November 01, 2005
Ever wondered why birds will eat at your neighbor’s bird feeder, but never stop at the bird feeder you put up? Two research projects based at Millikin University hope to answer that question and others dealing with wild bird behavior.
Over the next several months, Millikin Ecologist Dr. David J. Horn will be directing groups of Millikin students as they conduct two research projects on wild birds. The first project looks to study bird feed and bird feeder preference. The second study will examine factors influencing the frequency of bird-window collisions.
The first study, PROJECT WILDBIRD, is a three-year, one million-dollar United States and Canada study looking at bird feed and bird feeder preference. The study will be coordinated by Horn and students at Millikin. Funding for the project is being provided by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry (WBFI) Research Foundation. Millikin students will be coordinating the research project that will involve several thousand participants from the United States and Canada. Students will be conducting research, refining protocols, ensuring that protocols are followed, assisting participants with bird identification and other questions about the project, and shipping bird feed and bird feeders to participants. The day-to-day success of the project will be dependent on the efforts of the Millikin students.
Horn is also encouraging Millikin alumni and area community members who feed birds to get involved with the study. Starting in early November participants can sign up, download the research protocol, and enter their data online at www.projectwildbird.org.
The WBFI reports that a 2001 United States government survey showed that 54 million Americans spend over $3 billion annually feeding wild birds and other wildlife. Horn hopes the study will help make bird watching and feeding more enjoyable.
Horn is also kicking off another research project to study factors that influence the frequency of bird-window collisions. Previous studies have estimated that between 100 million and 1 billion birds die annually due to collisions with windows. That number works out to approximately 1 to 10 birds killed per building.
The research project Horn will direct using Millikin students hopes to verify those statistics and find ways to reduce the frequency of the collisions.
This fall, Horn will use a grant from the Champaign County Audubon Society to study bird-window collisions on the Millikin campus. Millikin students will make regular tours of campus looking for dead birds. The students will gather samples and identify buildings, or parts of buildings, that might have a high number of collisions. If problem areas on campus are found, the students will then investigate what should be done to correct them. Students in Horn’s Ecology class will be conducting this study as one of their research projects required for the class. Horn also hopes to team upper level science students with students in a biology course for non-majors that will allow the non-majors to experience a taste of scientific research.
By early 2006, Horn is hoping to use another group of Millikin students to take this study nationwide. This fall, Horn is establishing a team of students to start work on the project including developing an informational web site and creating a survey, participants can use to report bird-window collisions at their homes. The informational website and survey study are being funded by Wild Bird Centers of America, Inc. Once the study is underway, citizen scientists will be asked to report on past collisions and survey their property once a week for four weeks looking for dead birds. Horn is hoping to use Decatur area residents to conduct the survey this fall, and provide feedback, before the project goes national.
The research project hopes to identify factors at homes and businesses that make collisions more frequent. Questions like, how does the presence of trees or bird feeders in a yard influence the frequency of collisions, hope to be answered by the research.
Once the data has been collected Horn will use Millikin science students to compile and study the data and make recommendations. Horn says, "Bird-window collisions are a substantial source of avian mortality. However, the number of bird-window collisions can be reduced. Millikin University students, with the help of people from around the country, will identify ways that we can reduce this mortality and protect birds."