When talking about birds, it’s best to start early — in this case, just five minutes before the 8:30 a.m. Arabic class I took in my first semester at Amherst. At around 8:25, I would stumble out into the warm James hallways with just enough time to run across the chilly First Year Quad to Johnson Chapel. During those quiet mornings, the sounds of my shoes trudging through dirt were often joined by a call that snapped me out of my morning reverie — the cries of crows.
They’re usually near the quad, Porter House, Alumni House, or Pratt Field, but as Sasha Heywood ’25, then my fellow Arabic classmate, noted, “they definitely [also] used to roost in Johnson Chapel; I would hear them from my room in South.”
We weren’t the only students taking an interest in campus fowl. According to the New York Times and Quartz, birding has seen a rise in popularity since the start of the Covid pandemic, and Amherst seems to be no exception: Many students are going on bird walks, birdwatching, photographing birds, engaging with them through biology labs, or simply talking about them. Some have even revitalized a club for it, aptly named Bird Club. To learn more about this spike in popularity, I spoke with three students who have been involved in various bird-related activities at Amherst. They told me about how they got into birdwatching, raising their own birds, and taking pictures of them (in places as distant as Serbia!)
Bird Club: A Nest for Bird Lovers at Amherst
If you went to the 2021-2022 club fair, you might’ve seen a table empty save for a sign that read “Bird Club.” No one sat behind it — there was no sign-up sheet, poster, nothing. But this year, if you passed by that same sign, you’d find Julius Tyson ’25 sitting with his laptop and a sign-up sheet, calling you to join.
Tyson is the current president of Bird Club, which came into being this year, but actually has existed by technicality all along — that is, on the Amherst Hub. The club had existed before but had died during Covid with the graduation of its old president, Sam Zhang ’21. Like many, Tyson passed by that empty sign last year and was “disappointed to discover that the club was inactive on the Hub. I got in touch with Student Activities right before the fall semester. I was pretty easily able to add myself as president of the club, maintaining the same site on the Hub and only slightly editing the constitution,” as he described. After just one year, the club now stands at around 100 members. Since then, it has hosted a variety of bird-related events, including bird walks led by the club’s vice president, Connor Farlquhar ’26.
Farlquhar has been a birdwatcher for over a decade, and you can tell — he’s almost always wearing something bird-related. He’s seen almost 800 different species of birds, including “a tropical bird nesting site in Tobago, a tern and puffin nesting colony in Maine, and a salt lick with seven species of parrots in the Amazon.” All of these experiences sprouted from one field guide he received as a gift at around seven. Farlquhar said he had “always loved reading about animals, and so [he] ended up memorizing the species after about a year.”
While the field guide was a “form of escape,” Farlquhar has since found his favorite thing about birdwatching to be “the time spent outside with friends. Getting together, and helping each other see new birds is fun and builds relationships.”
Many other members of Bird Club have similar motivations. Ahanu Youngblood ’25, for one, said that “[t]he Bird Club group chat is super friendly and people are always posting pictures of cool birds they see around campus.” And as Farlquhar noted, there are “members of the club who have birdwatched for many years” and there are also some, “who have never seriously gone out in the field.” But everyone who joined has a shared passion — well, birds!
Flying Out Of The Nest (or Birding Outside of the Club)
There are also many ways to engage with birds outside of birdwatching with the Bird Club. Several members of the club take pictures of birds for research they are working on for professors. Other students — myself included — have done falconry on their own, at New England Falconry.
At his family’s house here in Amherst, Youngblood even raises his own pigeons; he has “a small coop that fits around 15 pigeons with nesting boxes, food troughs, and water bottles that they can drink out of.” Youngblood got into the hobby from joining a club called Northwest Junior Flyers. Part of his interest in raising pigeons was how “attached” he felt to birds. “I love their color patterns and love watching how they interact with each other and seeing each bird’s mannerisms,” he gushed.
Bird photographers, like Aleksandar Ristivojevic ’23, are also welcomed by the club. He described to me how he “bought a telephoto lens for my phone and started taking photos of birds I see in the morning around Greenway dorms.” Since then, he has photographed birds including mockingbirds, starlings, American robins, and mourning doves — however, his favorite birds are crows. Ristivojevic recently posted a photo of one on the Bird Club group chat. “It was around two or three feet away from me, but sometimes they would get even closer,” he said.
Ristivojevic doesn’t just photograph crows, he also feeds them. He told me that when he places “peanuts on the top of [a] bench, I’ve seen several crows move about one foot away before jumping to get the peanuts after I step back.” Back home in Serbia, he lives “next to a relatively big park, and now every time I’m back home for the break, in the mornings I go to the park and throw peanuts.” In Ristivojevic’s experience, it usually take less than a minute for a dozen crows to show up.
As seen through these three experiences, birding can take a variety of forms for Amherst students. Whether you’re sitting at the bench overlooking Memorial Hill or in the snow in Serbia, there will always be a crow, whether it’s the American crow or the Hooded crow. Birding is a universal activity because regardless of where students are, or how they spend time with birds, there is one thing that’s certain: Birds will always be there to keep you company, even when you feel alone.