Research Summary

Although I will be continuing the CORT assays and data analysis in the fall, My research for the summer has officially concluded! To echo my previous post, this has been a very meaningful, formative, education experience. I’m so glad I spent this summer doing research with the W&M biology department. I got substantial experience with both field and lab work, and will continue to learn more this coming school year.

Much of the summer was spent conducting field work. A typical day began with field work from 6 am-noon, and then I spent the remainder of the day in the lab. Field work consisted of nest checks, banding, and behavioural assays – the most time-consusming part. We watched the nest boxes for 30 minutes to calculate feeding rate, introduced a foreign object to determine how neophobic the birds are, and attached a freeze-dried tree swallow to the top of the nest box to calculate aggression. We recorded ourselves saying every action the bird performed (so as to not miss things while writing) and later transcribed these files. With over 80 birds banded, we had a very successful field season!


Much of my time in the lab was spent working with the feathers I collected from the birds and becoming familiar with the CORT assay that Casey and I will be running in the fall. I used a spectrophotometer on the feathers, and this data will be used to determine if there is a relationship between brightness, chroma, & hue and stress. I also weighed and measured every feather so that I can determine if there is are increased asymmetries in birds with higher CORT levels.


Although it has been an incredibly busy summer, this project is not finished yet. In the fall, Casey and I will run the CORT assays on the feather samples. This will give us the average stress level for the entire period of the feather growth. Heather and I will also be analyzing the behavioural data and asymmetry data from this summer. I’m super excited to have all the data and for everything to come together!