What’s there to see wildlife-wise in the dead of winter in the busy, car-crowded city of Istanbul? The streetwise, urbanised resident species, which benefit from plentiful food left on the streets for feral cats and dogs as well as pigeons and doves. The number of homeless doggies (mostly large breeds) and moggies strolling down the streets was quite remarkable. Once neutered, they are released from shelters back into the city. Packs of dogs playing by a busy road or sleeping on a roundabout, cats curled up on restaurant chairs, dog kibbles under a wall in an alley, rows of shabby cat houses in a corner of a park are all common sights.
On the one hand, ferals put pressure on the local wildlife, but on the other, the food bonanza does not go unexploited. Hooded crows seem to quite like hanging out near the dogs.
Based on casual obervation, hooded crows are the most common corvids in the bustling European part of Istanbul, far outnumbering jackdaws, rooks and magpies.
Surprisingly, in some central areas it wasn’t the urban pigeons that were the most common birds to see. A smaller, daintier pigeon, the laughing dove, took the spotlight.
These little guys are quite tame, although they don’t get as close to people as the brazen urban pigeons. With their small size, gentle nature and delicate pinkish plumage, no wonder they get so much love (in food form) from the human city residents.
But there is even more feeding going on, far from the streets, in the middle of the Bosphorus Strait. It seems to be a popular pastime to throw bread to gulls from the ferries plying between the European and Asian side of the city.
This photo shows the three most common species of gulls in January: black-headed, yellow-legged and common gulls. Gulls hang out by the moored ferries and follow them as they cruise, holding the passengers sitting on the outer deck in their steady gaze, measuring their worth by the presence (or absence) of treats.
Istanbul has its share of introduced bird species – escaped pets which managed to get established. There are the parakeets, Alexandrine and ring-necked, and common mynas. The mynas seem to have an extremely small range in the touristy part of the most busy area.
But enough about birds, what about other animals? Well, the only non-avian vertebrate besides cats, dogs and people that I managed to encounter during my brief stay was a Caucasian squirrel in Yıldız Park, looking slightly aghast at having been spotted.