Rediscovering backyard wildlife during COVID-19

Being ‘stuck at home’ during the COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect opportunity for Queenslanders to observe native birds and other wildlife that frequent backyards and balconies, according to urban ecologist Professor Darryl Jones.

Professor Jones, from Griffith University’s Environmental Futures Research Institute, said he receives emails and texts from people saying “there’s this strange bird doing this strange thing in the trees in my yard”.

“But the behaviour they describe is completely natural and what these birds do all the time, but people are never home to see it. Wildlife was always there.”

Darryl Jones
Professor Darryl Jones

He said change in human behaviour during the course of COVID-19 hasn’t gone unnoticed by the animal kingdom, with wildlife widely documented worldwide roaming city streets.

“Animals that live in the city have learned to ignore us,” Professor Jones said.

“It’s sensible for animals to have an innate fear of humans. To live in the city, animals have to overcome this perfectly reasonable fear to take advantage of opportunities like food and nesting places.

“So, these animals are wandering around thinking ‘where are all those people?’ and some would undoubtedly be thinking, ‘I usually come here for scraps and scavenging and there’s no one around.’”

Professor Jones hopes these shifts in perspective will equate to renewed conservation efforts.

“I hope we take more responsibility, be more appreciative and find ways to enhance our environment.”

Stay connected

One way people can meaningfully connect with nature is to feed birds that have become familiar over months of social distancing and self-isolation.

“Lots of people ask me if it’s OK to feed birds,” Professor Jones said.

“It’s a profound experience if you’re in your flat and truly wild lorikeets come to visit because you’ve left out seed.”

However, there are rules to follow to guarantee food is safe for birds and it’s important to remember it’s just a snack.

“The equivalent of a cup of tea and a Tim Tam, not a three-course meal,” Professor Jones said.

Enhance your environment

An alternative is to consider the environment people have influence over. Professor Jones hopes understanding of the backyard ecosystem will encourage wildlife-friendly landscaping.

“If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, that’s a place where animals can live,” Professor Jones said.

“I hope people think, ‘now that I know what’s here, I might think about how to make the yard a better place for animals — and have less lawn to mow.’”


Griffith University’s GroNATIVE app aims to promote the use of native plants that restore biodiversity while creating vegetation corridors amongst gardeners in South East Queensland — enter a postcode to find recommendations from a database of more than 400 local native plants.