The birds and squirrels roaming around the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus blend into the scenery for most students, but for 52-year-old John Kubicek, the campus creatures are like close acquaintances.
Talk of the “bird whisperer” is not uncommon for College of Business Administration students who catch him walking to classes.
“Who is this man,” some wonder, and “how does he do it?”
Kubicek makes trips from Bennett Martin Public Library to campus almost every day around 10:30 a.m. to take what he calls a pleasant break from working as a library service associate. His break consists of waiting outside with bird feed and granola bars for the birds and squirrels to flock to him in between the CBA building and the Sheldon Museum of Art.
With the magic of a couple whistles and the sound of the granola bar wrappers, the animals appear.
“I’ve heard that students call me the bird man,” Kubicek said, “but I like to think of myself as the squirrel man. The birds just like to be included.”
This act of kindness toward the animals has been going on for a couple of years. It started with one squirrel he nearly stepped on while admiring the nature surrounding him on campus. Kubicek said he felt sorry for not noticing the animal and decided to make up for it by giving back.
His apology turned into a tradition, which kept the animals coming back. And back again.
Kubicek said he doesn’t spend enough time at home with his own pets. Spending a small part of his days with the wildlife is his way of having a similar, but less tame experience.
“Pets need someone to be there for them,” Kubicek said. “I can be that person for the wildlife on campus.”
Kubicek’s daily feeding time benefit the animals, and also give him an excuse to explore and learn about the campus environment. While searching for the animals, he has learned to recognize specific squirrels, find locations of newborn birds and occasionally spot falcons. His curiosity has piqued the interest of many students.
“I have no idea what he does to make them comfortable around him,” said Abby McClure, a junior psychology major, “but you can just tell it makes him so happy.”
Kubicek has grabbed the attention of CBA faculty members and brought some smiles to their faces as well. Alicia Steggs, CBA executive support associate, said she would never put herself in his position, but admits she has stopped and stared out of fascination.
“When I was a student, I remember dropping a fry or two out of sympathy for the campus cats,” Steggs said, “but he seems to have a more impressive technique.”
As much as the animals bring Kubicek joy, he said he’s filled with happiness when students approach him with questions and comments. He said he hopes that the 30 minutes he takes out of his day can inspire students to stop every once in a while and take in the smaller, less noticeable neighbors they share campus with.
“Don’t just walk by,” Kubicek said. “You can learn a lot about wildlife when you pay attention.”