Fellows in the News

For Erika Zavaleta and Bernie Tershy, biologists and conservation scientists at the University of California in Santa Cruz, building a bird-friendly house meant using nontoxic building materials like reclaimed wood and straw-bale insulation. (Birds, which have fast metabolisms, are highly sensitive to toxins.) The family and their friends spent a day packing 200 bales into the walls of the 2,650-square-foot house—to the birds’ delight. “While you’re working, they’re stealing little bits of straw to build their nests,” said Anni Tilt, principal at Arkin-Tilt Architects, which specializes in ecologically sensitive design.

Mr. Tershy, whose research focuses on preventing plant and animal extinctions, said that he spent $769,889 to build the house, which sits on a small suburban lot two blocks from the ocean, bordered by a park and a small creek.

“That creek, that’s why we chose to live there—it’s incredible bird-watching,” said Mr. Tershy, 53. “Great blue herons and great egrets and snowy egrets and kingfishers—they come through in the fall, and because we’re so close to the ocean, we can see brown pelicans and cormorants.”

The house is oriented toward the backyard and the creek, not the street. Windows are set high near the ceiling in some rooms to let in light and to allow views of birds flying overhead. Although Mr. Tershy keeps binoculars throughout the house, he didn’t need them to watch a Cooper’s hawk hunting in the park recently.

“I could look at it eye-level when it was standing there eating a bird—right out of our bedroom window,” Mr. Tershy said. “It’s hard not to be really excited.”

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