Birds Take Over Duke Campus Farm

Planting halted as staff members call in wildlife experts to rescue volunteers

Duke Campus Farm's Emily McGinty and volunteers were chased by aggressive birds last Friday, halting planting and scattering individuals in the woods.

Twelve Duke students were caught up in an avian uproar at Duke Campus Farm last Friday, as volunteers were beginning to plant rows of strawberries.

Hundreds of crows, American goldfinches and even chickens from nearby farms descended upon the one-acre plot, chasing after anything that moved. After sunset, when the birds flew off, volunteers were led out of the woods, blankets over their shoulders, as lights from vehicles carrying rescue teams illuminated their faces.

Farm Fellow Emily McGinty said the farm has never seen a situation like this since it was founded in 2010. She said the birds have always been friendly and usually sit on fence posts and wire and watch them work, especially early in the morning.

"They've greeted us so sweetly with their songs at sunrise," McGinty said. "But now they've changed their tune."

It all started around 11 a.m. when the flock of birds congregated overhead and dove after staff and volunteers, who dashed into the cover of the woods, she said.

"I was tending to the strawberry patch and suddenly a huge shadow overtook me," McGinty said. "I knew there wasn't a storm in the forecast."

McGinty ran into the outhouse, where she dropped her phone in the commode and was unable to call for help. Trapped, she listened to the flapping of wings and pecking outside the outhouse until rescue teams arrived.

The finches may have depleted their food source of clover and rye seeds during the colder months, therefore spurring the rebellion out of hunger, she said. As a precautionary measure, volunteers will set up a perimeter of bird feeders that will remain filled during future winter storms.

"We'll be ready next time," McGinty said.

--

April Fool's!

There was no bird attack, but the Duke Campus Farm is gearing up for its spring planting season and could use your help. Volunteer at the farm Thursdays and Sundays from 3 to 5 p.m., or attend the Farm's Spring Contra Dance and Festival on April 18 at 7 p.m.