"Horned larks tilted and teetered on the wing high above us as though hung from the sky dome by invisible threads, to sing and sing till their ecstasy burned away the threads and let them drift back to earth."
~Loye Miller, "Birds of the Campus" (1947)

Table of Contents

1929-1944: Birds of the Campus by Loye Holmes Miller (printed in 1947)

1920s-1998: 419 Acres: UCLA's Natural History by Travis Longcore and Catherine Rich (printed in 1998)

1965-1989: California Birding History (covers the whole state)

1980s: Crow Research by Carolee Caffrey

1994-2001: Birds of the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden by Gregory R. Schrott

2005-ongoing: Stone Canyon Creek Restoration Project

2006: UCLA Campus Bird Count!

2009: Birds of the Campus: mixed media paintings by Linda Martinson


Dr. Loye Holmes Miller (1874-1970)

old photo of "Padre" Loye Miller playing guitar, autographed
(click thumbnail for larger image)
Picture from 1942 UCLA Yearbook, courtesy of Betty Jane Beal Metzler (class of '42).
Picture circa early 1960s, provided by Richard Metzler.

Birds of the Campus: University of California, Los Angeles
An Annotated List of Birds Seen on the Campus During the Years 1929 to 1944
By Dr. Loye Holmes Miller (1874-1970)
From University of California Syllabus Series, No. 300.  Text by Loye Miller, illustrations by Robert C. Stebbins.  Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1947.

Explanation (by Jason Finley, 2005):

Through sheer serendipity a copy of "Birds of the Campus" landed in my lap.  I hadn't known it existed when I started on this website.  In Fall of 2004 I began prowling the campus with cameras to collect pictures of birds.  The most fertile ground for this was the Botanical Garden.  There I eventually got to know some of the garden staff, and let them know I was gathering pictures for a bird website.  One of the staff, Henry, randomly mentioned my project to an employee at a Santa Monica nursery, Richard.  It turns out that Richard grew up down the street from Dr. Loye Miller, who used to entertain all the neighborhood kids by telling stories and whistling bird songs on his daily walks.  Dr. Miller had given a signed copy of "Birds of the Campus" to Richard's family many years ago, and Richard still had it.  He was happy to lend it to me for use in my website.  I realized immediately what a valuable addition it would make.  I checked with the University of California Press, and it seems the booklet has entered the public domain, meaning it is free of copyright restrictions (a rare thing in this day and age).  So I have reproduced the entire booklet here, so that it's available to everyone.

Dr. Loye Miller was a storied and influential ornithologist (one who studies birds), he was a professor at UCLA since... well, since before it was even UCLA.    He taught at Los Angeles State Normal School, which became the "Southern Branch of the University of California" in 1919.  The campus was at that time located on Vermont Avenue, in Hollywood.  From the time that the campus was moved to its current Westwood location, in 1929, Dr. Miller observed, recorded, and commented on the bird life of the area and the impact of arrival of the University.  "Birds of the Campus" covers from 1929 to 1944.  But the tale he tells in this small booklet dates back to the dedication of the Westwood site, in 1926, when the Founder's Rock was placed (which can still be seen in an infrequently traveled corner next to Murphy Hall).  In fact, the record he leaves behind tells a story that transcends that time period and even the location.  Authoritative yet whimsical, his writing is truly a gift to us.

UCLA has, of course, undergone major changes since 1947, when "Birds of the Campus" was published.  The arroyo has long since been filled over and forgotten.  Do you know where it is?  It's Dickson Plaza now.  The development of the campus, and perhaps more importantly the surrounding area, has driven away many of the birds Dr. Miller recorded.  It is very interesting to compare our bird population now to what was recorded back then.  He listed over 100 species.   Most of the birds we have today were here in 1947, and some have become better established.  We've even had a few new additions (the Yellow-Chevroned Parakeet for one).  But we have lost more than we have gained.

I wonder if Dr. Miller would be surprised by the way things have turned out for our birds so far.  I wonder if he'd be dismayed.  I do know that he would see them with an eye and hear them with an ear that none of us now possess.  But he has left us something to help.

I wonder also what birds will be here for future generations to enjoy, and how many species here and around the world we will lose forever.  We can look for and appreciate the birds we have today, but we must not forget their past and their future, for they are inextricably bound with our own.

More UCLA History: http://www.uclahistoryproject.ucla.edu

All of the above scanned original materials were donated to the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, History & Special Collections division, on Tuesday July 18th, 2006.

Oh, one more thing to think about: Loye Miller was alive at the same time as Charles Darwin.

In February, 2006, I announced a UCLA Campus Bird Count over the L.A. County birding mailing list.  I received the following testimonial from Betty Purgitt Wyatt, class of 1944:

Dear Jason:
Boy did you get my attention with your posting about the UCLA bird count. I am a graduate, class of '44. As a freshman I took a required intro to biology. It was one of those huge 3-day a week lecture halls which was supposed to eliminate about a third of us to ease upper division class crowding. Do they still have those? The class was lead by Dr. Cowles, with Dr. Miller (professor emeritus) who generally spoke one day a week--often on birds. He did the most wonderful bird imitations. Since classes sang on Fridays for 10 minutes back then, he taught us some spirituals and lead the singing of school spirit songs. He was great. I hung on and passed the course, although my only previous exposure to science was high school chemistry.
Two years later I took another class from the two of them on California ecology although ecology had not yet been invented. We had units on the different biozomes of Southern California (they hadn't been invented yet either) covering climate, geology, plant life, animals, and, of course with Dr. L. Miller involved--birds. We had to do a bird list of 100 to pass the course and also worked with skins in the lab. It was great. Most of my birding was done in the botanical garden on the east side of the campus and up around the provost's home on the north side of campus. There was one field trip to the beach and one along Mulholland Drive to tap the scrub habitat. It started my life-long addiction to birds. I never had the chance to do much travel but have a respectable ABA list and California life list but the numbers aren't the important thing. It's been the birds and birders I've met. Thank you Dr. Miller for my juniper tree and thank you, Jason Finley, for reminding me of that wonderful man. What a teacher. Betty Purgitt Wyatt, '44

Betty was an English major, but the biology classes she took with Dr. Miller had a significant effect on her.  She says: "As proof of how far the ripples of those off-major courses went, I might mention that I was editor in chief and production supervisor of the 3 editions of Santa Clara Valley Audubon's "BIRDING AT THE BOTTTOM OF THE BAY," a site guide to birds of south end of San Francisco Bay."

Also note that Dr. Miller thanks Dr. R. B. Cowles at the end of Birds of the Campus.


>>> BirdsOfTheCampus.pdf <<<

Loye Miller's Original Observation Cards


These are scans of some of Dr. Miller's original observation cards.  You can see that some of these are clearly source material for "Birds of the Campus."  My sincerest thanks go to Travis Longcore, who was given the cards as a grad student by Kimball Garrett, who received them after they'd been handed down through the UCLA Biology Department these many years.

Introduction from "Birds of the Campus"

cover for Birds of the Campus, signed by Loye Miller

A DOMINANT RACE crowds into new territory, declares itself the new occupant, and possesses the land. So it has been throughout history, and while we may glory in achievement, we inevitably regret some of its consequences.

Such is progress, and progress we must have. None of us would turn back, but the occasional backward look is essential to an appreciation of the present position, and at least a partial adjustment for the future. My own major contributions to human knowledge have been in the study of fossils, but the excuse for such effort is in its clarification of the present and its forewarning for the future. The background of the present and the bulwark of the future is the past. Since this is a record of the earliest bird occupants of our campus, it necessarily combines some history with census taking. For the sake of this history, the bridge, now only a balustraded roadway lying east of the main quadrangle, and the arroyo it traversed, now only a dirt fill, as well as other natural features of the landscape going or doomed to go, are recorded in the text.

The "dominant race" has moved into new territory at Westwood and is fighting its way to a settled status. We are pioneers and call ourselves the firstcomers. Are we really first? If not, whom do we displace? Who remain as our neighbors ? How long will they remain neighborly? How long will they survive?

The biologist is interested in the small folk of our campus, the shy folk, the wild folk. Who are they that are here now and whose lives are disturbed by our coming?

Yesterday a dragonfly visited my lecture room where two hundred and fifty humans were seated. It flitted about quite at home in the airy, well-lighted theater. A large expanse of green cork carpet intervened between my lecture desk and the steep-banked tiers of opera chairs. The creature seemed to find this green expanse suggestive of a quiet, stagnant pool, and while we all looked on, it dipped down time after time, touching the tip of its abdomen to the green surface in an effort to lay eggs therein. My dissertation on fossils was suspended, and we watched the performance until the poor, confused dragonfly, a firstcomer, had decided this strange green pond was not of the ordinary type and zoomed up to the windows fifteen feet above. We newcomers had confused an oldtimer, and a class in paleontology watched the conflict of the two races. Some day our artificial lily ponds will offer a more suitable place for a dragonfly's eggs, and her tribe will increase.

At the formal dedication of the new site in 1926 we "spied out the land" en masse. There was nothing upon it but weeds and dust and chaparral and glowing hopes and glowing hopefuls and dignified officials (and still others of the firstcomers). As the Governor of the State and the President of the University stood together on a rude platform with other dignitaries behind them, we, standing below in the sun and dust, sensed a shadow pass swiftly overhead and looked up just in time to see a Prairie Falcon bowling across the newly consecrated brown mesa that by the magic of words just spoken had become a university campus. That sturdy winged hunter was about to be dispossessed of his hereditary hunting fields. He puts up with no refinements nor with too close neighbors. He is an ace of great open spaces and the invasion is not to his liking. He may play a gallant Robin Hood part about our borders for a period, but he will soon leave for less crowded territory.

Not so his small cousin the Sparrow Hawk. If ever a hawk had charm and neighborliness, it is he. Early trips to the campus always discovered him there, and the great clatter and dust and swirl of the mighty building operations worried him not at all. My first trip across the bridge this fall, two weeks ahead of the student rush, discovered him posted on the electric wire strung across the ravine within speaking distance, and still he is here now that the stream of eddying students is at flood level. He is an adaptable little chap, and as I view certain tempting ventilator holes in the brick cliffs above the biology roof garden, I can readily vision one or more of them serving soon as nesting sites for these spicy little spads.

The whole Alumni Council of greater California met with us last spring and visited the new campus just after a delightful air-washing shower. From the steps of Royce Hall we looked out across the campus to the ocean and could see the little mile-square island of Santa Barbara fifty miles out to sea. All about us over the nearer fields, that crystal air was electric with sparkling songs of meadowlarks. If ever sound could have color, the meadowlark's song would be a whole rainbow.

Horned larks tilted and teetered on the wing high above us as though hung from the sky dome by invisible threads, to sing and sing till their ecstasy burned away the threads and let them drift back to earth. Like the prairie falcon, they will not stay. They are shy folk, and they demand room. As the "dominant race" multiplies, they will slip quietly into history.

Must all the first people go? Will not some of them adjust themselves? Can we not live peaceably with them and they with us?

The first folk are a sensitive folk in the main, and before long they will begin to feel the presence of the new influence. Our brown, rolling slopes will soon be clothed in shrubbery and trees - a mesa will be converted into an artificial wood. Our brushy canyons are already being disturbed by paths, clearings, or dumpings from dirt trucks. The open glade that was once a sagey wash, bordered by weed patches and alive with sparrows, is now a leveled series of gridirons surrounded by hurrying students and closely parked automobiles. What is a poor sparrow to do for a brush tangle when there is such a tangle of duco, pantasote, and cylinder oil? He must move on. What is a stubble-loving lark to do when favorite stubble is cluttered up with ornamental planting? On our old campus, the meadowlarks used to nest in the wild oats that grew back of Millspaugh Hall. Now a well-clipped lawn and gracefully placed trees under the guidance of Professor Older and the Scotch thoroughness of "Alec" have replaced the friendly grasses, and meadowlarks no longer sing from the cupola of Hillspaugh Hall.

But am I looking too much for those that will pass? Will not others come? I remember well the first Hermit Thrush that came to our old campus. He came only when shrubbery to suit his hermit shyness offered the proper concealment and he dropped down into the thick Pittosporum in front of "Home Ec." He was a lonely chap, too, for when I stepped out on the Science balcony and whistled an answer, he came bowling across the open lawn, a daring thing for a hermit to do, and plunged into the Abelia just below me and called and called. I remember we had no Blue Jays on the campus until the live oaks planted along the driveway fronm Vermont Avenue got to the acorn-bearing stage. Blue Jays just must have their acorns to crack.

One early dawn, a California Eared Grebe mistook our dew-covered lawn in the quadrangle for a green pond and dropped down from his heavy migration flight to rest. He could not rise without splashing along the surface, but the splashing is poor on the grass, and he was tired. We went out and picked him up and put him into the lily pond in the circle, where he rested, diving and splashing and chasing the goldfish all day. The rest, and no doubt the several goldfish, put him back to normal, and he "took off" some time that night for the next lap. Song Sparrows came to the shrubbery. Phoebes built under the eaves, even Pine Siskins spent weeks about our small conifers, and Townsend Warblers came from the Canadian forests.

It is not necessarily a pathetic picture. No! Far from it. Some will go, it is true, and we shall miss them, but others will conic. Paleontology teaches us that such is the law of nature. Dinosaurs had to pass. Marsupials gave way. Amblypods, Titanotheres, Creodonts, Sabertooths, passed in orderly array, each to be succeeded by some other and more adaptable form. There is at first a pathos in their passing, but that feeling is succeeded by one of greater cheer.

Was there regret at leaving the Vermont Campus? Some of us had worked there happily, and seen fruits come to our planting. Now we conic to brown hills and weedy mesas, to dusty walks and crowded confusion of incompleteness. But who is there to look back like Lot's wife with a backward longing? We must turn under the wild flower to break sod for a home. In the process we sacrifice the meadowlark, but we gain a song sparrow. The naturalist may wince at the ruthless surgery of progress, but after all I am a humanist, and if we cannot grow good human ideals upon this fresh-turned sod, there is something wrong with the seed, and the "first folk" will have passed in vain.

The seed is good, and I, for one, am confidently "facing west."


It is now fifteen years since the foregoing sketch was written. What is the picture as the homecoming alumnus sees it today? Have those anticipated changes taken place? Yes, the Horned Larks are gone, but the Song Sparrows and the joyful White-crowns have moved right up to the steps of Royce Hall and the Library. Yes, the Prairie Falcon seems to have reacted like Jim Bridger or Davy Crockett and sought a hunting ground that is "less cluttered up with folks."

The tule patches and the mud bars of lower Stone Canyon have disappeared since the subsurface tunnel replaced the natural stream bed. The long bill of Wilson's Snipe can't probe for mud-dwelling worms on top of a concrete storm drain, so "Jack" Snipe passes on by, without stopping for "a spot o' tea and gossip." Fortunately, the little Yellow-throat, whom I could always find when I called at his home in the tule patch, has found a place to his liking in the man-made thicket of bamboo by the lily pond in the Botany Garden.

The formerly dry arroyo has been invaded by artificial plantings under the influence of overhead sprinkler systems, and native willows have become established along its once dry bottom. This has created a small housing project of furnished accommodations that has already attracted some of the warblers and should in time prove homelike for at least two species of Vireos. Wren-tits and Spotted Towhees have moved down from the hills into the artificial chaparral along the arroyo and California Jays have become almost a domesticated species about the picnic grounds above the bridge. The friendly Sparrow Hawks have proven as sociable as we had hoped. They nest in several places about the buildings. Even the Great Horned Owl has taken to roosting in Royce Hall towers despite the "Big Ben" chimes that sound off each hour of the twenty-four. It is no "ivy-mantled tower," either.

The Road-runners have been something of a surprise to me by displaying a high degree of adaptability. They seem to like us and their tribe has definitely increased since we came. I watched one from my office window one day as he trotted along the concrete driveway, hopped onto the radiator of a parked car-up over the top to pause and swing his long tail-then down off the back end to continue his tour of inspection. One of them jumped up to the north rail of the bridge one morning this spring in answer to my call from the south walk. We paralleled each other-stop and go, stop and go, all the way across-talking back and forth all the time. They nest in the tangled vines of the lath house in the Botany Garden. Their peculiar "double-ended" tracks are registered in the "Dust Bowl" parking area south of Physics-Biology. In fact, the Road-runner has become quite a campus character, and well merits his Spanish name Paisano or Countryman.

Quail have definitely increased in numbers, owing perhaps to the more frequent sources of available water which seems favorable to the development of their button-ball chicks. Those peculiar dry-land water birds, the Killdeers, are everywhere about the lawns and parking lots. Day or night, summer or winter, their positive color pattern and their even more striking voices catch the attention at all times. They nest in the graveled parking lot literally under the bumpers of the angle-parked cars, then they scream and flutter in simulated agony when a mere human intrudes upon their domain. But they are delightfully foolish folk.

It seems to take nearly a thousand Brewer's Blackbirds to properly "worm" the lawns of the esplanade and they are almost too busy to move out of the way as 'tween classes young humans eddy back and forth almost as busily. Both students and birds combine into a pleasing animated picture as I look out from my office window.

Yes, the campus is very much alive. The dominant race has increased enormously, but the "first folk" have not been too greatly disturbed. Bunnies and Jack Rabbits skitter across the beam of your headlights if you drive in the back way at night, and a mother doe even brought her young fawn down from the hills and across Sunset Boulevard to spend quite a season about the head of the arroyo near the President's house.

The increase in available water, the planting of cover, and the increase of berry-bearing shrubs that extend the food supply over a greater part of the year-all have contributed to an increase of the total population in spite of the loss of certain supersensitive species.

Miss Dorothy Groner of the Audubon Society and the Cooper Ornithological Club was good enough to give me the results of her bird count of January 30, 1944. She was on continuous duty from 8:30 till 5:30 on a drippy, drizzly sort of day, but she checked up forty-three species and a total of 1,571 individual birds.

A word or two now for the serious layman who wants to get better acquainted with the campus birds. We have here a goodly variety of terrain or habitat types within our borders, and some species of birds may be very strictly limited thereby. Others, however, seem to be quite independent of such restriction. California Woodpeckers are closely confined to the oaks and sycamores west of the President's house, while Mockingbirds and Linnets may be found anywhere. Meadowlarks like the open spaces along the south axis, but Wren-tits and Spotted Towhees keep pretty close to the underbrush of the arroyo. Get acquainted with these different areas and you will enjoy learning to know "Who's Who" at any part of the campus. You will find too that a certain individual bird may have "laid claim" to a definite small area, perhaps including a particular tree where you will see him from day to day at a given hour. You can call on him almost by appointment, as it were.

Then of course there's the great factor of the seasons. The almanac of the birds is almost as definite as that of the sun and each species responds to the season in its own way. One species will travel thousands of miles each year in response to that irresistible urge to migrate, while his very close kinsman may lack the impulse entirely.

With respect to our southern California coastal area, then, the species may be recognized as resident (R), summer (S), winter (W), transient (T), or wanderer (V). In the campus list included below, these initial letters will assist you in judging when to look for your bird friend. I always listen with pleasurable anticipation for the first notes of the friendly White-crowns in the last week of September. During forty years they have not failed me if I myself have been on the alert.

L. M.

419 Acres: UCLA's Natural History
Written and designed by Travis Longcore and Catherine Rich (printed in 1998),
Presented at California’s Biodiversity Crisis: The Loss of Nature in an Urbanizing World, UCLA Institute of the Environment, October 24−25, 1998.

This is a fascinating and very informative synopsis of UCLA's natural history, dating from Loye Miller's time to the late 1990s, with some of the gaps between filled in by information from a 1962 thesis on the history of the campus environment written by Mary Vogel, and by survyes done by UCLA geography undergraduates in the 1990s.

The document takes the form of a three-page poster, and is broken into the following three topics:

  1. Land Use
  2. Biological Homogenization
  3. Island Biogeography

The PDF is available on the website of Dr. Longcore's Urban Wildlands Group.

DOWNLOAD A FULL PDF OF "419 Acres: UCLA's Natural History" HERE!  (372kb)

>>> 419acres.pdf <<<

1980s: Crow Research by Carolee Caffrey

In the 1980s, Dr. Carolee Caffrey studied the social and intelligent behavior of American Crows while pursuing her PhD at UCLA.  Two old structures where she housed some crows for study are still standing in the Native Fragment on campus (at least as of 2009) .

1994-2001: Birds of the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
by Gregory R. Schrott

This was a list of bird species identified in the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden (MEMBG) by Dr. Gregory R. Schrott between 1994 and 2001 as he pursued his PhD in Biology.  It appeared in Volume 4, Number 4 of the MEMBG Newsletter.  He noted some trends in presence of species even in those seven years, and we can see differences between what he recorded and what we observe now.


1965-1989: California Birding History (covers the whole state)

Don Robertson, at Monterey Bay, CA, has put together a great page on what was a defining quarter-century in bird-watching in California.


2005-2006: Stone Canyon Creek Restoration Project

2006 - UCLA Campus Bird Count!

2009: Birds of the Campus: mixed media paintings by Linda Martinson

ONGOING REPORTS of birds sightings on/near campus


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