Kinglets, Redwoods, and (No) Owls in Harvard Yard

By Eamon Corbett

Gray Squirrel eating a walnut in a Dawn Redwood

Gray Squirrel munching on a walnut in a Dawn Redwood

A spate of recent owl sightings on campus inspired us to have a walk around the yard this past Saturday (10/17) looking for roosting owls and whatever else happened to be around. We were unable to spot any owls (which wasn’t terribly surprisingly– they are very tricky to find), but there was still plenty to see!

Any owls up there?

Any owls up there?

Ten of us met at John Harvard and first searched the yard near PBHA, where Corey had spotted an owl at night a couple weeks ago. No luck, but we did get a nice snack from the apple tree growing there. While looking for owls in the trees, we also tried to identify the trees themselves, and found plenty of species: catalpa, swamp white oak, larch, locust, redbud, sweetgum, elm, horsechestnut, and many more. We also had a Red-tailed Hawk fly over Mass Ave.

An apple!

An apple!

On the way past Memorial Church we spotted a tiny bird fluttering around Tercentary Theater: a migratory Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a cute bird that never sits still for more than a split second.

Kinglets do not sit still, making taking photos difficult


In front of Robinson Hall we checked out the small grove of dawn redwoods, a fascinating “living fossil” that was thought to have been extinct for millions of years before it was rediscovered in China in the 1940s and brought to the US by Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. Despite being a conifer it is not an evergreen, but the leaves had not yet fallen, making a home for squirrels, jays, and a large wasp nest.


Another shot of our walnut-loving friend


Huge wasps’ nest in a redwood outside Robinson Hall

The same area also has some black walnut trees, and we tried to salvage a bite or two of walnut, with limited success, especially compared to the gray squirrels that we saw munching on the tough seeds without any trouble.

Human attempts to crack a walnut

Human attempts to crack a walnut

Successful walnut consumption by a squirrel-- their sharp incisors let the chew their way into the nuts

Much more successful walnut consumption by a squirrel– their sharp incisors let the chew their way into the nuts

There was a red-tailed hawk on top of Sever, but the large white pines behind the building were unfortunately devoid of owls.

This Red-tailed Hawk would not turn around for a photo

This Red-tailed Hawk would not turn around for a photo

We tried two more spots where there had been sightings, but with similar lack of success. There was plenty to look at though: an impressive tuliptree outside the Barker Center (a major feature of our logo), the vivid scarlet and crimson leaves of winged euonymous and sugar maples, fragrant spicebush stems, colorful cardinals and blue jays, and in Lev courtyard a small flock that contained both kinglet species: Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned!


Sugar Maple


A perfect climbing tree next to the faculty club


Female Cardinals don’t have the bright red plumage of the males, but their bills are still colorful


Corey and Harold practice their plant identification

In the end we didn’t see any owls, but looking for them was a great excuse to get outside on a beautiful autumn afternoon and see what nature Harvard Yard had to offer!

One thought on “Kinglets, Redwoods, and (No) Owls in Harvard Yard

  1. Pingback: Nature on Campus– October 15th-31st | Harvard College Naturalist Club

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