Warm Weather Keeps Birds in Cambridge

Hordes of squawking birds swarming in trees and covering the John Harvard Statue have put Hitchcock on students’ brains this fall.

Warm weather is the culprit behind the birds’ unusually large and noisy presence on campus, according to Douglas Causey, senior vertebrate biologist and ornithologist at the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Students have reported seeing noisy flocks of birds all over campus, including the area around the Barker Center, the MAC quad and Quincy House.

“I saw hundreds and thousands of birds swirling around like a scene from Hitchcock, and then land on a tree and shut up,” said Steven J. Padnick ’02, describing his aviary encounter at the Carpenter Center last Tuesday. “That scared me.”

But there’s no mystery here, Causey said. Warm weather has delayed these birds in their journey south.


Some students have been alarmed, or at least vexed, by the loud squawking of their new neighbors.

“They were annoying the hell out of me,” said Robert M. Gee ’02, who left the dining hall Wednesday to find an enthusiastic entourage circling and chirping over the MAC quad.

Particularly during wintertime, birds flock to increase their chances of finding food and detecting predators, which may explain the flocks students have seen, according to Jeremiah Trimble, curatorial assistant at the museum’s bird department.

The lack of appropriate habitats in a city environment also induces birds to congregate in more tree-heavy areas, Trimble said, thus explaining the number of bird-sightings at spots such as the Barker Center and the MAC quad.

Trimble speculated that some of the flocks may be American robins, short-distance migrants who move according to weather patterns rather than the time of the year. If these birds find a good food source, he said, they may choose to stay in the area, but a week-long cold spell will likely send them further south. Stauncher birds such as chickadees and sparrows will probably brave the weather. By contrast, migratory birds depend more heavily on a seasonal clock and have likely left the area, Trimble said.

Trimble expects the recent snow to prompt less hardy birds to migrate. But with the weather pattern Harvard has seen this fall, nothing is predictable. If warm weather holds out, so will the birds.