By: Angelo Spillo
“If America wishes to preserve her native birds, we must help supply what civilization has taken from them. The building of cities and towns, the cutting down of forests, and the draining of pools and swamps have deprived American birds of their original homes and food supply”¹. As relevant as this quote is today, this is a quote from American Author John Burroughs (1837-1921) based on his observations from the 1890’s.
I am often amazed at the adaptability of wildlife and their talent for embracing what humans provide. Some human assistance is intentional to reestablish lost habitat or replenish diminishing sources of food. But birds and other forms of wildlife take advantage in ways we never intended.
For example, Peregrine Falcons naturally nest on high cliffs, but they are content to take advantage of man-made structures including electricity transmission towers, silos and other high structures. Currently there are 16 Peregrine Falcon couples known to live year-round throughout New York City on top of bridges, church steeples and high-rise buildings.
I often depict our Dyson College Nature Center as an “oasis on campus” describing a place for students and others to find solitude, relax and unwind. As the Center evolves from recent years of construction and the surrounding habitat reestablishes itself, many forms of flora and fauna are settling in and seemingly happy to co-exist with us. This unique spot amidst parking lots and buildings is also inviting to area wildlife.
One indication is that this spring there seems to be an increased number of birds taking up residence at the Center, many in unexpected places.
Last spring we had a Barn Swallow couple build their mud constructed nest in the pig stall right on top of an electric box on the wall. This spring, a pair returned to the exact same spot and, at the time of this writing, have three eggs in the nest.
If you are not familiar with these sleek agile birds, they sport a beautiful blue back with a tawny chest area. They eat hundreds of insects that might otherwise become pests. Some estimates claim each swallow can eat about 850 insects per day.
Moving to the outside of the barn, if you look up you may see a Robin sitting on her nest in the barn rafter unaffected by the traffic of workers and visitors. The pavilion is also providing several nest sites, one right on top of the Wi-Fi unit and several in the rafters.
The Blue Bird houses situated around the pasture unfortunately have not enticed Blue Birds enough, but Tree Swallows were happy to move in. Like their cousins the Barn Swallows, these acrobatic insectivores snatch insects as small as a grain of sand or bigger meals as long as two inches. They are welcome guests around the vegetable garden.
The wooden bee box standing near our pollinator garden was set up last year as a way to encourage a variety of native bees to take up residence. Recently as I walked by I noticed a tiny bird dart into the structure. I sat and watched for a time to see what the yellow bellied (maybe an Eastern Vireo) visitor’s intention was. He/she came and went several times so I assumed the plan was to search out a suitable nest site. My suspicion was confirmed when the next approach reveled a twig in its beak. But wait…. This was a different bird! It was a House Wren. So as it turns out this “unintentional” bird house was so appealing, two species were competing for the space much to the dismay of the native bees it was intended for.
These are just a few of the unique examples of birds calling the Nature Center home this spring. With a little help from us, intentional or not, they have utilized a variety of man-made structures to raise their young. I should mention, as if making a statement to her wild kin, our turkey just hatched six chicks!
Director, Dyson College Nature Center, Pace University
The Dyson College Nature Center at Pace University is open to visitors from 9am-5pm, 7 days a week. The best time to see the farm animals and birds of prey are weekdays from 9am-3pm. Visit the Nature Center at 861 Bedford Road, Pleasantville, NY 10570.