Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University Becoming Nesting Ground for Ornithological Research
December 17, 2007

The work is being done in Millikin's new Ornithology Research Laboratory.  Dr. David Horn, Assistant Professor of Biology, is directing projects aimed at increasing the enjoyment of birds, bird conservation and educating children about birds, and making them more aware of the role of birds in our environment. All of the projects are providing hands-on, real world research experience for Millikin’s students.

The largest project underway at Millikin is Project Wildbird, a three-year, $1 million project studying seed and feeder preferences of wild birds in the United States and Canada. This landmark study is coordinated by Horn and Millikin senior Stacey Shonkwiler of Decatur, a Biology (Secondary Education) major.

Horn and Shonkwiler have recruited over 160 citizen scientists for the project from 37 states and three provinces in Canada and are still seeking additional volunteers. Volunteers are asked to either monitor pre-existing feeders in their yard for a few hours each season of the year or become experimental citizen scientists. The experimental citizen scientists receive four bird feeders and 10 varieties of seed free of charge. In return, participants monitor feeders for 45 minutes every other day for one year and rotate seed and refill feeders on a regular basis. To participate, volunteers must be able to identify 95 percent of the bird species coming to the feeders.

Shonkwiler is responsible for screening potential volunteers and ensuring they have the seed, feeders and understanding of procedures necessary for the project. She is also heading up the enormous task of analyzing the data from the study. To date, the project has recorded 411,617 bird visits of 94 species during 22,347 45-minute observations. Assisting Shonkwiler with data entry are Millikin senior Nursing major Jenna Pelej of Winfield and freshman Biology major Carolyn Thomas of Quincy.

"Preliminary results indicate that birds prefer five seed types: black-oil sunflower, fine and medium sunflower chips, Nyjer, and white proso millet" says Horn. "More data will be needed to confirm these results." More information is available at

Shonkwiler never dreamed she would be directing a national landmark study when she came to Millikin. Horn believes the quality of Millikin science students like Shonkwiler make research like this possible. "The students and facilities at Millikin have allowed this type of research laboratory to develop," adds Horn. "You have to have the right students who can take ownership of their projects and you also have to have the right facilities."

The newest project in Millikin’s Ornithology Research Laboratory is the development of a middle school science curriculum by three Millikin juniors. Biology major Amanda Coleman of Whiteland, Ind., Elementary Education major Meghan Christ of Metamora and Arts Management major Jessica Zange of Algonquin have developed a three-hour program centering on bird education and awareness. The project brings area students to Millikin campus for a bird walk in nearby Fairview Park, owl pellet dissection, a predator-prey game and interaction with exhibits at the Millikin science museum. "We are delighted to deliver this student-designed middle school curriculum to area schools," says Horn. "Participants will learn more about the diversity of birds in Central Illinois while participating in a curriculum that meets state education standards."

The other national project underway in Millikin’s Ornithology Research Laboratory is Project Prevent Collision. This project is designed to reduce the number birds killed due to bird-window collisions. Horn says on average window collisions kill one to 10 birds per building each year. Horn is working on the three-year project with junior Music Performance-Instrumental major Rachel Weiss from Milwaukee, Wis.

Project Prevent Collision asks people who live in homes to report past and current bird-window collisions. Participants then report not only collisions that occur during the survey period, but the architectural features of the individual’s home and the landscape that surrounds it. The information that is compiled by homeowners participating in the survey is crucial to the overall study's success and to Horn’s efforts to make recommendations for how to make our homes safer for birds. To date, over 400 surveys have been completed making it one of the largest studies conducted on factors influencing bird-window collisions. More information on the project is available at

Horn is also directing a bird-window collision study on the Millikin campus. Students in his University Seminar course search the campus for dead birds and report their research findings. Horn and four students in his upper-level ecology course are also using this project to study the searcher efficiency of the students and bird scavenging rates. Results of this study were recently presented at the Midwest Fish & Wildlife Research Conference in Madison, Wis.
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL