Friday, May 24, 2013

Field Studies 2013

Hello again everybody. It’s me again, Neal Cowan, back for another exciting summer at The World Bird Sanctuary.

This year I will be taking over as Field Studies Coordinator for World Bird Sanctuary.  With the help of Ameren Missouri, we are studying the effects of vegetation control techniques on cavity nesters in the right-of-ways under the major power lines.  I am very excited to be a part of this study.

One of the nestboxes we will monitor

Our work began mid-February when I was introduced to our Ameren Missouri liaison, and together we began planning for the new season.  Starting in the cold weather of February, I have been finding, cleaning, and repairing (in many cases replacing) the 240 nest boxes we have in the field.

Spring is in the air now and I have begun monitoring every box for signs of life as Missouri songbirds start looking for an inviting spot to raise a family.  The weather has not been particularly cooperative as of late, but I have faith in the resolve and determination of the songbirds of Missouri. I am looking forward to a good year.

The study centers around right-of-ways such as this one

The World Bird Sanctuary was initially contacted by Ameren Missouri for this study back in 2004.  There are two main methods used by Ameren to keep the right-of-ways clear: spraying herbicide, and mowing.  It was their concern for the environmental impact of these methods that started this study, which aims to understand precisely how these procedures used to control the vegetation within right-of-ways are impacting the ecosystem.  To this end we have eighty nest boxes along each of three lines: a line that is mowed only, a line that is just sprayed with herbicide and one that is managed using a combination of mowing and spraying.

I know what you must be thinking: a study that focuses only on songbirds is not likely to give you a very complete picture, but I would beg to differ.  Songbirds are an excellent indicator of the overall health of any environment (at least any environment that is naturally home to songbirds).  Trying to determine the environmental health of, say, Antarctica through songbirds might not work out as well.  Overall, songbirds are well understood in their habits and anatomy, they stand out in their respective environments both visibly and audibly, and are relatively sensitive to subtle changes in their respective ecosystems. When times get tough, we see it in the birds; that is why they make an excellent indicator species, and why they are the focus of our study.

Over the past nine years of this study, it has been passed down to many people, all of whom have brought new insight and ideas for getting the most out of the data.  Last year’s Field Studies Coordinator brought things forward and did some amazing work cleaning up the process.  I am very excited to be a part of this study for the 2013 season and hope that I am able to contribute to this fascinating work.

Submitted by Neal Cowan, World Bird Sanctuary Field Studies Coordinator

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