Bluebirds and Sparrows and Hawks, Oh My: Birdlife on Campus

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I spend my break between classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday sitting in Aldrich Park. There is a surprising diversity of species in the park, but I’ve noticed the top 10 most common species I always see on campus, and more than likely, you’ve seen them too.

10. Red-tailed Hawk
These very cool hawks live in the eucalyptus trees in Aldrich. They’re a mainly arboreal species, preferring to hunt birds in the foliage, rather than soaring high over open spaces. Their loud and plaintive “keer keer keer” can be heard in the park daily.

9. Northern Mockingbird
This is a gray bird, slightly smaller and slimmer than a crow. It has a long tail and white patches in its wings and can mimic any call it hears. It also tends to call at night, so if you hear a loud bird outside your dorm window at midnight, chances are it’s a northern mockingbird. I know it can be annoying when you’re trying to sleep or study, but remember, it’s illegal to kill a mockingbird. The most common pair I see live outside the Health Center.

8. House Wren
These illusive birds are more often heard than seen. They have a very melodic musical call, and when you do agitate them, they are very ballsy little birds and will tell you off despite their diminutive size. I see them around the bushes near Langson and Gateway.

7. Nuttall’s Woodpecker
This cool species of woodpecker is small with a black and white back, and the males have some red spots on their heads. This species doesn’t sound like Woody Woodpecker, but the species found in Orange County that does. The Nuttalls on campus seem to like the sycamores on the lower half of Aldrich.

6. Bushtit
This tiny species is found in large flocks. Small, gray and long-tailed, these little mouse-like birds forage in trees in a group; then when one bird flies to the next tree, it’s followed by all of its peers. I often hear these birds, which sound like little tinkling bells, in the sitting area next to Steinhaus Hall.

5. American Goldfinch
These gregarious yellow birds are seed-eaters and can often be heard all over campus feeding in flocks. Although I’ve never heard it, some say their call sounds like “potato-chip!” I see them all over campus, usually anywhere there’s a flowerbed full of seeds.

4. Black Phoebe
A species I truly adore, these flycatchers are so dapper in little tuxedos: black back and tails with white bellies. They perch on a branch or sign, then fly off, catch an insect and fly back to their perch. This behavior is known, appropriately, as fly-catching. They like head-level branches in the park and call, “fee-bee.”

3. Song Sparrow
These small streaky brown birds are everywhere, but often you won’t get a very good look. They are always low to the ground, scratching for seeds. I see them over in the bushes bordering Starbucks, no doubt taking advantage of crumbs that fall from scones and cookies students grab between classes.

2. American Crow
There is no doubt you can picture this bird. The ubiquitous crow is found all over campus, picking through trashcans, eating discarded meals and harassing the Red-tailed Hawks. They are large, black and noisy, but also a highly intelligent species that can actually make and use tools and solve puzzles, and I bet you didn’t know they often favor one foot over the other when picking up objects. The saying, “the wise old owl” was wrong; corvids are much, much smarter.

1. Western Bluebird
These beautiful blue and rusty red birds are all over the grass in Aldrich. Bluebirds are cavity nesters, living in natural holes in trees, or the occasional bluebird box put in by a good Samaritan. They eat insects and are highly aggressive when it comes to protecting their territory. On more than one occasion I’ve walked too near to a bluebird’s nest only to be dive-bombed by a very angry bluebird.

So those are what I believe to be the top 10 most common species at UCI, compiled purely from my own observations sitting in the park. I haven’t kept an exact list, but I think in the time I’ve spent on campus, I’ve seen well over 50-60 species, and many of those could have easily made it onto this list as well. I truly recommend spending some time relaxing and listening to the birds sing in Aldrich as the weather warms.

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