Graduation ceremonies are quite long, and one weekend in December I attended my 5th such ceremony celebrating my husband’s bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. Graduation is a time to reflect, celebrate achievement, look towards the future… But there’s also a lot of empty wait time. So, on the morning of his  Gainesville commencement ceremony, I amused myself the way any birder would: how many species could I see from the stadium?

The flock of pigeons circling the empty sky above the field would surprise no one. Were they confused or excited by the days proceedings or hoping for popcorn scraps? Refusing to land, the birds flapped over our heads against a drizzling sky.
Red-tailed Hawk in Flight
As I watched, a Red-tailed Hawk sailed high over the crowd, chased by a smaller but feistier American Crow. The University of Florida’s mascot is an alligator, but a Red-tailed Hawk is a good emblem for any transition from one phase of life to the next.
They are open to almost all available habitats, from fields to forests to deserts and more. Once mated, a pair of hawks will remain together until one of them dies, which also served as a good metaphor for my marriage with Brian, which had thankfully survived the late-night exam cramming and last minute homework scrambling. The species is also a hopeful one, with population numbers increasing since 1966. Perhaps most fittingly, I remember a Red-tailed Hawk at my sister’s graduation, indicating their general love of football stadiums (or caps and gowns?).
A few European Starlings, and one Double-crested Cormorant soared across the sky during the faculty speech, but that was about it. Graduation Bird Count:4.
Written by Erika Zambello
Erika Zambello is a National Geographic Young Explorer who grew up in Maine, inspiring a deep interest in nature at an early age. She fell in love with birding after receiving a Sibley field guide for Christmas during her senior year in college, and has birded across the eastern seaboard and internationally ever since. To inspire others to protect birds and the environment, she has blogged for the Conservation Fund, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Triangle Land Conservancy, and Duke University, and is writing a birding guide to Northern New England for Wilderness Adventures Press. She has founded, and is currently living along the Emerald Coast in Florida's Panhandle. You can check out her exploration site or follow her on Instragram.