• Rae Gellel

Photographer Captures Thrush Family Nesting Inside of a Traffic Light

With wild animal populations plummeting the world over, the ability of some species to adapt and persevere in spite of human activity offers a small glimmer of hope.

James Kearsley Photography.

Biologists have observed just that in a wide array of city-dwelling species in recent years; rapid behavioural and biological changes that help animals cope with life alongside humans.

These include carrion crows dropping walnuts beneath the wheels of cars in order to crack them in Japan, and mice in New York’s Central Park developing a digestive tolerance to a diet comprised predominantly of litter. There are even species of mosquito that have become genetically unique to certain lines on the London Underground.

This phenomenon of extremely fast-paced natural selection is somewhat at odds with Darwin’s idea of evolution as a slow and arduous process, so biologists have coined a new term to describe it; ‘Urban Darwinism’.

This evening, I was startled by a post on The British Wildlife Photography Group, that had me wondering whether Urban Darwinism had come to West Yorkshire. A photographer, James Kearsley, captured images of a Mistle Thrush tending to a nest inside the amber section of a traffic light at a busy intersection. ITV also published a short clip of the bird's unusual accommodation.

Birds typically see a far more sophisticated array of colours than humans, so the Thrush and her four nestlings would not be immune to the changing colours of their traffic-light home. They also rely on darkness to maintain their natural sleep patterns, with light pollution linked to disruption of migratory paths and higher levels of stress-hormones in songbirds.

But to all observers, including photographer James, the small family seem unperturbed by this, and by the bustle and activity all around them:

“A friend told me about them nesting in a traffic light, so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to go and capture them in an urban environment. There are four chicks and the mother kept flying in and out and feeding them all, quite relaxed despite the busy crowds in the city. It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget.”

It’s also curious that the Thrush has nested so early in the year - arguably before nesting season has really begun - especially with temperatures being far from mild. The lights’ protective cone provides a perfect sheltered enclave however, and the bulb is likely a consistent source of heat for the young birds.

Nonetheless, it remains to be seen how they will cope once they fledge and leave the nest - it’s not the safest location for adolescent thrushes to attempt flight for the first time, and from the photos, they are fast approaching this stage.

Being in London, I'm unable to monitor them myself, but have endeavored to find Leeds-based wildlife rescue who can keep tabs.

In the meantime, enjoy James's pictures of this beautiful family in their unique urban home.