WILD CITY: A Guide to Nature in Urban Ontario, from Termites to Coyotes
Wild city is generally used as a paradoxical phrase, often to describe the seeming juxtaposition of animals associated with the wilderness turning up or living in built-up areas. The scope of this book, however, is much broader, and we use wild in the sense of all those aspects of nature that, though near at hand, are not domesticated and directly controlled by us. We also cover the most common street and yard trees that, though intentionally planted and tended, play a central roll in urban ecosystems.
Cities are commonly thought of as being outside of nature, and certainly there is no landscape more altered and intensely dominated by humans. Nature, however, has adapted to and evolved with urban settlement for perhaps 10,000 years. Pigeons, dandelions, house mice, starlings, house flies and an assemblage of other familiar species, together with domestic garden plants, grasses and trees, form a cosmopolitan urban ecosystem. Individual cities are a combination of that basic framework on top of the natural habitat on which they are placed. Certain native species, such as squirrels, crows, blue jays and raccoons, have learned to prosper in the new, human-structured environment. Many others persist in the less disturbed, protected or neglected spaces within cities. Their number and diversity may not rival that found in the near-pristine wilderness or even the rural countryside, but for the more than 80 percent of us in Ontario who live in urban environs, it’s the nature most immediate to us in our everyday lives.
Many people ask, upon hearing about a book on urban nature, whether it will tell them how to get rid of their garden- and bird-feeder-raiding squirrels, garbage-dining raccoons or eaves-nesting sparrows and starlings. Such information is featured seasonally in almost every daily newspaper and is available in great detail in public information handouts from all three levels of government and on innumerable Internet Web sites. This book, rather, is intended as a handy guide to some of the most common wild urban plants and animals that, like them or not, will always be with us and may, on occasion, find their way into places where they’re not wanted. We’ve tried to answer some of the most oft-asked questions about their natural lives and look into their place in folklore, culture and history.
With the vast majority of Ontario’s urban population living in areas south and east of the Canadian Shield, Wild City concentrates on the plants and animals found primarily in those regions. Many introduced and common native species habituated to urban life also occur in the north, as well as in cites across Canada. Northern cities, though, also have more immediate and frequent experiences with animals such as moose, bears, porcupines and many birds, commonly associated with remote wilderness.
For ease of use, we have followed the same format in Wild City as in our previous two books, Up North and Up North Again, which covered the mixed forest hinterland region of central Ontario. There are three main sections: “Animal Kingdom,” “Plant Kingdom” and “The Heavens.” Subsections within the chapters are arranged alphabetically; thus, “Birds” comes before “Creepy Crawlies.” Finally, within each subsection, individual entries are arranged alphabetically by common name. Vital statistics and tidbits of information are featured in a sidebar with each entry, and included in the entries on featured subjects is information on many other species. Their names appear in bold wherever mentioned in some length. At various points throughout the book, we’ve also included a dozen special entries on selected urban nature subjects and habitats. Finally, there’s an index for quick reference at the back. We hope the book will help illuminate the commonplace and everyday experiences of nature in the city.