John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Aaron Dunkerton wants to aid Britain's threatened sparrows by sheltering them in the fabric of urban architecture.
City dwellers might consider sparrows an inexhaustible species – pecking at sidewalk hotdog buns and taking dust-baths in parks, the mundane brown birds are seemingly everywhere.
But in the U.K., the creatures are actually in the middle of a survival crisis. Urbanization is taking away their nesting sites and the insects they feed upon, and in the past three decades the country's sparrow population has dropped by as much as 71 percent. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds now considers them among the most endangered species in the region, warning that their continued existence depends on "urgent action."
Enter Aaron Dunkerton, a 22-year-old graduate of London's Kingston University who has a clever idea: If we're not going to stop throwing up habitat-negating structures, why not at least make them more friendly to wildlife? Dunkerton's idea to save the sparrows is to manufacture bricks with lacunae inside accessible by a hole in the brick – both "specifically designed to meet the requirements of sparrows," he says. That way, the birds can fly into them and build a nest, with humans strolling by remaining little the wiser.
Dunkerton's prototype "bird brick" is assembled from five components specially made by a West Sussex brick manufacturer. The nesting box can be incorporated into brick structures that are under construction, like houses and garden walls, where its unobtrusive appearance gives it ample camouflage. He recommends putting two or three of them into a single structure to "suit communal nesting habits," conjuring up the image of a chimney ringing with the strange tweeting of internal birds.
The installed bird brick requires maintenance every two to five years; the stopper on its face unscrews to let a property owner clear out old nests, invading rats and other unwanted things. Otherwise, it simply becomes a stitch in the fabric of urban architecture that also happens to benefit birds. As Dunkerton writes on his project page: "The material properties of brick – low thermal and moisture movement and high durability – make the cavity ideal for nesting without affecting the building structurally, as well as being visually unobtrusive."
The designer plans to test out the bio-centered building blocks after the winter. "I have unfortunately missed the breeding season," he says, "but I commissioned more to be made the other day and I am hoping to install some soon to catch the breeding season next spring!"
The cleaning process:
The assembled nest:
Where they're being fabricated: