Bird feeders and indoor botanicals: Campus beautification by Grounds Maintenance

The UAA campus features many outdoor bird feeders and indoor plants, maintained by the Landscape and Grounds team.

A redpoll sits near a birdfeeder hung outside of Rasmuson Hall. Photo by Amelia McCormack.

UAA’s campus has many features carefully kept up by the Landscape and Grounds staff’s hard work. Some of these include the outdoor bird feeders — like those outside Student Union and Beatrice McDonald Hall — and indoor botanicals. Many of the sky bridges on the UAA campus are lined with large pots and planters full of exotic plants that thrive in the sun-warmed indoor environment. 

Kara Monroe is the Landscape and Grounds supervisor for the UAA campus. Monroe and her staff refill the 15 bird feeders and ensure they aren’t knocked over in our windy seasons, and water and maintain the variety of plants in our buildings. Anyone who has grown plants before knows it can be finicky business, but Monroe and her team follow schedules and instructions to ensure the plants are properly cared for. 

A ponytail palm's long leaves brush the floor of a skybridge near the Student Union. Photo by Amelia McCormack.

Interior plants have been in UAA since at least the early 90s. Monroe said in an interview, “... it’s a well established program, so [the plants] have been around a long time.” When a department would like to add interior plants, the Landscape and Grounds crew help them decide which plants are best. “... we work with them on estimates, and what will look good, and what their expectations are,” Monroe said, explaining the process before the plants are purchased and potted by the Grounds staff. Staff work with plants that do best indoors and are available in local nurseries.

The Landscape and Grounds crew is made up of seven full-time members who, along with Monroe, follow “plant routes” which “gives [the team] continuity of care,” she said.

The indoor plants provide a colorful and lively environment to areas of the campus that are limited in wallspace for artwork. Students who study or chat in the sky bridges are able to enjoy their beauty while at the many tables and desks available. Research from multiple universities shows that indoor or house plants can make workers and students more efficient, and boost productivity and creativity. Additionally, studying with plants can minorly boost your memory, meaning students may have more successful study sessions. Plants also help clear the air of toxins, decrease stress and brighten moods. Especially in the dark and cold winter months, the benefits of plants are much appreciated. 

Outdoor bird feeders help attract local wildlife to the UAA campus — and unlike moose — birds are generally unobstructive and pleasant-tempered. Some of the frequently seen birds at the feeders can be identified with the help of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Redpolls, small brown birds with red atop their heads, are common and vibrantly colored, along with the blue and yellow Red-breasted Nuthatch. Chickadees are also frequent visitors to these feeders, and are recognizable both for their look and their call. 

A birdfeeder hangs, waiting to be refilled, in front of the Student Union. Photo by Amelia McCormack.

Monroe said that this year has been a big year for Redpolls, “We haven’t seen them swarm like this for years it feels like.” Monroe said the Grounds team fills feeders once or twice a week. “It’s important once you start feeding birds, you continue to keep their feeders full because, especially in a winter like this where snow is covering so many of their food sources, they start to become reliant,” she said. While they would be fine without feeding from staff, it brings the birds onto campus and gives staff and students better opportunities to watch them, and enjoy their charming and fun behaviors. While Grounds does not monitor bird species specifically, they do keep an eye out for injured birds that are native to Alaska, which can be brought to Alaska’s Bird Treatment and Learning Center for care. 

Monroe says her staff members Kagen Silver and Keith Turner recently worked on a project labeling the indoor plants, which has been well received on the campus and makes training staff easier. She said that staff member Andrew Hermanson is always happy to answer and help out any staff in need when it comes to the variety of indoor plants. The Grounds crew maintains large swathes of campus — including the tree tour — and helps with incidents like the recent leaks and floods on campus.