New Campus Songbird Garden Nourishes, Supports Avian Visitors to UMass Amherst


AMHERST, Mass. – As fall migration takes the goldfinches, bluebirds, wrens and other songbirds that nest in western Massachusetts away for the winter, a few will be powered by seeds, bugs, nectar and fresh water on campus at the new Songbird Garden on Governors Drive. It’s the latest project launched by landscape management staff and students to make campus more welcoming year-round to wild creatures living in the area.

Pam Monn, assistant director of Physical Plant, says the new garden was designed and planned by two Stockbridge School of Agriculture summer interns, Lee Michalopaulos and Eliza Forrest. Over much of the past summer, they worked with landscape and construction services staff to convert the grassy lawn and birch grove adjacent to the pollinator garden on Governors Drive into a songbird-friendly area to offer three specific essentials in all seasons – food, water and shelter.

Forrest, of Somerville, is a senior horticulture major in the Stockbridge School and Michalopaulos of Westford is pursuing an associate degree in sustainable horticulture. They worked closely with their graduate student mentor, Tierney Bocsi of Methuen, who is finishing her master’s degree in environmental conservation with a focus on urban forestry.

As Bocsi notes, “The overview for campus from the top down is that land use and ecological decisions should be not only nice for people, but should benefit the wildlife that shares our living space if possible.”

Her supervisor, head of landscape management Todd Cournoyer, agrees, and points to the pollinator garden added in 2017, restoring the banks of the Campus Pond in 2016, and this year placing six bluebird boxes around campus that produced four successful broods of bluebirds, one of tree swallows and one of wrens, as recent accomplishments. Future plans call for kestrel and bat boxes to be added on campus, plus turtle basking platforms in the Campus Pond.

For the Songbird Garden, the interns consulted with birder Dan Ziomek of Hadley Garden Center and others to develop a list of plants that provide one or more of the essential needs, says Michalopaulos. For example, a sumac hedgerow not only offers birds like robins and cedar waxwings shelter but is a source of nutritious berries in winter. Flowers like zinnia attract insects for insect-eating birds and offer goldfinches seeds in summer, and white cedar bushes provide shelter from the weather in all seasons, Forrest adds.

Chickadees raised one brood over the past summer in a nest box in the new garden and a house wren pair also successfully fledged young in another. “Shelter benefits birds, who don’t like to have to cross large open spaces that can be dangerous to them because of predators from the skies or cats on the ground,” Michalopaulos says. Forrest adds that they have been encouraging visitors to bring extra water on warm or dry days to replenish the granite basin tucked into the garden. “It’s a way everyone can contribute,” she notes.

Kathy Dion and Jennifer Konieczny are horticulturalists in landscape management who also worked closely with the interns. Dion points out, “The Stockbridge interns were supported by a large group of landscape services staff who excavated, laid stone and hardscape materials and planted shrubs and trees. Once the design was final, they brought in bluestone reclaimed from other campus projects and created beautiful paths through the Songbird Garden. They excavated sites and installed granite slab benches throughout the garden and created the granite watering bowls where birds can find fresh water to drink.”

Cournoyer, pointing to a bright yellow-and-black tiger swallowtail butterfly, adds, “It’s so close to traffic and all the hustle and bustle of the campus, but it still attracts a large variety of birds, animals and pollinating insects.” Monn says, “We’re very proud of the interns and this work. I think we learn as much from them as they learn from us.”