Roadrunners: "Making an Impact”
December 4, 2012
Two Dalton State Roadrunners, Kimberly Smith and Krista Smith, took to the woods during 2012 in support of birds of a different feather—Carolina Chickadees, small, beautiful song birds with black caps and bibs who live in the southeast.
“Our goal,” stated Kimberly, “was to see whether nesting activity and egg production vary between continuous forest and fragmented forest. We were concerned that we might see less nesting behavior or smaller clutches of eggs. In addition, we were curious to see whether we might find other species nesting in areas that would have been inhabited by the Chickadees.”
According to Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. David DesRochers, the project began as an opportunity to pursue individual and novel research outside of a traditional class setting. “I offered some ideas and Kimberly and Krista developed a plan,” stated Dr. DesRochers, whose own research focuses on bird ecology. “What began as an opportunity to study something which held special interest for Kimberly and Krista turned into a passion and months of work on the part of these two dedicated students.”
Carolina Chickadees are cavity nesters, so the students began their project by building bird houses. With a bit of assistance from Plant Operations, some reclaimed wood donated by Dr. Randall Griffus, Dean of the School of Science, Technology, and Mathematics, and additional support provided by a small grant from the Dalton State Foundation, Kimberly and Krista built, installed, and recorded geographic coordinates for 18 Chickadee houses, bringing the total number of potential Chickadee nesting sites across the campus to 24.
Taking a number of precautions to reduce stress on the birds, Kimberly and Krista visited nesting sites several times each week between April 4 and August 14. Checking the sites involved looking for signs of nest building and completion, recording egg production and hatchlings, making observations about growth, and noting whether there were any signs of adult males or females near each nest—all of which was done within seconds in order to reduce stress on the hatchlings.
“Urbanization degrades habitat, and habitat loss is a major concern for many species,” said Dr. DesRochers. “Although we don’t have enough information from this year’s work to answer questions and form conclusions about what is going on with the Carolina Chickadees, Kimberly and Krista have established a solid foundation for future study, and with a couple more years of information, a small study like this can help to answer much broader questions.”
As to their experience in Dr. DesRochers’ class, the two are in complete agreement: “His enthusiasm in class really makes a difference—it’s infectious—and that makes class exciting and enjoyable.” So much so that both Kimberly, who will graduate next May, and Krista, who will graduate December 14, are planning to pursue careers in wildlife ecology. And according to Krista, “Birds are cool!”