Across 750 acres of campus, a few students at Missouri Western spend some of their summer mornings visiting more than 60 bird-nesting boxes in order to gather data and further their research.
It’s all part of Dr. Julie Jedlicka’s ornithology research study, which has her and her students examining various avians and their young to create a more bird-friendly campus. Along with duck and owl boxes — which were actively used for the first time this year — purple martin boxes also are featured on campus, complete with predator guards and sometimes pulley systems to keep them higher off the ground.
“I use this as active learning with my students in ornithology in the spring … and I carry that on into summer research with students so that they’re able to collect data, analyze it and understand how we can make bird-friendly society and merge conservation with human landscapes right here in St. Joe,” Jedlicka said.
Her research, which began in 2015, is a long-term study, relying on year-to-year data comparisons. With the help of students, the studies can accurately keep track of survivability of the young and even how frequently the parents dive bomb those going near the nests. Fecal samples also help them to understand the diets of each bird across campus.
“It’s going toward how we can better conserve these birds,” said Zachary Schank, a senior at Missouri Western. “Critter guards, for example, if we know that these are working, we can suggest that people put these critter guards out more to help their bird boxes. As we want to be a bird-friendly campus, you also want to make St. Joe and other urban areas more bird-friendly.”
In the wild, regular nest predation among songbirds leads to a 60 to 85 percent mortality rate. With their predator guards on campus, the group is able to reduce that number significantly, leading to a 70 to 85 percent success rate.
Schank also mentioned how the bird boxes often face toward more open areas and away from the sunnier spots to prevent overheating of the nests.
Amanda Schroeder, a junior at Missouri Western who also is participating in the study, said she’s been able to identify bird nests as well as warning sounds when you venture too close.
“Conservation of birds is way more important than I thought it was,” she said.
Audrey Lindsteadt, who has been involved with the project for a number of years, is going into her sophomore year at Missouri Western and has started to put many of the ideas she’s learned from her experiences into practice at her own home.
“I’ve learned to be more comfortable handling the young birds for things like banding when we use mist nets for birds to collect more data. I’ve actually had some more boxes at my own house and had some feeders put up because I’m more comfortable doing this and can make my own neighborhood even more bird-friendly.”
Jedlicka said she enjoys seeing her students connect to nature in such a way, and with funding from the National Science Foundation, she’ll be able to bring some of those students to Kenya to study the role birds play in their agriculture.
“I view our bird box project on campus as being incredibly important in building students’ repertoires and handling and studying birds and leading them to larger projects that relate to birds all over the world,” Jedlicka said.