Birds are perfect examples of this kind of adaptation: the fact that they can fly gives them a leg up in the hectic, hazardous urban environments we call home. They’re intelligent, and quick to seize upon a source of food or shelter if they find it. They’re also one of the few wild animals that we commonly invite in; backyard birdhouses and feeders are a kind gesture to our feathered friends, and a home with such amenities will soon have a steady population of grateful passerines hanging out in back. Sometimes, though, the invitation is accidental on our part: golf courses have become veritable magnets for birds of all shapes and sizes, because golf courses, more so than many other human developments, create literal oases that are practically tailor-made to appeal to wild animals. They aren’t trying to be malicious, and they surely don’t intend to keep you from playing through; if mankind develops over habitat that used to be wild, then wild creatures, out of necessity, have to find other places to live. By designing golf courses to be lush and green and with artificial lakes, we are offering year-round templates for what those animals need most. In some cases, species have taken this to an entirely new level. Canada geese, a migratory species that routinely passes through Arizona and other states on their journey north or south, have established year-round populations on many golf courses because they are, in avian eyes, so perfect as to be almost too good to be true, eliminating the need to migrate at all. For better or for worse, it is adaptation at work.
Attitudes can be mixed toward this kind of animal expansion, though sometimes, as with backyard birdfeeders, man’s modification of the natural world is used in a benign way. Tetherow golf course in Oregon is an example of a top-flight golf course that, because of its lush environment and meticulous grounds-keeping, has become a mecca for birds of every conceivable variety. Rather than condemn them as so many feathered squatters, however, Tetherow has partnered with the National Audubon Society in order to protect the birds that live there, and Audubon has gone so far as to declare Tetherow one of its officially recognized bird sanctuaries.
The simple reality is that, when something causes an ecosystem to destabilize, certain species are going to suffer, and others will rush to fill the gaps. Since man is a species that generally prefers to adapt the world to it, rather than adapting to the world, it’s easy for us to tip the whole thing on its head. For instance, many animals, including birds, suffered terribly because of DDT and other pesticides used in this country in prior decades. Banning those pesticides has allowed many species to rebound, but those bolstered numbers inevitably have an effect on something else. Cooper’s hawks were one such species punished by the use of pesticides, but with those poisons now banned, their numbers are on the rise. According to Los Angeles’ Natural History Museum, this rise is coinciding with precipitous drops in the number of passerine birds in areas that these new Cooper’s hawks are expanding into; there is inevitably an ebb and flow as nature tries to reestablish its balance. With the world the way it is, some balances may not last for long, but the fact that these animals manage to adapt at all in the face of an ever-evolving world is a testament to the tenacity of every creature, great and small.