The Malayan night-heron (Gorsachius melanolophus) is a small heron, which mainly breeds in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, with northern outposts in north-eastern India and Taiwan. The majority are resident, but Indian birds, as well as some northern birds of Southeast Asia, spend the winter in Indonesia or Malaysia. The main habitats of this species are forest and marshy areas, but in Taiwan, where it is fairly common, it is often found in city parks, where it can become remarkably confiding. These four pictures are from the city of Taichung.
This pair of Malayan night-herons were encountered in a park. The bird to the left is probably a male in breeding plumage, showing deep blue lores and a long crest, whereas the other bird presumably is a female, which is not yet sexually mature, or has retained the immature plumage – a character known from females of this species (see Chuan-Chiung Chang: Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus breeding in immature plumage, Forktail 16 (2000), pp. 167-168). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Immature Malayan night-heron, foraging in a polluted stream. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This bird is sitting on its day-roost, a garden wall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The windscreen of this long-term parked car is covered in guano, which has dropped from a Malayan night-heron nest in the tree above. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common orange lichen (Xanthoria parietina), also called yellow scale or shore lichen, is a leafy lichen with a very wide distribution, found in most of Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. This species is one of the few lichens, which is favoured by eutrophication, being very common on rocks, large trees, roofs, walls, etc.
Tombstone with growth of common orange lichen, Kirke Stillinge, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Old wall in the town of Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland, with vegetation of common orange lichen and a fern species, the wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shrikes are a group of striking passerines of the family Lanidae, which perch on trees, bushes, poles, or wires, scanning the surroundings for small prey, such as beetles, dragonflies, bees, lizards, and mice, sometimes impaling them on thorns to be consumed later. Five species of the genus Lanius (true shrikes) have been observed in Taiwan. The generic name is from the Latin lanio (‘butcher’), referring to their food-storing habit.
Altogether four subspecies of the brown shrike (Lanius cristatus) have been described. This species breeds over much of eastern Asia, in most of Siberia, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan, spending the winter in Tropical Asia. Further west, it is replaced by two sister species, the red-backed shrike (L. collurio) and the isabelline shrike (L. isabellinus). These pictures show subspecies lucionensis, which is a common migrant and winter visitor in Taiwan.
Male brown shrike, resting on a wall in a city park, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Immature brown shrike, sitting in front of a blooming Taiwanese cherry tree (Prunus campanulata), Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spreading pellitory-of-the-wall (Parietaria judaica) is a native of southern Europe, central and western Asia and northern Africa, often growing on buildings and stone walls in cities, and along roads. It is regarded as an invasive in Australia, California, and elsewhere.
Spreading pellitory-of-the-wall, growing on a house wall, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Despite its name, the native area of Mexican primrose-willowherb (Ludwigia octovalvis) is unknown, and today it is found in most tropical and subtropical areas of the world, easily becoming naturalized. It belongs to the evening-primrose family (Onagraceae).
Mexican primrose-willowherb, growing along a river in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, the house swift (Apus nipalensis) was considered a subspecies of little swift (A. affinis), but is now regarded as a separate species, distributed from Nepal eastwards to Japan, and thence south through Southeast Asia to Indonesia.
Colonies of house swift on a residential building, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Previously, the common city swallows of South India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan were regarded as belonging to the widespread Pacific swallow (Hirundo tahitica), but 7 subspecies have now been split to form a separate species, the house swallow (H. javanica). Subspecies namiyei is very common in Taiwanese cities, and is also found on the Ryukyu Islands, southern Japan. (Source: hbw.com/species/house-swallow-hirundo-javanica)
These house swallows, of the subspecies namiyei, were photographed in Taichung, Taiwan. The bird in the lower picture is sitting on a door lamp. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Corvids, such as crows, the rook, the magpie, and various treepies, are intelligent birds, which were formerly living in more or less open landscapes. Today, however, many corvids have readily adapted to a life in cities. Six of these are presented below.
As it is extensively hunted in most of its distribution area, the hooded crow (Corvus corone ssp. cornix) is usually very wary of people, often fleeing at a considerable distance. In many cities, where hunting is banned, crows show little fear of people.
Around the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, crows show no fear at all of people, as these pictures clearly show. In the lower picture, a crow is trying to open a zipper on a baby carriage but must give up. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The house crow (Corvus splendens) is an extremely common bird, living in the Indian Subcontinent, southern Iran, and Myanmar. In later years, however, it has spread to many cities in Asia and Africa, arriving as ‘blind passengers’ on board ships. It is also found in a few coastal towns of Europe and North America.
House crows, resting on a rail around the golden Lawkananda Pagoda, Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These house crows are inspecting the remains of a butchered water buffalo in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In former days, the large-billed crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) was called jungle crow, which included two other crows, which are today treated as separate species, the Indian jungle crow (C. culminatus) and the eastern jungle crow (C. levaillantii). Despite these splits, the large-billed crow still has a very wide distribution, found from Afghanistan in the west, across the Himalaya and Tibet to northern China, south-eastern Siberia, and Taiwan, south through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines. In the Indian Subcontinent, it is generally found at higher elevations than the Indian jungle crow. The large-billed crow often lives near human habitation.
Large-billed crow, resting on a house roof in the town of Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
For hundreds of years, the rook (Corvus frugilegus), which breeds in colonies, has been much persecuted, as it was traditionally regarded as a pest which ate crops in the fields. However, it is an established fact that the rook also benefits the farmer through consuming lots of crane fly larvae and other harmful insects. Young rooks are much cherished as food, and lots of young are shot on the nests in spring.
During the last 30 to 40 years, many rooks have been moving from rural areas into towns and cities, where they are secure from hunters. However, they are also persecuted in many of these new breeding areas, as they are noisy and make a mess. As a result, the rook is diminishing in many areas.
Colony of rooks, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rook, near Århus, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Eurasian magpie (Pica pica), divided into ten subspecies, is distributed from western Europe eastwards to Kamchatka, southwards to North Africa, Arabia, the Himalaya, and northern Indochina. Some authorities maintain that four of the subspecies are separate species.
The word ‘pie’ is of Indo-European origin, meaning ‘pointed’, referring to the long, pointed tail. The prefix ‘mag’ dates from the 16th Century, a short form of the name Margaret, which was a term used for women in general. The call of the bird was likened to the chattering of women, and so it was called ‘mag-pie’. (Source: etymonline.com/word/magpie)
The noisy and garrulous ways of the magpie appear in a passage in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the babbling and bumptious daughters of Pieros dare to challenge the Muses in a song contest, which they, naturally, lose, causing them to hurl abuse at the winners. The leading Muse, Calliope, then says:
“Seeing that you deserve punishment enough for your challenge,
And now add profanities to your offence,
And since our patience is not unlimited,
We will move on to sentence you,
And follow where anger prompts us.
The Emathides [daughters of Pieros] laughed and ridiculed these threatening words,
But as they tried to speak, and attack us with insolent hands,
Making a great clamour,
They saw feathers spring from under their nails,
And plumage cover their arms. Each one saw
The next one’s mouth harden to a solid beak,
And a new bird enter the trees.
When they wanted to beat their breasts in sorrow,
They hung in the air, lifted by the movement of their arms,
Magpies now, the slanderers of the woods.
Even now, as birds, their former eloquence remains,
Their raucous garrulity, and their monstrous capacity for chatter.”
Like the hooded crow, the magpie was formerly a shy bird, fleeing from people at a long distance. Today, however, it is a common breeding bird in cities, where, under normal circumstances, people do not constitute a danger to the birds. The three pictures below are all from Copenhagen, Denmark.
Magpie, resting on a gravestone in a Jewish cemetery. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young magpie is sitting on the rail of a foot bridge across a canal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This magpie nest is built in a silver birch (Betula pendula) with thousands of catkins. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The grey, or Himalayan, treepie (Dendrocitta formosae), is distributed along the foothills of the Himalaya, eastwards through montane areas of northern Indochina and southern China to Taiwan. In Taiwan, however, the nominate subspecies, formosae, lives almost down to sea level. In most areas, this bird is rather shy, but in Taiwan it has become accustomed to people, showing no fear at all. These pictures are from city parks in Taichung.
More photos of this bird are found elsewhere on this website, see Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
Grey treepie, feeding on seeds of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera). This tree is presented elsewhere on this website, see: In praise of the colour red. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This grey treepie in Tunghai University Park is investigating a leaf for insects. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The native area of the slender, or green, amaranth (Amaranthus viridis) is unknown, and today it is distributed in all warmer areas of the world. Leaves, as well as seeds, are a source of food in many parts of the world. In Australia, it was eaten during the 19th Century. In 1889, botanist Joseph Maiden (1859-1925) wrote: “It is an excellent substitute for spinach, being far superior to much of the leaves of the white beet sold for spinach in Sydney. Next to spinach it seems to be most like boiled nettle leaves, which when young are used in England, and are excellent. This amarantus should be cooked like spinach, and as it becomes more widely known, it is sure to be popular, except amongst persons who may consider it beneath their dignity to have anything to do with so common a weed.” (Source: T. Low, 1985. Wild Herbs of Australia & New Zealand. Angus & Robertson)
In India, slender amaranth is utilized in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
In Taiwan, where this picture was taken, slender amaranth is very common in cities, especially in fallow areas, and along roads and embankments. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The native area of silver cockscomb (Celosia argentea), also called feathery amaranth, is unknown, but today it is found in most tropical and subtropical areas of the world. It is regarded as an invasive plant in numerous countries, including India, Japan, Ecuador (Galapagos Islands), Fiji, Taiwan, and the United States. – Read more about this species elsewhere on this website, see Traditional medicine.
Silver cockscomb is very common in Taiwanese cities, often growing grows in abandoned plots, as in this picture from Taichung. Downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa), likewise an invasive species, is also seen. This species is presented elsewhere on this page. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In later years, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) has declined drastically in large parts of Europe, whereas it is very common in North America, where it was introduced several times between 1851 and 1875. Today, it is regarded as a serious crop raider in large parts of North America.
Male house sparrow, sitting on a roof, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hand-feeding house sparrows in St. James’ Park, London. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A near relative of the house sparrow is the tree sparrow (Passer montanus), which has a huge distribution, from western Europe across Central Asia to Japan, and thence south through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines. These pictures are from Taiwan, where the tree sparrow is very common and has taken over the role of the house sparrow as a city bird, as the latter is not found in Taiwan.
A flock of tree sparrows, sitting on plastic tapes on the roof of a greenhouse in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tree sparrows, feeding on seeds of a Chinese tallow-tree (Triadica sebifera), Taichung. – Read about this tree elsewhere on this website, see: In praise of the colour red. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This tree sparrow is sitting on a sculpture in a Daoist temple, depicting a dragon, Taichung. – Read about Daoism elsewhere on this website, see Religion: Daoism in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Virginian peppercress (Lepidium virginicum), also known as least pepperwort, belongs to the mustard family (Brassicaceae). All parts of this plant have a peppery taste, hence its common names. It is a native of North America, from southern Canada south to Mexico, but has been widely introduced to many other countries. It grows in open, drier places, and has readily adapted to a life in cities.
This Virginian peppercress has sprouted in a crack in an abandoned parking lot in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, the majority of the World’s gulls were breeding in wetlands, and they were rather shy of people. During the last 50 years, however, many gull species have readily adapted to a life in cities, often breeding on house roofs, and eating mainly garbage.
During the last 50 years, the number of breeding herring gulls (Larus argentatus) in European cities has increased significantly, the birds placing their nests on top of high-rise buildings. These pictures are from Denmark.
Herring gulls, feeding on scraps from a fishing vessel in Copenhagen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This herring gull is waiting for tidbits beside a fisherman, who is gutting fish in the harbour of Kerteminde, Funen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The western yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) is found in the Mediterranean Sea. This species resembles the widespread herring gull (above), but can be identified by its yellow legs and very powerful beak. It often breeds on house roofs, and if a window is left open, it may enter to search for edibles. It is extremely common in Istanbul, Turkey, where these pictures were taken.
Western yellow-legged gull with chicks in its nest, which is placed on a house roof. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This narcissistic western yellow-legged gull is gazing at its reflection in a window pane. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This western yellow-legged gull is drinking from a fountain, oblivious of the courting couple in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
“Get lost! This is my lamp!” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This western yellow-legged gull has just killed a domestic pigeon and is now eating it on a roof top. It shows a threatening attitude towards an intruding hooded crow (Corvus corone ssp. cornix), which is very interested in the kill. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In former days, the small black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) was very common in most of Europe, but it has declined drastically during the last 30 to 40 years. It often breeds in city parks, but not on house roofs.
Black-headed gulls, resting on a pleasure boat in a harbour in central Jutland, Denmark. The bird in front is wearing a numbered plastic ring. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Previously, the vega gull (Larus vegae) was considered to be a subspecies of the Eurasian herring gull (L. argentatus), but today it is regarded as a separate species, which is distributed in north-eastern Siberia, from the Lena River east to the Bering Sea.
Vega gulls, resting on the roof of a shed in Anadyr Airport City, Chukotka Peninsula. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Vegetation at a sewage outlet, Taichung, Taiwan. The plant with large leaves is Japanese dock (Rumex japonicus), the one with white flowers is downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa), and the one with yellow flowers is Mexican primrose-willowherb (Ludwigia octovalvis). – The latter two species are presented elsewhere on this page. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is ubiquitous in Europe, including in cities, where it readily grows in cracks and between flagstones. – Read about this species elsewhere on this website, see Traditional medicine, and Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
In both these pictures from Copenhagen, Denmark, dandelion grows along streets, outside the Carlsberg Breweries (top), and among wood chips. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Aerial roots of a giant large-leaved fig (Ficus superba), climbing over the remains of the former warehouse of Tait & Co., Anping, Taiwan. Today, the building is called Anping Tree House. – Read about this species, and other fig trees, elsewhere on this website, see Plants: Ancient and huge trees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sunshine, reflected as colours in a spider’s web in Anping Tree House (see above picture). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The origin of peacock-plume grass (Chloris barbata), also called purple top or swollen fingergrass, is uncertain. Some authorities maintain that it is native to Tropical America, others claim that it is indigenous in Tropical Africa. Whatever its origin may be, it has been accidentally introduced to most warmer parts of the world and is regarded as an invasive in a number of countries, including Australia, Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, and India.
This species is a common weed in sugarcane and rice fields, which is a serious problem, as it is a host of a number of rice insect pests, including white-backed planthoppers (Sogatella furcifera and Sogatodes pusanus), rice bug (Leptocorisa oratorius), rice ear-cutting caterpillar (Mythimna separata), cereal thrips (Haplothrips ganglbaurei and Chirothrips mexicanus), and others.
Lantern tridax (Tridax procumbens), of the daisy family (Asteraceae), is native to Tropical America. Like Chloris barbata, it has been spread to most warmer areas of the world and has become naturalized in many places.
Peacock-plume grass and lantern tridax are both very common in Asiatic cities. In this picture, they grow together along a street in the town of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A tuft of peacock-plume grass has taken root in a crack in the asphalt in an abandoned parking lot in Taichung, Taiwan (top). The bottom picture shows its spikes, moving in the wind. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In this picture, several specimens of peacock-plume grass are growing up a house wall in Taichung, Taiwan. The wind has moved the inflorescences back and forth, scraping dirt and paint off the wall in semi-circles. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Large growth of lantern tridax in an abandoned parking lot, Taichung, Taiwan. This species is extremely common in Taiwanese cities. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
There are altogether eleven subspecies of the white wagtail (Motacilla alba), breeding from East Greenland in the west to Alaska in the east, and south to Morocco, Iran, the Himalaya, and Taiwan. The nominate race, alba, is found in eastern Greenland, Iceland, and the entire Europe, apart from the British Isles, and further east, almost to the Ural Mountains. In the British Isles, it is replaced by the race yarrellii, in Morocco by subpersonata, and in the Ural Mountains, south to the Caspian Sea, by dukhunensis. In Siberia and western Alaska, the race ocularis is breeding, in Iran persica, in the western part of Central Asia personata, in Central Asia baicalensis, in the Himalaya alboides, in China, Korea and Taiwan leucopsis, and in Japan, Sakhalin and Kamchatka lugens. Many of the northern races are migratory, while the southernmost are resident. This species is confiding, often breeding in buildings.
Male of the nominate race of white wagtail, ssp. alba, photographed on the island of Christiansø, Bornholm, Denmark. Red roof tiles are seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Amur wagtail, ssp. leucopsis, sitting on a concrete wall along a river in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male Himalayan wagtail, ssp. alboides, sitting on a dilapidated wall in Hutiao Xia (Tiger Leaping Gorge), Jinsha River, Yunnan Province, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male masked wagtail, ssp. personata, stretching a wing on a boat, Phewa Lake, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Obscure morning-glory (Ipomoea obscura), climbing along barbwire in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. – Read about this species and other members of the morning-glory family elsewhere on this website, see Plants: The morning-glory family. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This ‘long-term’ parked car in the city of Taichung, Taiwan, is overgrown by various plants, including a climber of the pea family with chocolate-brown flowers, obscure morning-glory (Ipomoea obscura), with smallish white flowers, and downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa), an invasive species, which is abundant in Taiwan (the plant with white ray-florets). – Obscure morning-glory is shown above, while downy bur-marigold is presented elsewhere on this page. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
An elm-leaved sumac (Rhus coriaria) has taken root on the wall of an abandoned house, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. This species is native to southern Europe and Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Barren brome (Bromus sterilis) is a very common grass species, native to Europe, North Africa, and West and Central Asia. It often grows in cities, here photographed next to a red house wall in the town of Svaneke, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The smallish black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is found in most warmer parts of the world, except in Australia, where it is replaced by the closely related rufous night-heron (N. caledonicus). The generic name Nycticorax means ‘night raven’, from the Greek nuktos (‘night’) and korax (‘raven’), referring to the mainly nocturnal feeding habits of this genus, and their hoarse, raven-like call.
In Taiwan, the black-crowned night-heron is quite common and often confiding. This adult bird is sitting on a wall along a sewage canal, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Immature black-crowned night-heron, feeding in a sewage canal, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), which is probably indigenous to the Middle East and north-eastern Africa, has been widely cultivated elsewhere for thousands of years. Today, it is a widespread weed in almost all tropical and subtropical countries.
The generic name Ricinus is Latin, meaning ‘tick’, referring to the seed, which resembles certain species of ticks. Another common name of this plant is Palm of Christ, which refers to the ability of its oil to heal wounds and cure various ailments.
Read more about the medical properties of castor oil plant elsewhere on this website, see Traditional medicine.
The castor oil plant is extremely common in the lowlands of Taiwan, also in cities. This one, with ripe fruits, grows in an abandoned plot in Taichung (top), while one, with red female flowers above and white male flowers below, has taken root in a crack along a rainwater drainage canal, likewise in Taichung (bottom). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shepherd’s-purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), which is a native of western Asia and Europe, has become naturalized almost worldwide in temperate and subtropical areas. It is also called shepherd’s bag, shepherd’s scrip, shepherd’s sprout, lady’s purse, witches’ pouches, rattle pouches, case-weed, pick-pocket, pick-purse, blindweed, pepper-and-salt, poor man’s pharmacettie, and mother’s heart. Most of these names, as well as the specific name, refer to the shape of the fruits, or siliques, which are flat and triangular, resembling an old-fashioned bag or purse.
An Irish name of the species, clappedepouch, refers to the long-stalked siliques. This name was given in allusion to the begging of lepers, who would ring a bell, or a clapper, receiving their alms in a cup at the end of a long pole, to avoid people being infected.
Read about medical usage of this species elsewhere on this website, see Traditional medicine.
Shepherd’s-purse, growing in a crack along a sidewalk in Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Large growth of shepherd’s-purse in Tunghai University Park, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In severe winters, many starving water birds gather in harbours, where conditions are often less harsh than in open areas. This woman in Lausanne, Switzerland, is feeding various bird species, such as mute swans (Cygnus olor), coots (Fulica atra), tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula), black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), and feral pigeons (Columba livia). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Four yellow-flowered members of the composite family (Asteraceae) are common in East Asian cities. Three of these species, which are native to eastern Asia, are quite similar, having small flowerheads and more or less flat leaves, while the fourth is easily recognized by its large, thistle-like leaves.
The stem of Oriental false hawksbeard (Youngia japonica), also called Japanese hawksbeard, is usually tall, erect, and unbranched, with numerous small flowerheads at the top. Its basal leaves are quite broad, more or less hairy, and mostly deeply lobed or pinnately divided. The flowerheads are up to 8 millimetres across. Today, this species has spread to most warmer areas of the world.
In Taiwan, Oriental false hawksbeard tends to grow under tree cover, and in cities it is mostly found in parks, like these, forming a large growth in Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rabbit milkweed (Ixeris chinensis) can be identified by its mostly linear, rather narrow leaves and pale yellow flowerheads, which are up to 2 centimetres across. It is very common in all types of open areas, such as grasslands, forest margins, shrublands, riverbanks, field margins, wastelands, and roadsides.
Rabbit milkweed, growing along a house wall (top) and along a sidewalk, both in Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The basal leaves of Ixeridium laevigatum are very variable, mostly with rather large lobes, but sometimes being almost entire, while the stem leaves are mostly linear and rather narrow. The flowerheads are up to 1 cm across. In Taiwan, this species is very common in urban areas.
Ixeridium laevigatum, growing beneath a tree on a sidewalk in Taichung, together with a species of mugwort (Artemisia). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is native to Europe and western Asia, but has spread to most other areas of the world. It is regarded as an invasive plant in many countries, including Australia, where it is a serious problem in crops. It is easily identified by its slightly prickly, deeply divided leaves.
The generic name is a Latinized form of the Greek word sonchos, the ancient name for sow-thistles, while oleraceus is from the Latin oleris, meaning ‘edible’. Young leaves can be eaten as salad or cooked like spinach. The common name refers to the fact that pigs like to eat this plant, and to the leaves, which resemble young thistle leaves.
Common sow-thistle, growing in a city park in Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This common sow-thistle has taken root along a house wall in the town of Rønne, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Hinduism, Rama is the seventh incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu, and main character in the great epic Ramayana. One day, his fiancée, Sita, is abducted by Ravana, a demon king from Sri Lanka. Hanuman, who is the leader of the monkey army, is a great help to Rama in his struggle to liberate Sita. As a reward for his services, Hanuman was raised to become a Hindu deity.
Due to the great deeds performed by the monkey army in the Ramayana, monkeys are considered sacred among Hindus, and troops of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata), or grey langurs (Semnopithecus) often live around temples, where part of their diet consists of rice, sweets, or other edibles, brought as offerings by devout Hindus. They also roam the cities in search of food, often being a pest to street vendors, who sell vegetables and fruit.
Elsewhere on this website, see Animals: Monkeys and apes, you find information about numerous other species of monkeys and apes, as well as a more detailed account of the role of Hanuman in the Ramayana.
Like a bunch of street urchins, these southern plains langurs (Semnopithecus dussumieri) are sitting on a roof top in the city of Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, from where they survey the surroundings for fruit or other edibles to steal (top). The bottom picture shows langurs, resting in a pavilion near the sacred lake in Pushkar. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) is found in a wide variety of habitats in the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent and in Myanmar, including cities, where it is often very common.
This rhesus monkey is walking along a narrow wall, surrounding the Hawa Mahal Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhesus monkey, sitting on a balcony in front of a residential home in Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This rhesus monkey jumps from one house wall to another, likewise in Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In South Indian cities, the bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata) takes over the role of the North Indian rhesus monkey, especially around Hindu temples, where they eat offerings of rice and flowers.
In temples, bonnet macaques often become obese, as this one, resting on a sculpture of an elephant in the Sri Minakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This street performer in the city of Tirumalai, Andhra Pradesh, has caught two young bonnet macaques, training them to perform. They seem to be arguing about something. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its specific name implies, thrift (Armeria maritima) is a seashore plant. However, following the introduction of salt-strewing on snow-covered roads, this species has spread inland, where it is now common along roads, even in cities.
Thrift, growing in a crack in a sidewalk, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The potato tree (Solanum erianthum), a species of nightshade, is a native of North and Central America, but has been introduced to numerous other countries, in many areas considered an ‘environmental weed’. It is very common in Taiwanese cities, often growing on vacant lots, and in cracks along house walls and water courses.
Potato tree, photographed in an abandoned house plot in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) is a water bird with a very wide distribution, found from the British Isles and the Mediterranean, across temperate regions of Eurasia eastwards to China. Furthermore, it has isolated populations in southern Africa and Australia.
The great crested grebe has adapted to a life in harbours, as this one in Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Red sand-spurrey (Spergularia rubra) and procumbent pearlwort (Sagina procumbens) are small plants of the pink family (Caryophyllaceae). Both species are native to Europe and Northern Asia, but have been accidentally spread to many other parts of the world. They are common weeds in fallow fields and along roads, and both have adapted to a life in cities.
In this picture from the town of Gudhjem, Bornholm, Denmark, red sand-spurrey (left) and procumbent pearlwort grow in a crack on a sidewalk. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Previously, the wood pigeon (Columba palumbus) was a shy forest bird, but in later years it has adapted to a life in cities, where it is now very common. This species is found all over Europe, the Middle East, and Morocco, with isolated populations in Central Asia and the western part of the Himalaya.
This wood pigeon is sitting on a house chimney on the island of Fanø, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Many species of cockroaches have adapted to a life in cities, where they are often an immense nuisance. Read about their usage in Chinese folk medicine elsewhere on this website, see: Traditional medicine.
Cockroaches prefer humid surroundings. This one was photographed in a bathroom in the town of Bontoc, northern Luzon, Philippines. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The long-headed poppy (Papaver dubium) is very common all over Europe, where it mostly grows along roads and in fallow fields. More pictures of this species are found elsewhere on this website, see: In praise of the colour red.
This long-headed poppy has rooted in a crack along a house wall, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the town of Deshnok, Rajasthan, north-western India, a local goddess, Karna Mata, is regarded as an incarnation of the great Hindu goddess Durga. Her followers believe that if you are reborn as a rat, you escape the wrath of Yama, the God of Death. For this reason, rats are sacred, and they are fed in temples.
Pilgrims, feeding a horde of black rats (Rattus rattus) in the Karna Mata Mandir Temple, Deshnok. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The railroad creeper (Ipomoea cairica), also called coast morning-glory or mile-a-minute vine, is believed to be a native of Tropical Africa, but today it has a very wide distribution in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. This species is capable of very rapid growth, sometimes completely entwining trees and bushes, but it is also able to creep along the ground. It is regarded as an invasive in many areas, including eastern Australia, southern China, and Taiwan.
Read more about this species and other members of the morning-glory family elsewhere on this website, see Plants: The morning-glory family.
These pictures are from Taiwan, where railroad creeper is extremely common. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The spotted, or pearl-necked dove (Spilopelia chinensis), is a pretty bird, distinguished by its pearl-like white spots on black background on the side of the neck. Formerly, it was included in the genus Streptopelia (turtle doves), but studies on vocalization, together with DNA analyses, led to the conclusion, that this species and its near relative, the laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis), differed from the other Streptopelia species. The spotted dove is widely distributed in Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent east to China and Taiwan, thence south through the Philippines and Southeast Asia to Indonesia.
The spotted dove is very common in Taiwan, also in cities. In this picture, a pair is sitting on the rail of an apartment balcony in a skyscraper in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Due to its pretty flowers and vigorous growth, ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis), which is a native to the Mediterranean, has been introduced to many parts of the world as an ornamental. In some areas, however, it has escaped cultivation and has become an invasive.
Ivy-leaved toadflax, growing on a stone wall, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Geckos of the genus Hemidactylus are often called house geckos, as many of the species have adapted to a life inside houses. They are native to most tropical areas of the world, and a few species are also found in subtropical parts of Europe and Africa. Presently, about 90 species are known, with new species being described every few years.
House gecko, sitting on a house wall, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Greater plantain (Plantago major) is native to Europe and Temperate Asia, but has been introduced to many parts of the world, often becoming naturalized. When the Europeans emigrated to North America, the sticky seeds of this species often stuck to wagon wheels, thus spreading it, wherever the immigrants went. This was noticed by the indigenous peoples, who called it ‘white man’s footprint’.
Greater plantain, growing in a crack along a gutter, Jutland, Denmark. The red object is a rose petal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The grey heron (Ardea cinerea) is distributed in most of Asia, Europe, Africa, and Madagascar. Formerly, this species was a very shy bird, but in later years it has adapted to a life in cities. In America, it is replaced by the similar, slightly larger great blue heron (A. herodias). – More pictures of grey heron are found elsewhere on this website, see Animals: Birds in Taiwan. The great blue heron is presented at: In praise of the colour blue.
This grey heron was encountered in the harbour of Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Angled luffa (Luffa acutangula), also called ridged gourd, sponge gourd and many other names, is widely cultivated in Asia. Young fruits are cooked as a vegetable, or pickled, while the fibres inside mature fruits are used as a sponge or for making hats.
From vegetable gardens in the city of Taichung, Taiwan, cultivated angled luffas are climbing up fences. In the lower picture, several plants have climbed so high, that they could not be harvested, allowing them to produce seeds. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Disc mayweed (Matricaria discoidea) is native to North America and north-eastern Asia, south to Hokkaido, Japan. Today, however, it has been accidentally introduced to most other areas of the world, where it is a common weed, growing in open areas. Other names of the plant are wild chamomile and pineapple weed, due to its chamomile- or pineapple-like smell, when crushed.
Disc mayweed, growing in a crack along a gutter, Jutland, Denmark. The white object is a bird feather. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common storksbill (Erodium cicutarium) is native to Europe, North Africa, and parts of Temperate Asia, but has been accidentally introduced to many parts of the world, including North America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Chile. In many places, it is considered a noxious weed, as it is most proliferate, readily outcompeting native plant species and crops. The ripe fruit splits into five segments, each with a long, spirally twisting style, with a seed attached at the base. As the style twists, it is able to drill the seed into the soil.
Common storksbill, growing at a house wall, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Grass, finding its way through an opening in a discarded car, where the rear light glass is missing, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is native to most of Temperate Europe and Asia, North Africa, and Alaska. In other areas of North America, it has become naturalized. Originally, this species was a species of grasslands and sandy beaches, but it readily spreads to fields, where it is a noxious weed. In China, it is used as a substitute for Artemisia argyii to make moxa, which is much utilized as a healer in traditional Chinese medicine.
In this picture, common mugwort grows near a canal in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In 1984, the mute swan (Cygnus olor) was elected the national bird of Denmark – an appropriate choice, as it is very common. This was not always the case. In the 1800s, swans were hunted in Denmark, and by 1920, only three or four pairs were breeding in the vicinity of Copenhagen. Swans were protected in 1926, and the mute swan soon began spreading across the country.
This mute swan is nesting on a pontoon in a canal in Copenhagen, oblivious of a passing tourist boat. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The greylag goose (Anser anser) is widely distributed across northern Eurasia. In many countries, it breeds in city parks, where it often becomes remarkably confiding – sometimes even showing a threatening attitude towards people.
Child, feeding greylag geese between bars in a fence, surrounding St. James’ Park, London. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
When they have goslings, greylag geese are often so bold that they sometimes threaten passing people. This male goose in a city park in Copenhagen, Denmark, is hissing at me because of its goslings in the foreground, but is itself being threatened by a male mute swan (Cygnus olor). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A species of sagebrush (Artemisia), growing along a busy street, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Red fescue (Festuca rubra) is a very adaptable grass, which can grow in most open habitats, including beaches and dunes. It has also adapted to a life in cities, as this group, growing along a water front at Lake Mälaren, central Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The light-vented, or Chinese, bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis) is distributed from central China southwards to Vietnam, and eastwards to Japan and Taiwan. This species is one of the commonest birds in Taiwan, living in a wide variety of habitats, such as secondary forest, farmland, parks, gardens, and even city areas with scant vegetation.
Read more about this species and other bulbuls elsewhere on this website, see Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
Light-vented bulbul, surveying its surroundings from the top of a white leadtree (Leucaena leucocephala), Taichung, Taiwan. – This tree is presented elsewhere on this website, see Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This light-vented bulbul is enjoying the morning sun, sitting on the rail of a balcony in Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum), also called heart pea or love-in-a-puff, is a climber, easily recognized by its swollen fruits. Its tiny seeds are black with a white spot, shaped like a heart, hence its generic name, as well as the common name heart pea. – Read more about this species elsewhere on this website, see Nature: Invasive species, and about medical usage of this plant at: Traditional medicine.
Balloon vine, clinging to barbwire in Taiwan, where this species is very common. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In cities, especially city parks, squirrels often become very tame. These pictures show three examples.
The eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the most widespread squirrel in North America, but has also been successfully introduced to South Africa, Britain, and other places. In Britain, it has become a pest, as it competes with the native European red squirrel (S. vulgaris), which is now scarce south of Scotland. – Read more about the eastern grey squirrel, and many other North American squirrels, elsewhere on this website, see Animals: Squirrels of North America.
This man is feeding an eastern grey squirrel, as well as feral pigeons, in Kew Botanical Gardens, London. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The commonest squirrel in Taiwan, which is ubiquitous in the lowland, is the aptly named Taiwan squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus ssp. taiwanensis). It is a subspecies of the widespread red-bellied squirrel, which is found in China, Southeast Asia, and north-eastern India.
Near the Confucius Temple in the city of Tainan, southern Taiwan, people are feeding birds, causing the otherwise rather shy Taiwan squirrels to have become remarkably tame. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Taiwan squirrel is eating bark of a blackboard tree (Alstonia scholaris), Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The five-striped palm-squirrel (Funambulus pennantii) is native to south-eastern Iran and to the Indian Subcontinent, south to the state of Karnataka. It is very common in North Indian cities, even metropoles like Delhi and Kolkata. It has also been introduced to New Guinea and to many Pacific islands, and a population is found in Australia, in the city of Perth, established from zoo escapes.
The five-striped palm-squirrel is ubiquitous in North Indian cities. This picture is from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The colourful pied myna, or Asian pied starling (Gracupica contra) is a bird of the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. This one is feeding among washed-up marigold garlands, which have been brought as an offering to the sacred Ganges River, Varanasi, India. – Read more about the Ganges River, and about Hinduism in general, elsewhere on this website, see Religion: Hinduism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pink snail eggs, adorning a concrete embankment along a rainwater canal in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The stonecrop, or orpine family, Crassulaceae, which includes stonecrops (Sedum) and roseroots (Rhodiola), among other genera, are characterized by plants with succulent leaves – an adaptation to growing in dry areas with little water. This family, which includes c. 35 genera with about 1,400 species, is found worldwide, with the greatest diversity in the Northern Hemisphere and in southern Africa.
Stonecrops (Sedum) are creeping plants, which grow in dry areas, such as in sand, among scree, or on rocks. This genus, counting about 470 species, is mainly distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, but is also found in southern Africa and in South America.
Biting stonecrop (Sedum acre), growing in a crack between granite steps in the town of Rønne, Bornholm, Denmark. This species is named after the bitter, peppery taste of its leaves, caused by their content of slightly toxic alkaloids. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common mallow (Malva sylvestris) is a native of Temperate Asia, Europe, and North Africa. It has been introduced to many countries as an ornamental and has become naturalized many places, including Australia, the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
In this picture, common mallow grows on a graveyard wall next to Nylars Church, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The bank myna (Acridotheres ginginianus) is a common bird in North Indian cities. This one in Varanasi is preening by taking ants in its bill, gleaning its feathers with them. Presumably, the purpose of this behaviour is to kill pests with the formic acid. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), growing near a playground, Taichung, Taiwan. This species is very common in Taiwanese cities, popping up in cracks everywhere. – Read about this species elsewhere on this website, see Nature: Invasive species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The black Eurasian coot (Fulica atra) is a member of the large family Rallidae, comprising coots, gallinules, rails, crakes, and many others. As a breeding bird, it is widely distributed across Temperate Eurasia, eastwards to Japan, and in north-western Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, New Guinea, and Australia. Siberian populations are migratory, while African, Indian, Australian, and most European birds are resident. Very similar species are found in the Iberian Peninsula, Africa, the Americas, and Hawaii.
In many places, the Eurasian coot has adapted to a life in cities. This bird in Enkhuizen, West-Friesland, Holland, has built a nest in a canal, made from twigs, water plants, and plastic bags. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Marsh cudweed (Gnaphalium uliginosum), also called brown cudweed, is native to Europe and northern Asia, and it has been accidentally introduced in North America, where it is found in the northern half of the continent. The natural habitat of this plant is humid areas, such as water-logged fields, but it is also able to thrive in drier areas, including city streets. In Russia, it has been used in folk medicine to treat high blood pressure.
Marsh cudweed (the greyish-green plants), growing together with greater plantain (Plantago major) and annual meadow-grass (Poa annua) among cobble stones on a sidewalk, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) is found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Melanesia. In the United States, it has been introduced to the Florida Keys, where it has become invasive. It is easily identified by its loud call, rendered as geck-oo or tuc-too.
In Chinese medicine, tokay geckos are used for various ailments and diseases, including stroke, paralysis, arthritis, impotence, premature ejaculation, frequent urination, nocturnal urination, and emaciation. New research has shown that it has a positive effect on malignant tumours, especially in the digestive system. Today, the species is threatened due to over-collection and habitat loss.
Formerly, in China, a number of superstitions were related to the tokay gecko. It was believed that its urine was deadly poisonous. If a pregnant woman consumed it, she was certain to deliver a boy. As tokay geckos mate for a very long time, it was believed that consuming them would cure impotency.
In Southeast Asia, the tokay gecko is often encountered in houses, as in this picture from the island of Mindoro, Philippines. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Downy bur-marigold (Bidens pilosa) is a pan-tropical and -subtropical weed of unknown origin, which has become a pest in many places, expelling native species. One isolated plant can produce over 30,000 hooked seeds, which are readily spread by sticking to animals’ furs, socks, trousers, etc. This way of seed dispersal has given it names like beggar-ticks, stickseed, farmer’s friend (ironic!), needle grass, Spanish needles, stick-tight, cobbler’s pegs, Devil’s needles, and Devil’s pitchfork. Other names include blackjack and hairy bidens.
“The common blackjack is not only an irritant to horses, (but) can cause them injury. (…) There can be few of us who have not spent ages picking them off our clothes after walking through the veld to catch horses in the early winter. Blackjacks that become entangled in the forelock of a horse can be a great irritant, and the animal will toss its head, if you try to remove them. The spines can injure the eyes, so it’s better to clip the forelocks short. Blackjacks can also get caught up in the long hair behind the fetlocks and pasterns, causing chronic irritation and lameness.” (Source: farmersweekly.co.za/animals/horses/beware-those-blackjacks)
This species is reported to be a weed of 31 crops in more than 40 countries, Latin America and eastern Africa having the worst infestations. (Source: cabi.org/isc/datasheet/9148)
However, downy bur-marigold is not only a troublesome weed, it also has medicinal properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been used for a large number of ailments, including influenza, colds, fever, sore throat, appendicitis, hepatitis, malaria, and haemorrhoids. Due to its high content of fiber, it is beneficial to the cardiovascular system, and it has been used with success in treatment of diabetes.
These pictures are from Taiwan, where downy bur-marigold is extremely common, often covering huge areas. In the upper picture, it grows up a fence, while the lower picture shows a plant, which has taken root between two road dividers. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Wall barley, or false barley (Hordeum murinum), is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. It has readily adapted to a life in cities. In these two pictures from Denmark, its pale spikes stand out against house walls in the village of Jyllinge, Zealand (top), and in the town of Rønne, Bornholm. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its name implies, goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria) was formerly used as a medicinal herb to treat gout, and also arthritis. As far back as Ancient Rome, and throughout the Middle Ages, young goutweed leaves were utilized as a vegetable, much as spinach was used. Goutweed is native to southern Europe and western Asia, but was introduced as a garden plant to northern Europe as early as the Middle Ages. It has also been accidentally introduced to North America, and almost everywhere it has become a most annoying garden weed.
In this picture, goutweed is growing out through a beech hedge alongside a pavement. – Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded June 2016)
(Latest update January 2019)