University of Vermont

Field Research Intern, Broader Burlington, VT area

This summer I worked as an intern in the field with Master’s student, Allison Gulka. Her study focused on the effects that agricultural edges had on avian nesting success rates. Throughout the summer we started our days at 4:30 in the morning to work, and search for birds and nests. Thirty plots were located in Burlington, South Burlington, Shelburne, Colchester, and Williston. The plots ranged from farm land at Shelburne Farms to privately owned land near peoples’ houses. These plots were 300 by 50 meters and were located at the edge of forests that bordered agricultural fields and were generally used for crops, or cattle.

The first step in surveying the plots was to determine the bird species present there. To do this, two transect counts were conducted at each. I was definitely glad to have already taken field ornithology as I was expected to identify the birds by sight and sound. These two counts were a few weeks apart and not only allowed us to determine what bird species were present but also to estimate which were residents. If a bird was heard singing during both counts, it was likely that it was a resident and was looking for, or already had a mate. This gave us an idea of what birds may be nesting in the area and what nests we could expect to find. Plots were then searched throughout the summer.

When a nest was found its location was recorded with a GPS so that it could be revisited and was then monitored until it finished. We noted when the nest was built, when eggs were laid, when a clutch was complete, when eggs began to hatch, and when the nestlings fledged. We looked for signs of a successful nest, or for signs of a failed nest. Nest failures were often the results of predation, human interference, or other acts of nature. This data was then used to determine if agricultural edges had any impact on the success rates of the birds. After a nest had completed, we conducted measurements that included insect, vegetation, and canopy surveys at the site. Ibutton loggers were also installed near the nest to record daily temperature fluctuations. This data would give us a bigger picture of the nest site and would help determine why a nest succeeded or failed. The data will later be analyzed to determine the possible effects the edge might have had on the nest.

 This internship allowed me to use the skills that I had learned in field ornithology in a research situation. It helped me to better identify birds by sight and sound, and taught me bird behaviors. I learned how to find nests that were often well hidden, by following cues given by the parent birds. I learned where certain species nested and when they began building the nests and when they started laying eggs. I learned a lot about the research process and how to use tools that are vital in field work. Despite the brambles, nettles, poison parsnip and ivy, barbed wire, and electric fences we sometimes encountered I thoroughly enjoyed my summer, learned a lot, and was only shocked twice. I not only saw a ton of birds, but also had close encounters with a coyote, porcupine, homeless person, possibly a black bear, and a few deer. I got to better experience the nature of Vermont outside of the classroom and labs, and was able to spend a majority of my summer outdoors.
House Wren nest in tree cavity.