Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities [1
] and rapid urban expansion is considered an important threat to biodiversity worldwide [2
]. Overall, degradation and loss of wild habitats due to urbanization negatively affects local bird species’ richness and abundance [4
], leading to dominance by few species that are widespread across different urban settings, thus reducing biotic distinctiveness and enhancing biotic homogenization globally [5
]. In addition to rapid biotic homogenization in urban settings, we must add a concomitant strong tendency towards “biocultural homogenization” [7
]. This concept implies the loss of awareness and willingness to conserve local nature due to the “extinction of experience” or the lack of face-to-face encounters with local biodiversity [8
]. Consequently, biocultural homogenization is a more general and prominent driver of global change that explains the concurrent loss of native species and knowledge of diversity, with their eventual massive replacement by cosmopolitan or exotic species, hand-in-hand with the rise of foreign languages and cosmopolitan cultures [7
As an example of this global homogenization process, Rozzi et al. [11
] analyzed the origin of the flora of urban parks (i.e., central plazas) from eight major cities in southern Chile, documenting that the overwhelming majority of planted trees (~95%) were brought in from Europe, Asia, and North America. Moreover, when people living in these same cities were asked to recall the names of three plant species they had seen in their neighborhood, more than 75% of the respondents could only name exotic species. Roses, apple trees, and tropical palms were among the top five plant names cited, regardless of the city where the survey was conducted [12
]. More recently, Ballouard et al. [10
] found that French schoolchildren, strongly influenced by the media, which is overly dominated by a few iconic, and usually non-native species, were more prone to protect unseen, alien species, rather than local native animals.
Despite the massive internationalization of biota through exotic invasions and deliberate introductions, there is increasing evidence that people tend to have positive responses to—and generally perceive broad benefits from—increased levels of native biodiversity [13
]. However, the relationship between peoples’ perceptions and measured local biodiversity has not yet been conclusively established in field studies. For instance, Fuller et al. [13
] found a significant positive relationship between perceived and observed richness for plants by the inhabitants of Sheffield, UK, and a marginally non-significant positive relationship for bird species richness. However, four years later, Dallimer et al. [16
], in the same city, failed to observe a significant relationship between peoples’ perceived richness and local species richness of plants, birds, and insects. To address the causes of this knowledge loss, reflected by this lack of relationship between perceived and actual biodiversity, Shwartz et al. [17
] experimentally increased the diversity of flowers, birds, and pollinators in small public gardens of Paris, France, demonstrating that people did not notice the increase in species richness, despite their strong fondness for a richer site diversity, with the exception of insects. Finally, Lindemann-Matthies et al. [18
] found that the mean perception of plant richness by people in German cities increased linearly with true species richness.
Evidence suggests that to enhance public knowledge of local ecological systems and peoples’ willingness to conserve nature, it may be critical to deepen our understanding of the connection between biological and cultural diversity by integrating local biodiversity knowledge into new educational programs and novel environmental policies [16
To address this concern in cities, we should learn more about the relationship between actual biodiversity of urban greenspaces and the citizens’ perceptions and valuations of this natural heritage in urban contexts. This analysis is especially relevant for high biodiversity areas of South America [13
]. Most studies of biodiversity in urban settings have been conducted in places where there is a long tradition of wildlife appreciation by city residents, for instance, bird watchers in cities of the United Kingdom [20
]; however, we lack information about the rapidly growing urban environments of South America. The ancient urban settings of the northern hemisphere usually contrast sharply with the more recent and rapidly growing urbanization observed in developing countries, especially Latin America, where the baseline citizen’s knowledge of biodiversity in urban areas has not been fully assessed.
Accordingly, in this article, we first ask the question of how much knowledge do the people living in the large metropolitan area of Santiago, Chile—a city with more than 6 million inhabitants—have of the avifauna present in urban greenspaces; then, we evaluate the citizens’ perceptions of avian species richness against bird species richness records obtained from field assessments in the same locations, and finally, we explore the citizens’ motivations for watching birds in urban parks. Given the fast pace associated with the loss of direct experience with nature and biocultural homogenization in large cities [7
], we expected that peoples’ knowledge of exotic urban birds (which are widely distributed in urban areas) should exceed that of native, less conspicuous, and endemic birds’ characteristic of central Chile, where the city of Santiago is located. This prediction emerges from the fact that biocultural homogenization tends to produce an imbalance in favor of foreign and charismatic species [10