An airport for birds to counter the effects of urbanism

Construction gets underway in April on what’s been touted as a world first -  a “migratory bird airport”. But unlike other airports this ambitious project in China won’t feature any grey concrete tarmac, or atmosphere polluting aircraft. Instead it’ll be lush with wetlands and filled with birdsong.

Landscape architects and designers, McGregor Coxall, designed the 110-hectare Lingang Bird Sanctuary in Tianjin, for a competition funded by the Asia Bank and led by the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area. The brief was to increase bird habitat on the shores of Bohai Bay where food sources and space are scarce because of increasing urbanisation. (In the last 50 years just over half of intertidal habitat in China has been converted to urban, industrial or agricultural land).


Every year fifty million birds pass through the area, as they make the return journey from Alaska to Australia and New Zealand, along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) looking for food and shelter. They cross 22 countries. Some birds fly more than 11,000 kilometres, and go ten days without any sort of sustenance.

As one of the eight global north-south flyways, the EAAF is now the world’s most threatened because of the loss of bird foraging habitat. One in five globally threatened water birds fly the route.


McGregor Coxall had their landscape architecture and environmental teams from Australia and Shanghai collaborate to ensure that an international design approach was integrated with local cultural perspectives. Founding director and CEO of the company, Adrian McGregor says one of the key challenges was navigating the different interests of the client group.

“One part of the client group desired a very active landscape for use by people from the surrounding urban development,” McGregor says. “The other part of the client group was focused on the creation of a bird sanctuary. Striking a balance between these differing requirements was the key to achieving a successful outcome.”


What the teams have come up with is three different water habitats including an island lake with shallow rapids, reed zone and mud flats. When complete, the site will comprise 14 bird hides, a 20-hectare forest and a visitor and research centre. Other public facilities include wetland trails, a cycle circuit and walking tracks making up a 7km network of recreation trails.

“The earth’s bird flyways are a wonder of the natural world,  McGregor says. “The proposed Bird Airport will be a globally significant sanctuary for endangered migratory bird species whilst providing new green lungs for the city of Tianjin.”

Before any of this can be built the landfill site where it’ll sit, needs to be cleaned up. But it’s hoped by the end of this year those endangered birds will be able to use the bird sanctuary to rest, reproduce and refuel.