sales consultant, he eventually started his own company known as Lindo Marketing Services. After a couple years, this folded and he ended up in the membership office of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The area around the BTO headquarters was good for birds. Eventually, however, while going over some old birding records, he discovered a place called Wormwood Scrubs. This was to become his patch, one which would become famous because of the species that turned up there. It was also the patch that would make him famous.
But, he still had to eat. He left the BTO to work as a PA to the director of high-end commercials and music videos. This took him all over the world and at least annually to Los Angeles where he birded other local patches.
But due to his involvement with Wormwood Scrubs, one day he received an invitation from the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol to begin filming a segment about that patch for the television show Springwatch. At some point during the course of his presentation, he referred to himself as The Urban Birder. And that was that. Capitalizing on this, he has become a TV personality. He is a popular guest speaker at birding fairs and (as mentioned earlier in this review) has his own column in Bird Watching Magazine.
David Lindo does a fine job of describing how he became The Urban Birder and how the reader may become one too. In the book, he emphasizes the fact that good birds can be found anywhere. Use your imagination. Buildings can become cliffs. Try to see urban habitats as a bird would see them. He talks about the importance of birding a regular patch over a number of years to understand what comes and goes. He also encourages birders to take time observing a bird before (and after) identifying it. Keeping good notes is also very important.
The book ends with this very good advice; “All of us, regardless of age, can enjoy nature. You just need to do one simple thing: look up.”

Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Ornithological Society

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