Green Library Bird Art:
     Nine Birds Seen on the Stanford Campus

     The exhibit is dedicated to Donald Kennedy in honor
      of his support of Stanford and the natural world.


For more on campus birds, see For scale, see below.                                                                                                         
                                                                                               Darryl Wheye   

  White-tailed Kite
24 1/8 x 30 ¼ inches
ink, colored charcoal and graphite 2000

Most often seen at a distance, it is the bird’s grace that may catch the eye. As Roger Tory Peterson noted: “This dainty hawk, graceful as a small gull as it soars and glides aloft, often hovers like a kestrel while pinpointing its prey.”

Up close, the White-tailed Kite's bright red eyes are striking. Audubon recorded his surprise: “The beauty of its large eyes struck me at once and I immediately made a drawing of the bird, which was the first I had ever seen alive.”

On campus, the bird is more common in the adjacent foothills, but a few pairs are present in the southern portions of the campus and a pair has nested regularly near Frenchman's Court.

The individual shown here was seen hovering above the slope in the Dish area. 

  Great Blue Heron and Vole  
24 1/8 x 30 ¼ inches
ink, colored charcoal and graphite 2000

Like the neck of the giraffe, that of the heron is a benefit with a cost: it provides extraordinary access to food, but must be managed when moving at high speed. In flight the heron does not crane its neck – stretching it full length – but it pulls it in towards its shoulder blades.

On land, with prey within range, the heron pulls it in again to provide the thrust needed to launch its lance-like bill. Thoreau noted (August 14, 1859) that the bird: “…holds its neck as if it were ready to strike its prey, …but I saw no stroke. The arch may be lengthened or shortened, single or double, but the great spear-shaped bill and head are ever the same. A great hammer or pick, prepared to transfix fish, frog, or bird. …”

The individual shown here (stalking a vole) was seen along the Stanford Avenue bike path. Moments later the successful hunter flew to the safe haven of a nearby roof.

  Great Blue Heron & Great Egret  
each 24 1/8 x 30 ¼ inches
watercolor 2003

Within the heron family, the Great Blue Heron (left) is the largest and most widespread.

On campus, these birds are seen throughout the year, ocasionally foraging at Lagunita and in grassy areas including medians such as those along Campus Drive.

The Great Egret (right) may spend all day foraging, hunting alone. Unlike the Snowy Egret, which also lives in our area and is easily recognized by its yellow feet, the Great Egret has black feet.

It is an uncommon visitor to Lagunita when water is present. It has been seen feeding on California tiger salamanders there, and may forage year-round for small mammals in grassy habitats, though less frequently than the Great Blue Heron.

  Merlin and Mexican Free-tailed Bat
24 1/8 x 30 ¼ inches 
watercolor 2001

Almost one-in-four mammal species are bats. Of the 16 species known to our region, half have been recorded on the core campus or at Jasper Ridge. Mexican Free-tailed Bats, in particular, have colonies on campus, and make an exodus each evening to eat half their weight in insects. Merlins, small falcons with amazing aerial skills, sometimes lie in wait for them.

About the flight of this falcon – just two inches larger than a robin – Thoreau recorded:

“... looking up, I observed a very slight and graceful hawk, like a nighthawk, alternately soaring like a ripple and tumbling a rod or two over and over, showing the under side of its wings, which gleamed like a satin ribbon in the sun, or like the pearly inside of a shell…”

On campus, Merlins are uncommon migrants and winter visitors.  The individual shown here at dusk, targets a Mexican Free-tailed Bat departing its roosting site in Green Library.

  Cliff Swallow  
24 1/8 x 30 ¼ inches
watercolor 2001

Not long ago the swallows would arrive on campus in the spring, like they do at the mission of San Juan Capistrano, although without the purported clockwork timing. Then, as the days got warmer the swallows would begin their annual ritual of plastering mud nests under the eaves of the Main Quad. Now, this is a rare occurrence, if it happens at all.

Audubon called the bird “the Republican Swallow”, referring to its habit of establishing groups for “the purpose of forming their nests and rearing their young.” (It turns out that among the five swallow species in North America, it is the most colonial: The birds form large foraging groups even when they are not nesting, opting for safety in numbers and a means of efficient information transfer of choice feeding areas.) In Audubon’s day flocks were large. In some areas flocks can still become huge today, and colonies can contain 1000 breeding pairs.

The Cliff Swallow shown here is flying towards its nest carrying mud to add to the gourd-shaped construction.


24 1/8 x 30 ¼ inches
ink, colored charcoal and graphite 2000

This diving duck can be identified at a distance by its white bonnet (male) and white cheek patch (female) in the more open, deeper portions of Laugnita when at its fullest.

To viewers today it probably appears much as it did at Walden Pond on April 19, 1855 when Thoreau recorded:

“I think it was the smallest duck I ever saw…It floated like a little casket, and at first I doubted a good while if it possessed life, until I saw it raise its head and look around. It had chosen a place for its nap exactly equi-distant between the two shores there, and, with its breast to the wind, swung round only as much as a vessel held by its anchors in the stream…”

The Buffleheads shown here illustrate the moment when a female, eyes closed while preening, drifts close enough to a male for her mate to move towards her.  Such mate-guarding is common.

  Common Barn Owl  
24  x 30 ¼ inches
ink, colored charcoal and graphite 2000

A number of pairs are resident on campus, nesting on ledges and in cavities of several buildings, and probably also in tree cavities and within the dense crowns of palms.  They are often seen day-roosting in palms near the mausoleum or seen (and heard) flying over the main campus at night.

This nocturnal hunter is one of the spooks of an age-old literature, but it is not a ‘hoot owl’; rather, its rasping, hissing vocalization reminded Audubon of  “an opossum about to die of strangulation.”


The individual shown here was seen flying across the Quad, palm silhouettes barely visible in the foggy night sky.

  Red-winged Blackbirds  
24 1/8 x 30 ¼ inches
ink, colored charcoal and graphite 2000

The song of the redwing (possibly the most abundant native bird) is familiar to many. Thoreau (April 22, 1852) described it as follows:

”The strain of the red-wing on the willow spray over the water tonight is liquid, bubbling, watery, almost like a tinkling fountain, in perfect harmony with the meadow. It oozes,..trickles, tinkles, bubbles from his throat, -- bob-y- lee-e-e, and then its shrill, fine whistle.”

On campus, the bird is a common breeder in mustard and other herbaceous vegetation on the Dish hills and near Lagunita. Elsewhere it is a fairly rare breeder, with a few pairs found in Memorial Marsh (the wetland area between Lomita Drive and Palm Drive). During the nonbreeding season, small numbers (and occasionally larger flocks) may forage throughout campus.

The perched individual shown here was staking his claim to a portion of Memorial Marsh, displaying his red patch, and exposing a fringe of buffy-yellow usually missed by the casual observer.  (Most patches on adult campus redwings appear completely red.) Redwing males flash their patches when defending their territories, staving off intrusions by other males.

Scale, as measured by the length of a chicken's egg (2")
(clockwise from left):

White-tailed Kite           
Great Blue Heron         
Great Egret                  
Cliff Swallow                 
Common Barn Owl       
Red-winged Blackbird