Campus Wildlife

By Pam Perry

Picture this: you’re studying in the O’Neill Library near a window and a large, dark brown form streaks by the window. It’s followed by pigeons exploding in all directions from the rooftop. No, you haven’t hallucinated – it’s the resident Red-tailed Hawk looking for a meal!

These birds can often be seen sitting on the cross atop St. Ignatius Church, or on the edges of various buildings. Recently one was spotted on the crane and the staging around the Gasson Hall tower.

campus hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk Soaring Above Campus

Red-tailed hawks have become very successful urban dwellers in recent years – you may have heard of the famous pair in New York City (Pale Male and his mate) that nests on an upscale Fifth Avenue apartment building and cavorts over Central Park. PBS broadcast a documentary about them several years ago.

Cities provide all these birds of prey need to survive – food, such as pigeons and squirrels, water in ponds or rivers, and shelter in the form of trees and building ledges. The BC area, then, is ideal. Late winter (February and March) is the beginning of Red-tailed mating season, and if you’re lucky you can see the local pair in synchronous circular flight over BC. They will begin building a nest (or repairing last year’s structure) soon, and lay their first eggs in mid-March. Incubation takes 28-35 days, so in mid-April there should be babies. Approximately 45 days later, the juvenile hawks will fledge, or leave the nest. But they still hang around the area for several months, and their cries can be heard as they beg their parents for food. These young hawks will learn to hunt, and then disperse to find their own territories and mates.

Watching these hawks on campus during my years at Boston College has been a wonderful treat. It’s also great to be able to go to the stacks in O’Neill and find books that help me enjoy my obsession, or look online to hear bird songs, or get a video bird guide in the Media Department. Several years ago I used a book on the birds of India and Pakistan to get a picture of a Western Reef Heron before going to Maine to see this rare bird during its short stay in New England.

The O’Neill Library has a good selection of books on birds and ornithology. To name a few categories, there are:

  • Field guides, which identify birds (such as the Sibley Guide to Birds O’Neill Stacks QL681 .S497 2000 and Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America O’Neill Stacks QL681 .K36 2000 for the United States), and many others for birds all over the world. To find these, search in Quest for “birds” and “identification” as subject keywords.

  • Life histories of birds, like the large set Birds of North America (O'Neill Stacks QL681.B625), or any of the books by Arthur Cleveland Bent (originally published as U.S. government documents).

  • Resources on the evolution and biology of birds (in Quest search the subjects “Birds-Anatomy,” “Birds-Physiology,” and “Ornithology.”

  • Works on the conservation of birds, as well as on those that have become endangered search “Birds, Protection of,” “Rare Birds,” or “Extinct Birds” as subjects

For information on birds in general, search the subject terms “Birds” and “Ornithology.” A reference librarian can help you to find these and any other resources in the Boston College Libraries.

Online resources on birds and birding abound. Locally, there is Massbird.org, a site devoted to Massachusetts birding. From there, links take you to the mailing list, where you can subscribe and get reports of bird sightings in the area, find out about Bird Observer: the New England Birding Journal, and get information on local birds clubs, including frequent free field trips. Also check out the birding page at Massachusetts Audubon Society to find more local birding news and opportunities for citizen science. (Note that Massachusetts Audubon is not affiliated with the National Audubon Society.)

For general bird and birding information, see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Here you can search an electronic field guide for bird pictures and sounds, read the latest news about the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (until recently, thought to be extinct), and learn the state of birds in the world. For other national bird and environmental news go to the National Audubon Society, and for international links go to Bird Links to the World. Just announced by the University of Pittsburgh is their digitization of John James Audubon’s Birds of America and its companion Ornithological Biography. Scanned paintings are linked to species profiles in the Biography and vice versa, and minute details of the artwork can be seen using special zoom technology.

If you’re already into birding, or interested in getting started in this activity, look at the websites of local bird clubs like the Brookline Bird Club and the Menotomy Bird Club. Both organizations have numerous field trips, and trip leaders and members alike are very welcoming to new birders.

hawk

Capturing A Squirrel As Prey
with Northern Mockingbird in Pursuit

Several birders at BC have graciously offered their contact information if you have questions about birds or birding. They are: Chris Hepburn of the Geology Dept. (Hepburn@bc.edu), Michael Malec (malec@bc.edu) in the Dept. of Sociology, Marc Landy (landym@bc.edu) of the Dept. of Political Science, and John Gary (john@bc.edu) of ITS.

We’d all love to hear of your birding experiences on campus. Just recently a student reported seeing one of the Red-tailed Hawks catch a rabbit in the Quad. Not so good for the bunny, but hey, everyone has to eat!

Feel free to contact me as well if you have any questions about this article, or birds and birding in general.

Pam Perry, Catalog/Authorities Librarian and Library Science Bibliographer, O'Neill Library         Photos by Michael Beath