About The Incubator

Welcome to The Incubator, a blog run by The Rockefeller University community focused on hatching conversations about science!

Science is everywhere, and it is our goal at the Incubator to showcase science in a variety of contexts.  If you are interested in the intersection of science and art, science and policy, science and society, or just wish to keep up to date on current scientific research  you are in the right place!

Because science impacts everyone, we feel that everyone should have access to clear, jargon-free science information.  But if we are truly to have a conversation about science, the channels of communication must be a two-way street.  We welcome you to use this space for discussions centered on science.  Do help us keep these conversations alive by commenting, sending us your suggestions, and following us – and sharing! – through social media (Twitter, Facebook).

The Incubator was originally started by Jeanne Garbarino, Joe Luna, and Jessica Wright in 2009.

DUCK FAMILYAbout the Ducks and Other Wildlife on the RU Campus

By Jessica Wright, former RU Postdoc and Co-Founder of The Incubator

Every spring, a group of mallard ducks starts a long journey from their wintering grounds to the place of their birth. They travel not to a marsh, or a national park, but to a tiny patch of parkland within the densest urban area in the United States — Rockefeller University and our Faculty Club fountain.

Our campus often feels like an oasis from the honks and sirens of York Avenue and the Franklin Roosevelt Drive, but the ducks are a reminder that we are not the only animals benefiting from our few square feet of green in the heart of the Upper East Side. With this in mind, I set out to compile a list of the wildlife, both wild and otherwise, with which we share our campus. The list is limited to anecdotal accounts. It is certainly not comprehensive and possibly not entirely accurate, but it provides an interesting snapshot of the types of animal encounters that our human campus residents consider notable.

Our largest group of co-inhabitants is the birds, with over 20 different identifications. This list includes the common: robins, starlings, blue jays, cardinals, house finches, slate-eyed juncos, crows, mourning doves, common and song sparrows, grackles, sea gulls drifting in from over the river and the ubiquitous pigeons; as well as some slightly more exotic sightings: grey catbirds, mockingbirds, northern flickers, downy woodpeckers, peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks and unidentified hummingbirds and warblers.

Birds live among us so seamlessly it is easy to forget that they are still wild animals. Whereas some Rockefeller residents enjoy house finches and pigeons comically fighting over seed at a window feeder, others have described a more sobering view of our feathered friends. We might cheer on the peregrine seen ripping apart a pigeon from a window in Founder’s Hall, but it can be difficult to watch as the many duck families compete, sometimes brutally, for limited fountain space.

Wild mammals are, unsurprisingly, under-represented. Notably, there are very few squirrels, probably due to the sparseness of trees in the areas surrounding campus. However, those of us staying a little too late in lab might have the opportunity to meet some of our nocturnal mammalian residents. The most unusual sighting is a possum, seen by a graduate student, as it casually walked down the 64th Street ramp. Raccoons also roam the Rockefeller grounds, including one that brazenly entered by 66th Street gate, presumably right past security. And nighttime tennis players share the courts with bats, which snatch their dinner in the glare of the lights. Where these bats retire come daytime remains a mystery, and preferably so.

But perhaps the most telling campus animal stories are the ones that take into account the fact that our green space is not, in fact, wild. Just as we planted the trees and tend the grounds, we also feed and house most our campus animals. Several faculty-owned dogs frolic on the campus lawns and, occasionally leash free, through our hallways. From the residences cats peer out of windows at birdfeeders and caged birds chirp with their wild counterparts. Not to be forgotten are the many animals housed in Laboratory Animal Research Center, making the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our school motto (Science for the benefit of humanity).