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Birds on Campus

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As the buds of spring begin to form, I have decided to introduce you to some of the feathered friends you might find around campus because they, like our seniors, have traveled back north from warmer places. These are only a fraction of the birds you can find in the area, but I wanted to start off with some of the birds you are most likely to hear or see and birds I have personally seen on campus.

Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Red-Tailed Hawks can be found across North America and have various subspecies across the continent. The eastern subspecies, which is the one in our area, is best characterized as having a prominent light front, dark bars from the front of their shoulders to their wrists (yes, birds do have wrists!), and a bright scarlet or russet tail. In addition to these characteristics, males possess a band of dark plumage around their chests. They have a very shrill, raspy screech that is actually used in movies and TV shows as an “eagle’s cry” because eagles have a lackluster chirp that many producers do not find fitting of American’s symbolic bird. You can often find these hawks soaring in circles in the sky above campus, searching for their next meal to swoop down upon.

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

These modest-looking birds are actually close relatives of the common pigeon! Many mistakenly believe they are called Morning Doves, as they can often be heard at dawn, but their name actually comes from their deep, mournful calls that sound like someone sorrowfully crying. These birds are typically found on the ground, particularly when they eat, but it is more likely that you’ll hear them than see them. In the mornings, listen for a coo-COOOOO that sounds almost like an owl to find your local Mourning Dove.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

These lovely vibrant birds might not look like it, but they are actually related to magpies, crows, and even ravens! These common garden birds are rather intelligent and have been known to use tools in captivity. Their love of acorns has accounted for much of the widespread growth of oak trees. Blue Jays are also known for their complex social bonds with their families and other Blue Jays. With their bright minds and bright feathers, Blue Jays are easy to identify and are certainly entertaining to watch.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Between Angelica Hall and the Athletic Center, there are some large pine trees where you can occasionally find a few American Crows. Despite the many superstitions surrounding these birds, they are incredibly intelligent and are capable of problem solving and even mimicking human speech (so, yes, a crow or raven could, in fact, say “Nevermore”). In the spring when they have nests and hatchlings, you can sometimes find crows mobbing, which is when individuals of prey species cooperatively attack a potentially dangerous predator to protect their offspring. Even if they are considerably smaller than red tailed hawks, a group of crows surround the hawk and harass it until it flees, keeping crows’ offspring safe. These jet black creatures are often considered bad luck, but I believe you would be lucky to see these magnificent birds around campus.  

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

Tufted Titmice are relatives to the chickadee and are rather sweet. They have a light gray body with a white or cream-colored stomach and a yellow or rust-colored streak under their wings. These small songbirds love to hang upside-down on bird feeders and are easily recognizable by their mohawk, which is the reason for the “tufted” part of their name. While some think that the “mouse” part of their name comes from its mousey gray color, it actually refers to its small size, as small birds or mammals used to be called mice, even when they were not rodents. To line their nests, these little guys will actual dive-bomb mammals like raccoons, squirrels, and even humans to get hair and fur.

Black Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

These little birds, cute in every sense of the word, are known for their curiosity and vibrant personalities. They are easily identifiable with a black cap (hence their name) and chin, white patch on the back of their heads, gray bodies, and cream-colored underbellies. Despite their small size, these little birds are incredibly intelligent and have complex vocal patterns. Every winter, Chickadees’ brains are capable of remembering thousands of hiding places for seeds and nuts, but every fall, they “clear their minds” of these hiding places, allowing some of their brain cells to die so they can be replaced in preparation for the next winter. Don’t underestimate these guys, nor their “bird brains!”

White-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

Often mistaken for chickadees because of their coloration or for woodpeckers because of the way they creep on trees and bird feeders, these insectivores are entirely their own. They have a black cap with a blue-gray body and a white face and stomach. They are often found creeping up and down trees and have a flight pattern very similar to that of woodpeckers.  They will often live in flocks with other small birds, particularly chickadees and tufted titmice, and they frequent bird feeders.

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Wrens are best known for their voices, not their dull appearance, and the male Carolina Wren in particular is famous for his song of three quickly repeated whistles that are often said to sound similar to the words “tea-kettle” or ‘Germany.’ While you will likely hear these birds and not see them, their appearance is rather endearing. These birds are rather stocky with a thin tail often perked upright and distinguished by the stripes around their eyes and the dark banding on their tail. These little lovebirds have elaborate courting songs sung by the male and, when a female is attracted, they will mate for life. They stay together all year and if you see one, its mate is often not too far away!

Dark-Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

Despite its slate gray plumage as opposed to various shades of brown, the Junco is actually a type of sparrow. There are a few regional variants, (slate-colored, gray-headed, pink sided, white winged and Oregon), although it is likely that you will only see the slate-gray version around here. Among all variants, their light pink beak, dark gray bodies, and white or light gray underbellies clearly distinguish them. They spend most of the year in the Northern United States and Canada, but you can see them a lot in New Jersey during the winter. They are one of the most populous and common birds in the United States and love bird feeders, so it is easy to find these little guys!

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

These flashy birds are easy to identify with their bright scarlet color and their pronounced mohawks. Many do not know that the females are actually pinkish brown, but both the male and female have the distinct black area around their eyes and throat and light red beak. While they do remain around here in the spring and summer months, they are a winter favorite with the stark contrast between their scarlet feathers and a snowy winter wonderland. They have a wide range of calls, some of the most common including a high-pitched chirp that sounds like “pew-pew-pew,” a lower pitched song that sounds like “birdie-birdie-birdie,” and another consisting of a high pitch chirp followed by a low pitch chirp, repeated a few times. Whether you hear them or see them, Cardinals are hard to miss!

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

The House Sparrow is one of the most common birds not only in America, but in the world. Originating in Europe, they arrived in America after being released in New York City to combat moths that were causing trouble. From there, they spread extensively and are now on every continent except for Antarctica and have even spread to Pacific Islands, New Zealand, and Hawaii. The male has a black throat and gray cap on his head with a dark gray beak and overall has more vivid grays and browns, whereas the female generally has duller brown plumage, tan streaks over their eyes, and a light pink-orange beak. Both have wings streaked with dark and light brown with a single white stripe along the upper part of their wings. You are likely to see these little birds flitting around trees and bushes on campus, but you can see them just about everywhere, as I am certain you already do!

If any of you see or snap a picture of any of these birds or ones I have not listed, be sure to send them in to the Argosy and, if you want to learn more about them, I would be more than happy to help you with that! However, if you are looking to see any birds, I would recommend looking out the windows on the right side of library when you come in. Multiple species of bird can often be found in that tree and you never know what you might find! Another idea would be to get a bird feeder so you can find out what birds are in your neighborhood!

I wish you all happy birding and owl be seeing you all later!

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Birds on Campus