Fifteen Minutes: When did you notice the intruder?
Lesley Ma: My alarm went off at 8:40 and I heard some noises. There used to be water dripping from the fireplace, but I never solved the problem by closing the flue. I thought at first that it was rain dripping down the fireplace again, but it was a lot louder than that. I opened my eyes and saw this black bird flying in my room.
FM: So it came down the chimney?
Ma: There’s no other place in my room that birds can get in.
FM: What happened next? How did you get rid of it?
Ma: When I was trying to open the window it disappeared. Two minutes later Emma came out of the shower and screamed because the bird was in her room. We were trying to stand on the bed in her room to open the window, and the bird kind of fell. It sat on the floor. Then [Adams House Senior Tutor] Michael Rodriguez called and said he’d called the super’s office and they would send someone up right away. One of the janitors came up and was laughing the entire time. He put it in a bag [and took it outside].
FM: And was that the end of your traumatic bird encounter?
Ma: We had to deal with some bird droppings on the curtains.
FM: There have been multiple laptops stolen recently from Harvard rooms. Do you think the bird was out to rob you of valuable merchandise?
Ma: It looked very vulnerable. It was eager to get out. If it intended to steal something from my room it probably wouldn’t have made loud noises by banging on the window.
FM: Are you or any of your roommates bio majors? Do you know what kind of bird we’re talking about here?
Ma: No, [All we know is that] it’s a black bird with a pretty long beak.
FM: So once the bird was removed you immediately shut the flue, right?
Ma: Not yet. I procrastinate. I’ll probably get someone else to do it.
Eager to allay fears of Hitchcock-style bird terror, FM spoke with Alison G. Price, a Cambridge Animal Control Officer and 12-year-veteran of controlling the feral Cambridge streets.
FM: What should students do in a situation like this?
Alison Price: First call the people who manage the building. They will call us, we’ll come and catch the bird and release it safely outside.
FM: But what if students can’t wait for the professionals to come in?
Price: If this was a situation that occurred in my house, I would deal with it. I would get a towel or something and make sure the bird got safely outside.
FM: But if someone couldn’t keep as calm in the situation as you can, what would you suggest he or she do?
Price: Some people absolutely flip out. It depends on how well this person can function. I don’t want anyone to hurt the bird and if they’re not squared away and calm they should just leave the room. If they’re petrified, they should get out of there.
FM: What equipment would you bring on a call like this?
Price: You’d need a net in case the bird is flying around, a towel to hold it if it’s on the ground and gloves.
FM: Is this a common problem?
Price: This is actually a frequent problem, with animals living with humans and everything. There is a lot of nuisance wildlife living in the city. Harvard has to deal with animals living in the eaves of the dormitories and classroom buildings. Harvard will call us for injured squirrels living in the Yard, or a found dog or a litter of kittens in the Yard.
FM: What kind of bird do you think it was? What kind of bird is most likely to be found in a Cambridge chimney?
Price: Oh, you know, crackles are quite common, starlings, whatever. We get quite a mix.
FM: And what should Harvard do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
Price: You need caps on all your chimneys, it’s kind of like a screen. Otherwise this could happen all the time and female raccoons will come and have babies in chimneys. You really need to get a cap.
FM: Could you just review for us what nuisance wildlife is?
Price: Oh, you know, raccoons, squirrels, possums, skunks—that sort of thing.