Category Archives: Birds


In the days leading up to my trip to Dell Pond, I began to take notice of the bird songs I heard throughout the day. Much to my surprise, I almost always heard birds singing in the background. This was shocking to me. I expected to hear a lot of birds in the morning but still in the afternoon and evening I was hearing things. This made me sad to realize how much I don’t notice around me everyday. I wonder what other things in nature I am constantly overlooking. It made me wonder if the birds suddenly stopped singing, would people notice or not?

I ended up going to Dell Pond on Wednesday April 8th around 5 o’clock in the evening. I figured I would try to get use out of my good camera and capture some pictures of the birds along with the sounds from the recorder. I didn’t expect to get such clear recordings and great pictures.

While looking at the pictures, I became very interested in trying to identify the birds. My grandmother was an avid bird watcher who could identify almost every bird. I, on the other hand, could probably only identify a duck, crow, and maybe a cardinal. To help with identifying, I downloaded the iBird app, which was super easy to use and very helpful. All together, I was able to see 5 species of birds and capture good pictures of 4 of them! I saw American Robins, white crowned sparrows, a red-winged blackbird, a cardinal, and ducks (which I think are mallards but not sure).

When I heard a sound from a bird, I would try to find the bird making the noise. This proved to be much harder than expected because birds often blend in to their surroundings, there’s more than one bird, and there’s multiple sounds at once. It was definitely easier to spot the birds now than it would be in the summer when trees are in full bloom because they can’t hide behind leaves now.

The one bird I was able to correctly find and also listen to the sound was the red-winged blackbird. Dark clouds had rolled in and it became a lot quieter among many of the birds. I then heard this loud screech and saw a black bird in the tree. It was really cool to watch the bird make the sound rather than just hear it. I got so close I was able to see him open his mouth.

Red Winged Blackbird 1 

Recording: 150408_007

There was a lot of Robins at Dell Pond. I spotted this one because it flew into the air, hit another one and then they both swan dived straight into the ground. It was a really bizarre sight and I’m not sure exactly what I witnessed.

American Robin 2

I placed the recorder on the ground for a little while I walked around and took pictures. When I went back to pick up the recorder, there was about 10 baby white-crowned sparrows hopping around it. These birds blended so well into the background I could only spot them by their movement.

White crowned sparrow 2 copy 

Recording: 150408_004

The easiest birds to spot were the ducks. I’m not sure exactly what kind they are but I am thinking some kind of mallard. I normally don’t think of ducks when I think of birds because I think of birds as the tiny things that fly around in trees. I never actually heard these birds making a sound while I was at Dell Pond (unless I just didn’t notice).

Ducks 1

Another cool thing I wanted to share was this nest that I found. I was hoping either eggs or baby birds would be in it but it’s still cool to see. Maybe this was the nest of the baby white-crowned sparrows I saw hopping around the recorder.


All together I probably saw close to 30 birds and gained a greater appreciation for the birds in our community. I’m really glad I did this project and I can say I honestly enjoyed my time at Dell Pond.

Recording: 150408_003


Post by Sydney Rubin

UVA Birdsongs

On April 2nd from 2:15 to 3:15, me and my classmate Morgan Rudd went to a picnic table in front of the astronomy building across the street from Ohill and set up a recorder to record the birdsong in that area. It was a sunny day with temperatures around mid 70’s however the wind was blowing very hard which may have slightly messed with the audio recording. Upon sitting at the picnic table and taking about five minutes to just listen to the birds, I felt much more relaxed. I was not able to get a good look at any of the birds because of the tree cover around the building but I could definitely hear the songs of various species of birds. After about 15 minutes of listening, I began to quietly read and look over some notes for an upcoming test. I definitely felt calmer and less distracted when sitting outside on this beautiful day versus sitting in a library surrounded by people and electronics. I have never been much of a bird enthusiast however I really do see the positive effects of an interaction with nature and I believe that it would do everyone some good to take 20-30 minutes a day to emerge themselves into nature. I know I will.

Post by Mitch Brown 


Introduction and First Trip to the Dell Pond

For our Biogrounds Blog Posts, our group decided that we’d like to make a timeline of UVA’s Bird Song.  Throughout the second half of the Spring 2015 semester, we will alternate taking recordings of bird song at the Dell Pond and along Observatory Hill/behind Hereford.  We selected these two locations by looking at the birds blog from last year and noting the most popular bird habitats.   Every week we will write a blog post that will include our sound recordings, a simple timeline, a few pictures and a reflection on how the experience made us feel.  We will identify the birds to the best of our ability, but are hoping more to focus on the emotional and mental impact of spending some time just listening.  To start the project, we created a schedule and ordered a recording device, specifically the Sony ICDTX50 Digital Flash Voice Recorder.

I started the project with a trip to the Dell Pond on March 26, 2015 around 9:45 in the morning.  My trip was delayed a bit because of the rain, the temperature was around 55 °F and it was cloudy when I left my apartment.  As I walked over to the pond, I tried to focus on bird song along the way.  I was amazed at the consistency of the noise, there were only a few moments during my walk where there was total silence from the birds.  In fact, the loudest bird I heard during this trip was nesting in the roof atop The College Inn!  Although I heard many birds, I didn’t see many.  This changed immediately as I arrived at the Dell Pond, birds were noticeably more visible and definitely louder.

 I started by slowly and silently walking around the pond.  I know our group elected not to focus on identifying the birds, but I felt that I immediately wanted to know all the different species I was seeing!  I recognized cardinals, robins, sparrows and ducks.

There were a few other species I didn’t recognize including a black bird with a yellow-orange stripe at the top of its wing.  I pulled out my phone and did some googling and eventually correctly identified a red-winged blackbird!  Without a doubt I saw at least 20 birds.  I tried to take pictures of the birds, but I didn’t have much luck.  After walking around the pond, I sat on a very wet bench and spent some time just listening.  It was incredibly relaxing.  My older brother used to be a very avid bird-watcher and I never really understood the draw.  But as I was sitting on the bench, I understood.  There was nothing to distract my focus and I wasn’t worried about anything.  The fact that I was getting slightly rained on and my shoes were getting muddy didn’t bother me at all!  With a bit of focus, the sound of the water and the birds over-powered the noises from nearby Emmet Street.

I often tried to look for the birds that were making specific calls.  Sometimes I would hear a bird and immediately be able to spot it, other times I would search the trees and could not find the creature at all!  For a brief second I thought I saw a blue jay, but then I couldn’t find it again.  After a while I decided to walk along the stream, parallel to Old Dorms.  I found myself following a cardinal that kept flying away as I approached it, cardinals are quite loud birds! The longer recording is from my walk along the stream.

Eventually the stream ran out and I ended my trip.  Bird song is something that often is background noise, but I think this adventure has taught me to have a greater appreciation for it.  Even now, sitting in New Cabell writing this post, I can hear bird song.  This experience has really brightened my day and I think I’d like to visit the Dell Pond again.

Red-Winged Blackbird audio recording:  150326_005

Birds heard walking along the stream: 150326_010


Post by Emily Beacham



Quack Quack


From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,
Beautiful comical things
Sleeping or curled
Their heads beneath white wings
By water cool,
Or finding curious things
To eat in various mucks
Beneath the pool,
Tails uppermost, or waddling
Sailor-like on the shores
Of ponds, or paddling
– Left! Right! – with fanlike feet
Which are for steady oars
When they (white galleys) float
Each bird a boat
Rippling at will the sweet
Wide waterway …
When night is fallen you creep
Upstairs, but drakes and dillies
Nest with pale water-stars.
Moonbeams and shadow bars,
And water-lilies:
Fearful too much to sleep
Since they’ve no locks
To click against the teeth
Of weasel and fox.
And warm beneath
Are eggs of cloudy green
Whence hungry rats and lean
Would stealthily suck
New life, but for the mien
The hold ferocious mien Photo Credit: Annette Cole
Of the mother-duck.

– Frederick William Harvey

(Part II & III of the poem located at:

Photo credit: Annette Cole
Photo credit: Annette Cole

The “Duck”:

Another trip to Dell Pond has led to the discovery of yet another species of birds on grounds—the duck! “Duck” is the common name for all birds, over 140 species, in the Anatidae Family. They are found on every continent except for Antarctica, and are physically adapted to swim, dive, and float in water.

Trivia Question (1): What species of bird, which has been previously posted about on this BioGrounds Blog, is also part of the Anatidae Family? (Answer at the end of blog post!)

Ducks are omnivorous species that are constantly foraging and looking for opportunities to feed off fish, grass, insects, amphibians, seeds, plants, fruits, etc. The diet of a duck varies based on the species, season, and habitat. Some species of duck are more likely to feed off fish and amphibians, such as diving ducks that live in marsh habitats, while some species are more likely to live in a grassy landscape and feed off seeds and grain.

Trivia Question (2): Is bread, which is commonly fed to ducks by people, good or bad for their diet?

The “Quack”:

Male ducks never “quack”, only females do. “Quack” is the general term given to ducks for a range of sounds including: “squeaks, grunts, groans, chirps, whistles, brays and growls”. 1

These noises are used as a sign for presence, mood, mating, warning, and various other communications to other birds.

Click here to listen to common Mallard (female) duck calls:

Wild vs. Domestic (Hybrids):

Photo from:
Photo from:


There are wild ducks, and then there are domestic ducks—and over forty breeds of them. More likely then not, if you find a duck around a pond or in a park—it’s a hybrid. The two species of duck that have been domesticated are the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and the Muscovy (Cairina Moschata). The pictures above show the differences between the Wild Mallard (left) and a Domestic Mallard (right). The two birds carry a clear resemblance, but there are many breeds of hybrid ducks that display varying physical attributes characteristic to their wild ancestors. A few domestic breeds include the Duclair, the Saxony, and the most common barnyard duck—the Pekin.

The Ducks at Dell Pond:

Photo Credit: Annette Cole
Photo Credit: Annette Cole


As I have passed by the Dell Pond this semester, I have noticed both the Muscovy and Mallard ducks in their domesticated form. Originally, I only saw the two hybrids in the above left picture. The duck on the left clearly reflects Muscovy with red surrounding her eyes, while the green patch on the right duck clearly resembles a male Mallard. Because crossbreeding between the two species is possible—is there a romance blooming at the Dell Pond? Breeding season for most ducks is generally late winter, spring, or early summer. While ducks are mating and breeding, most species are monogamous. The interaction between the two birds, definitely suggests that a seasonal relationship is a strong possibility!

The last visit I made, I noticed there was an addition I hadn’t noticed before—another duck of brownish-white color. I witnessed an altercation with the female hybrid and this third duck. The third duck seemed to be trying to keep the female underwater using force. The male hybrid, came to the hybrid female’s rescue pecking at the third duck and chasing it across the pond (as seen in the above right picture). Which left me leaving the Dell Pond with the question, the third duck—friend or foe?

I conclude by encouraging you, students and readers, to take the time to observe and decide for yourself!

Quack Fact:

It is a common myth that a duck’s quack doesn’t echo. So common, in fact, that it was “busted” on the Discovery Channel show “Mythbusters”.

Trivia Answers:

Trivia Answer (1): The Canadian Goose!

Trivia Answer (2): Bad—bread lacks nutritional value towards a duck’s diet.



Post by Annette Cole, Fourth-Year, Urban and Environmental Planning

The Bachman Sparrow

When my BioGrounds team first decided to blog on different species of birds, I had no idea where I would find birds to observe on Grounds. I thought Grounds would be difficult due to the lack of large, open green spaces, but this project has opened my eyes to how nature exists in even the most urban areas.

One afternoon, around 12 P.M., I was walking to class from the AFC and heard what seemed like a squabble taking place between a cluster of birds. I stopped and realized how easily I could have missed out on this great bird sighting. I have become so accustomed to birds in my daily life that bird calls no longer spark my attention. My immediate reaction was, “How are there so many birds in this area full of buildings?” Looking again, I realized the large amount of trees, brush, and overall green space located in the alley between the AFC and Gilmer Hall that no one ever gives the time of day. I quickly walked down off the sidewalk until I was completely submerged by trees. I felt as if I was no longer on Grounds going about my busy day, but relocated to a natural ecosystem full of loud bird chirping. I sat down and just listened in hopes of understanding more about the many birds surrounding me.

Photo by Julia Johnson.


Photo by Julia Johnson.
Photo by Julia Johnson.

As I listened, I observed what seemed like a quarrel going on between the birds on one side of the brush and the birds on the other, but the birds perch in the tops of the trees made it almost impossible to identify them. Luckily, minutes later, a swarm of birds flew out of the trees as one side of the brush passed overhead moving towards Gooch/Dillard Housing. From a few that flew lower and stopped on branches within eyesight, I could classify the small but ferocious chirping bird as a Bachman Sparrow. As I continued to sit, listen, and watch for birds, I noted an American Cardinal sitting in the top of one of the largest trees, and a Red Crossbill that landed extremely close to me. Within thirty minutes I had seen three different species of birds! I felt as if I had hit the treasure chest without even realizing this natural space existed. As I left to walk towards my next class, I also noted a large bird’s nest high in one of the overarching trees. This brush located in the midst of the UVa campus had become home to many types of birds.

Photo by Julia Johnson.
Photo by Julia Johnson.
Photo by Julia Johnson.
Photo by Julia Johnson.

Although the Red Crossbill and the American Cardinal were exciting to spot, I wanted to share more about the Bachman Sparrow. The large number of Bachman Sparrows I was able to observe was astounding! Learning more about them through research, I understand how lucky I was to have been in the presence of so many as early as March because they are usually only this far north in the summer. The Bachman Sparrow is a southeastern bird that usually lives in pine woods or oak-palmetto scrub hidden away from humans except for when the breeding males sing from low, exposed branches. Bachman Sparrows are one of the larger sparrows about half a foot long with a long, rounded tail. The coat of a Bachman Sparrow is made up of streaks of gray and brown with a light gray chest and face.1

Although some people might find the Bachman Sparrow less interesting than the Red Crossbill or the American Cardinal, I really enjoyed perceiving how the Bachman Sparrows interacted with each other and learning more about the bird that I see the most frequently while in Virginia. (The Bachman Sparrow song)

Referenced Material:


Post by Julia Johnson

The Canadian Goose

To continue the Bird Team’s blog posts on different types of birds around the University of Virginia campus, I would like to discuss The Canadian goose who can be spotted by the Dell Pond.

Photo from:

While visiting the Dell Pond on April 7th, there were two of the Canadian geese swimming in the Dell Pond. Unfortunately I was not able to get a close up picture of the geese because they were swimming in the middle of the water. This picture above is a better quality picture and gives detail into what the birds look like from up close.
After looking into what kind of goose this could be, I realized that it looked like the Canadian goose because of the specific details on the body. This bird has a black head and neck, specifically a chinstrap, which distinguishes it from other types of geese. Accompanying the black head and neck are white patches along the sides of the bird’s face.

While watching these geese interact with one another, it was evident that they like to be in groups. The geese seemed very gentle while in the water, but are known to be somewhat aggressive if they are frightened, threatened or in some sort of danger. The birds did not seem to act aggressive towards people sitting around Dell Pond, which leads me to believe they only act this way if provoked.

The Dell Pond.
Photo by Caitlin Howard

The Canadian geese come from the Northern regions as migrants to places farther south. The species tends to fly from place to place in a V form and their species in general has grown significantly.

With the development of more and more hand made, man made ponds and bodies of waters, these geese tend to thrive off of the areas because there are rich sources of food and a comfortable environment for them to live. Also with the development of these man made bodies of water, their primary predators have been displaced and or out of their radar. This is another reason for their growth in population.

The Dell Pond.
Photo by Caitlin Howard

Their predators include foxes, coyotes, raccoons, crows, and other animals that have been pushed away from places like the Dell Pond because of the urban areas and people around. The predators usually feast on the eggs of the geese. Although the geese are very defensive against these animals due to their aggressive behavior when confronted, they still prefer to live in areas such as The Dell Pond because they feel safer.

The habitat of the Dell Pond is perfect for the geese because they are in an area away from main predators, for the most part, and it is a hand made and fresh water pond. The Canadian goose is sensitive to salinity, which the Dell Pond does not have.

THE CANADIAN GOOSE NOISES: This is a link to watch the goose on a normal day and the movements he makes. Also, this link includes the honking sound of the Canadian goose, as well.

Another link that provides all of the different honks, hisses, barks and cackles of these geese is provided below:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology—Birdcalls

Post by Caitlin Howard, Third-Year, Anthropology

Observing the Robin on Grounds

The way we organized the blog posts in the Birds Group is that each member writes a post on a bird that specifically resonated with the individual around grounds. I was very intrigued by the American robin. Over the past few months, as the snow began to melt and the temperatures began to rise, I frequently sighted the robin at different locations on grounds. American robins tend to be some of the most typical “early-birds”, meaning that they come out right when winter starts to turn in to spring. Even though the robin is also around during the winter, they tend to remain in their nests, consequently attracting less attention than when they are hopping around under trees and on fields. The American robin has an orange chest and sings a very high-pitched, jovial song. While the American robin generally tends to reside in Virginia and the majority of the US all year long, some spend their summers in Canada and their winters in Mexico.

The Robin is the One

The robin is the one
That interrupts the morn
With hurried, few, express reports
When March is scarcely on.

The robin is the one
That overflows the noon
With her cherubic quantity,
An April but begun

The robin is the one
That speechless from her nest
Submits that home and certainty
And sanctity are best.

—Emily Dickinson

In this poem by Emily Dickinson, it is clear that the robin is the messenger of spring, since it begins to appear “when March is scarcely on”. This line by Emily Dickinson, confirms my observations, because I also only started noticing the presence of the robin in the past few months. Also, the robin seems to have a very delightful quality, or as Dickinson puts it, “cherubic.” I similarly noticed this quality about the robin, which is why I was so intrigued and always took a moment to observe and enjoy whenever encountering one.

During my sightings of the robin, I have seen it all alone and have also observed it in a group of over a hundred individuals. Therefore there does not seem to be any pattern as to any group size it likes to travel in. The robin feels comfortable in large groups, but also enjoys wandering off on its own.

Here is an American robin that I observed roaming the grounds alone:


Here are two pictures of American robins in large groups:



In conclusion I would like to encourage people to pay attention to and observe the robins on grounds. They spread an infectious feeling of joy, both with their quick playful movements and with their cheery song. 

Post by Martin Howell, Third-Year, Environmental Thought and Practice

The Visiting Great Blue Heron of the Dell Pond

In the next few months of the Cities + Nature BioGrounds project, the students of the BioGrounds Bird Team (General) will be taking turns highlighting a species of bird that we have identified somewhere on Grounds. This week, I will be showcasing the Great Blue Heron that quite often visits the Dell Pond at UVA.

Photo by Samantha Taggart

A Great Blue Heron is a remarkable creature to behold. I have spotted one twice now, visiting the Dell Pond. The first time I noticed a heron at the Dell was last Fall, when a briskness was just beginning to touch the early autumn air. The heron’s fixed, pointed gaze and cautious, calculated slow movements seemed to perfectly match the crisp, clear air signaling the coming of the cold. I found myself a sun-drenched rock to sit upon and studied the heron for what seemed like hours (in actuality it was probably just a few minutes). The heron didn’t move, it stood poised, still as a statue, until in one fell swoop its razor sharp beak darted down to catch a fish. It swallowed the fish in one gulp.


The heron stands in water where the swamp
Has deepened to the blackness of a pool,
Or balances with one leg on a hump
Of marsh grass heaped above a muskrat hole.

He walks the shallow with an antic grace.
The great feet break the ridges of the sand,
The long eye notes the minnow’s hiding place.
His beak is quicker than a human hand.

He jerks a frog across his bony lip,
Then points his heavy bill above the wood.
The wide wings flap but once to lift him up.
A single ripple starts from where he stood.

—Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)


Photo by Samantha Taggart

You may be wondering, “what is a great blue heron doing this far from the coast?” I was wondering the same thing. Apparently the habitat and hunting grounds of the great blue heron is not restricted to the coastlines of the ocean, but also includes marshes as well as the shores of freshwater ponds and streams. Also unknown to me was the fact that although herons typically hunt alone, they normally nest in colonies. In addition to eating many aquatic species including fish, eels, shellfish, and aquatic insects, these carnivorous birds also consume small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even small birds. In fact, it is not uncommon for a heron to choke to death because it’s attempted to swallow a creature that was too big for its long S-shaped neck.1

Photo by Samantha Taggart

If you’ve never seen a great blue heron, they’re huge! Their height (3.2-4.5 feet) and wingspan (5.5-6.6 feet) make them quite a stunning creature to witness in flight.  They typically fly between 20 and 30 miles per hour.1

Contrary to their breathtaking physical features, the great blue heron has a call that would make anyone want to put earplugs in immediately.

Rather than trying to describe the cacophonous calls of the great blue heron to you, I’ll let you listen to them for yourself…


I’d like to end with a question posed to another fellow BioGrounds Team – the Aquatic Life Team. My question is: what sorts of aquatic species are attracting this great blue heron to the Dell? Is the Dell teeming with all sorts of reptile, amphibian, and fish species that the heron finds simply irresistible? And what about this time of year – is there anything alive in there?

Referenced Materials:



Post by Samantha Taggart, Fourth-Year, Environmental Thought and Practice