If you have your eyes even half open as you walk around campus, you’ll see many, many birds. Hear them, too. Almost always this is a nice thing. (There was, though, that multiyear episode with the grackles that was a huge drag.) I’ve seen a couple of hawks eviscerating squirrels but even that had a kind of heedless majesty about it.
As far as I can tell the first person to look systematically at the birds in these environs was Rice’s first professor of Biology, Julian Huxley. Huxley’s student George Wheeler, who we’ve spent time with before, kept the list in the back of his Biology 100 notebook. (His notes were absolutely immaculate, I might add, complete with beautiful drawings.)
Here it is: Huxley’s Bird list1915
Huxley only had a short time here at Rice to make his list but others have picked up where he left off. Cin-ty Lee, a faculty member in the department of Earth Sciences, with the help of others has compiled his own, much longer list of birds seen on campus since 1980. Here’s the list and here’s also a lovely video about birding at Rice. It’s a hopeful thing, I think, that this most basic curiosity still thrives here, independent of any material or career rewards, but rather just because.
Bonus: Cin-ty Lee’s blog is fantastic. I love it.
Extra bonus: This picture was glued into the front of Wheeler’s notebook. It was taken by Huxley and made into a postcard, which he must have sent to Wheeler. The writing is hard to make out, but I think it says “I took this summer–here is one of the best–Simmons will tell you all about this creature-for there is no room on the card.”
I’ve taken just a quick glance, but this is great stuff. I had no idea there were cuckoos in this area – at least back in Huxley’s time. (I guess they weren’t native, but still …)
I was at Rice during the time of the grackles. Ugh. Walking around campus after dark, you could hear the sounds of the birds roosted in the trees. If you walked under a tree and made too much noise, they would startle, drop their intestinal load, and fly up for a few moments before returning to roost in the trees. The whole campus smelled like bird poop for a couple of months in the winter. A fellow student of my time walked barefoot, all the time, EXCEPT during bird season. There were volunteers whose job it was to collect the dead birds on campus, count them, and analyze the reason for their deaths.
I remember the grackles too. John Cook and I went someplace (I forget where) which was the resting place for the grackles just before they hit Rice U.
What I find interesting though, is growing up in Houston (1960-1970), is that I don’t remember grackles. We had mocking birds, sparrows, crows, scissor tailed fly catchers, the occasional blue jay and cardinal, but not grackles, but now I see grackles all over Houston. Is this because there are more trees, or my memory is bad, or is there some other reason? And the reverse is also true, It is very rare for me to see scissor tails now, but in the 60’s we used to see lots of them. Now if I see them, it is usually outside of Houston, towards Alvin and Freeport.
BTW, if you really like water birds, Fairmont Parkway is a great area for birding. Ibisises, cranes, herons, etc.
Pingback: “Fishes of Texas,” 1935 | Rice History Corner