Here on Swarthmore College’s campus, we have many residents beyond just humans! From birds to fish to rodents (and yes, many bugs), Swarthmore’s outdoors, arboretum campus, and Crum Woods are bustling with wildlife that connects us Swatties to the natural world and the wonders of the planet we call home!
There are many birds that call this southeast corner of Pennsylvania home, both diurnal (active in the day) and nocturnal (active in the night) species. One bird species that you will likely see daily are robins, this bird has a bright orange belly and hangs out in the grass or on low branches, searching for worms. At Swarthmore they are so used to students walking about they often will stay right by the path even as you walk by! Some other common animals you might spot flocks of in the sky include crows and ravens. Both of these species look very similar, with shiny black feathers, but ravens are usually much larger than crows. These birds will sometimes take off from a tree in front of Parrish Hall in a huge cloud of wings (a group of crows is called a “murder” and a group of ravens is called an “unkindness”). Their main food source includes bugs and any others scraps they can scavenge off the ground.
Some larger, more predatory birds that stalk the skies include beautiful red-tailed hawks and graceful peregrine falcons. These birds live very high up in the tallest trees and will only dive down to catch larger prey, usually in the rodent category. You can sometimes see hawks glide high above the new Dining Center, between the tall trees nearby. Falcons prefer ledges, so tall buildings like the bell tower of Clothier are perfect perching spots for them.
Night time at Swarthmore is still busy with the sounds of birds, which you can often hear if you have your dorm room window open on warmer days. These flying animals include owls like the majestic great horned owl or the common barn owl, which perch in high up white pines or beech trees. Barn owls are very common owls that you will hear call out in the dark, while great horned owls are more elusive and you should consider yourself lucky if you spot one! Finally, the last night time flying animal that is often spotted in and around Swarthmore is the little brown bat! These small creatures fly at high speeds through the night sky and sometimes surprise students when they show up out of the blue, since they are whisper quiet, and of course, they do hang upside down!
The most common big herbivores you will find out in the woods, and maybe even on campus every now and then, are white-tailed deer! These specialized grazers are very overpopulated throughout all of Pennsylvania, and there are many efforts to keep their numbers in check. Besides environmental impact, deer are very curious animals that spend a lot of time nursing their young after mating season and otherwise are simply cute animals to spot laying in a shady spot on the ground in the Crum Woods.
Another special animal Swarthmore treasures is the red fox, which is a medium-sized predator that scavenges for scraps or small rodents. Their flowing red fur is a special sight when you see it sprinting through the undergrowth of Swarthmore’s arboretum. A last larger animal to mention is the groundhog, which spends most of its time in open, grassy clearing the woods. Groundhogs are known mostly for their relation to “predicting” winters around Thanksgiving, but as individuals they are also very interesting. These large mammals dig lots of holes and live underground, and as such, they have large paws (and very cute pups, seriously, look up photos).
Next up are the small animals. At Swarthmore we have a range of little “fluffballs” (trust me, that’s the best name for them) from gray squirrels and chipmunks to rabbits and even frogs! Squirrels spend their time everywhere (and I mean everywhere) outdoors. You will see them on the grass along paths on your walk to math class, on trees when you are leaving the Dining Center, and even on buildings (they love the Clothier Courtyard next to the Bell Tower). Chipmunks are also very common, as their population has been growing, especially throughout the past few years. I remember multiple times when I crossed a road or path along with a chipmunk. They are super friendly and curious and just absolutely adorable! Both squirrels and chipmunks mostly feast on nuts like acorns or other crumbs that they find under trees (they love the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater for that reason).
Rabbits are less common to spot but when you do you can’t help but watch them munch on food for a while, since they always look so focused. Personally, I wish I could keep as focused all the time as rabbits are when they encounter a nice field of green grass. Finally, Swarthmore contains many types of frogs. This includes a few different kinds of treefrogs and bullfrogs. Treefrogs have a quiet chirp you might hear during the day or night, but if you are living anywhere near a body of water (like the Crum Creek on campus) you will mostly hear the very loud ribbiting call of American bullfrogs. These are relatively large nocturnal amphibians who just enjoy making a racket (in truth, the noises they make are for attraction purposes and are loudest during mating season).
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! Now is where I surprise you by saying that yes, we do have bugs at Swarthmore (just like in most other locations across the world). Some bugs, like mosquitos, can be frustrating, but with some simple bug spray they do not pose a huge threat in this area of the world. I’m here to tell you about how cool bugs actually are, and their vital, vital role in our ecosystems. Spiders eat those mosquitos, along with controlling much of the other insect populations. Bugs can be beautiful too, just like the multicolored dragonflies you can find along ponds and river edges! Butterflies are also incredible animals that people can appreciate!
Bees are also very special! Honeybees are part of the Beekeeping Club, who take care of their beehives on the green roof of David Kemp Hall (one of Swarthmore’s dorms), while bumblebees are just doing what their name implies: bumbling about. They are very round, fuzzy little insects that are not interested in humans and are just looking for tasty lavender or other flowering plants in the Rose Garden. These creatures truly will not harm people as long as the people do not bother them. Sometimes bees think that our bright, vibrant-colored clothing indicates a flower and so they will come near us to find out, but they are off to other places as soon as they realize you don’t have any nectar for them! This is why I ask everyone reading this to please treat bees with respect, as they are extremely important for all the beauty we get from flowering plants and the fruit we eat as well.
Swarthmore integrates nature with students very strongly through the care that is put into the Scott Arboretum, but that relationship can’t be one-sided! If we respect nature’s boundaries just as much as we want nature to respect ours, then coexisting with all these creatures I have mentioned should be a breeze. Thanks so much for reading, and good luck in your future endeavors with our planet’s populations and communities!