Campus sustains connection to nature by lending a perch to Hawks.

A hawk swoops to the southwest corner of the Madsen, dropping right over a student walking to class. The brown, red and white raptor is on the hunt for the prey it spotted from the new perch created by senior Alicia Grassmid.

The wooden perch atop the Madsen encourages the hawk population on campus by giving them a high, secluded spot to rest and hunt from. The project aims to recreate a part of the hawks’ habitat and support a balanced ecosystem.

“You want to have the full spectrum of life that would typically be here,” Grassmid said.

Human presence typically drives away some more shy animals like raptors, Grassmid said. Encouraging the hawk population to stay on campus keeps prey populations, like rodents, controlled, and, therefore, balances the ecosystem.

The new sustainability project began as a Civitasw project, and Grassmid brought the plan out of the classroom, through the approval process and, finally, to its built and mounted completion.

The stained four-by-four wooden blocks are nailed into a cubic frame with wire mesh at the bottom holding rocks to weigh it down. The design is wind resistant, and it’s installed without damaging the roof of the Madsen. It’s accompanied by a metal sign created by her sister Lindsay Grassmid, a class of ‘20 Alumna.

Grassmid worked closely with biology professor Amy Lewis to learn more about the birds and their needs on campus.

“Just to be able to see aspects of the natural world in our everyday life, I think, is pretty critical,” Lewis said.

Lewis said two species of hawk regularly hang out on campus: red tail and Cooper’s. 

Students can watch for the red tail’s white breast with a belly-band streak, brown backside and, of course, a bandless red tail, Lewis said. 

For Cooper’s, birdwatchers can look for a graying back, belly streaks running vertically and a long, banded tail.

“It’s also just good for the soul to look up and see a hawk going by,” Lewis said.

The sustainability project was dedicated to these two wild birds, and their owl friends, from start to finish. Lewis and Grassmid both said the wood was chosen to be more natural like a tree branch and the placement was chosen based on their preferred landing spots.

Those birds like to be high and overlooking, so they can see their prey without being seen, according to Lewis. She also noted that campus has a pair of Red Tail hawks and quite a few Cooper’s who come through as singles.

“But the raptors hold a special place in my heart because they are fierce, wild, and totally untamed,” Grassmid said.

Grassmid’s father and grandfather are both carpenters. Grassmid’s adventures at the job site with her dad and building furniture with her grandpa made her pretty trusty with power tools and woodstain. She and her siblings made projects ranging from a dog house to a triple decker birdhouse.

All these years later, she’s still making sure animals have a comfy place to stay. Grassmid said she hoped to combine beauty and nature functionality by using her craftsmanship and quality materials.

In November 2020, she brandished her woodworking skills at her parents’ home in Menno, South Dakota, to create the raptor habitat in just a day. But she had been planning for about two years before that.

After she and her classmates formed the idea in Civitas class, Grassmid needed to collaborate closely with Andrea Smith, director of facilities services, to move through the approval process. 

Grassmid said the process was a lot of asking questions, being referred to different people around campus, and continually  adjusting the design.

The project was financed through the sustainability fund, which Lewis also helps manage.

Now in Michigan’s swamp and woods at her Grandma’s house, Grassmid said she sings to indigo buntings, cardinals, and especially to the chickadees, where she is living while student teaching this spring. In these moments, the music major’s  passion for music and nature embrace.

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