Despite the rapid rate of urban development, Moscow is still a very green city. It is surrounded by large parks and tracts of forest on the fringes of the city, and its center is dotted with lush green city parks. Many of the parks are also historical sites, established in the former residences of Russian nobility.
The parks are home to a few species of mammals and a wide variety of birds. The best Moscow parks for birdwatching are the Botanical Garden, Sparrow Hills (Vorobyovy Gory), Kuzminsky Park and Estate, Kuskovo, and Kolomenskoye. I spent a few days birdwatching in Moscow’s parks and here are the birds I saw.
The forested part of the parks never failed to turn up the usual species: Great tit, Blue tit, Black-capped chikadee, Eurasian tree sparrow, House sparrow, Eurasian nuthatch, and Hooded Crow.
One morning I discovered a small creek in Kuzminsky park that was popular with birds, and after sitting quietly at that creek I saw more birds in about 30 minutes that did in a full day walking around the forest.
There were Chaffinch, European goldfinch, European greenfinch, White wagtail, Common swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Pied Flycatcher, Common starling, Common Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song thrush, European robin and Blackcap. I even caught a glimpse of a Common Cuckoo and the rare Black woodpecker.
The ponds at Kuzminsky park turned up two species listed as ‘Threatened’ in Moscow Red Book. Black-headed gull and Common tern. Both species, though present in small numbers, seemed to make a rather good living on the abundant fish in the ponds.
I was told that spring came late this year and the gulls turned up a week too early, while the ponds in the park were still frozen. Hungry, the birds kept flying over the ponds and the surrounding city blocks screaming in incomprehension and desperation, until the weather turned and the ponds started to thaw.
The most common waterbird in Moscow, however, is the Mallard duck. They can be found in virtually any park in the city that has a pond.
Right in the city, there is another park – Chistie Prudy. It is a good place to see the Ruddy shell ducks.
While Patriarshiye Prudy park is the only park in Moscow where I found the Mute swans. The swans used to be common in Moscow, but over the last few years, they all but disappeared.
Birds of the fields
The more open, grassy areas in the parks are home to a whole new suite of birds. Primarily the open habitat is the domain of the warblers: Wood warbler, Willow warbler, Icterine Warbler, Garden warbler, Common whitethroat, Blackcap, Blyth’s reed warbler and Garden warbler.
The boundary where the open habitat meets the edge of the forest was good for the Spotted flycatcher, Tree pipit, and Yellowhammer.
I found a nest of Red-backed shrike in the bushes and watched the family of shrikes keeping busy feeding their almost grown chick.
Birds of prey
Birds of prey are harder to spot in the city. I have only seen a Northern Goshawk in Kuzminsky park. The bird flew very low across the path and disappeared into the forest.
I also found their nest – an impressive structure made out of large sticks, sitting in the fork of a pine tree. The forest floor below was littered with half-eaten pigeon carcasses, bird bones, whitewash and shed feathers of the goshawks themselves.
In the last few years, more and more birds of prey have been popping up in the city. Eurasian sparrowhawks, Common kestrels, Eurasian hobbies, Northern goshawks and Red-footed falcons are all frequently spotted in Moscow parks.