The Weekly Chirp: Concrete jungle

It’s always fun to examine the beautiful, crazy, wild, extravagant species of birds from around the world online, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing better than going outside and actually seeing birds yourself — even if they don’t happen to be pretty and decorated like a bird-of-paradise. Turns out, our campus attracts all sorts of cool birds annually. In just four years of data collected by a handful of bird nerds, we’ve collectively recorded 136 species of bird! On the right day during spring migration in May, you could walk from Dewick to Dowling and find over 20 species in 10 minutes. Hard to believe, right? At first it doesn’t seem possible, but if you consider where we are located geographically, it starts to make some sense.

Alright, imagine you’re a black-throated green warbler (if you don’t know what this looks like, look it up). The warbler is a pretty little yellow/green/black songbird that frequents New England from late spring to early fall. Given the cool fall weather, you decide it’s time to migrate south to your winter home in Central America. You’re flapping along like a boss, imagining all the delicious bugs you’re going to eat, enjoying the beautiful reds, oranges and yellows of the New England forests below you, and suddenly, you start to see gray. You know what you’re seeing is no longer forest, but instead some sort of structured rock formation. Huge animals whiz by beneath you along gray, frozen rivers. Enormous albatrosses sing songs of thunder as they take off over the ocean. You start to panic — where could you possibly land here without risking death? Then, you see it: The Pres Lawn. The small concentration of trees bursting out from a sea of gray. Perhaps not a luxury five-star resort like the insect-laden tropical forests of Central America but definitely a good stopover area until you recover enough energy to make the next leg of your trip. You’re not alone in your attraction to the area — hundreds of other songbirds stop and hang out, too. Not necessarily because they want to, but because there’s nowhere else to go!

Now, this may seem silly to read, but it’s not far from the truth. To migratory birds, small patches of trees within large cities like Boston and New York resemble islands of inhabitable space surrounded by a useless, gray ocean. Combine this with the role of the coastline as a guide for many migratory bird species (many birds follow the coastline from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds and vice versa), and the result is a funneling effect that concentrates species in usable habitats around urban areas. This is why places like the Pres Lawn, the Fenway Victory Gardens and Central Park host an array of bird species from year to year and why, even though we aren’t in the tropics, we can still see some awesome birds in our collegiate backyard! Next time you’re about to have a meltdown from school stress, just close your laptop, go outside and find some birds. They’ll change your life — take it from me.