University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

For Undergraduates

We are interested in working with students who want to understand birds from a mechanistic perspective; if you think you might be interested in avian anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, and how they result in behavior of individual animals in the field, you might be one of us! If you are more interested in bird populations, you might find it more productive to talk to Dr. Elphick, or Dr. Tingley. We like working with students who are genuinely interested in birds, and genuinely excited by our approach and tools (see our Research page). We expect and support independent thinking in undergraduate researchers; we look for progressive self-management as a sign of success.

If you are an Honors student looking for a thesis project: in general, we look for Honors students to begin working with us no later than their sophomore year. It takes very little time to be told what to do; it takes longer to learn what we do, conceive of a question you’d like to answer, design a way to answer it, collect the data, analyze it, and interpret the results in writing. We’re most interested in helping students develop into independent researchers, and that takes time.

If you are looking for an Independent Study project, of one or more semesters, not necessarily leading to an Honors Thesis: we have opportunities on a rolling basis for students who can learn quickly, think independently, and take responsibility for themselves. We prefer to engage students early, but if you’re a motivated Junior or Senior, we may have a short project for you. We require students to register for a minimum of 2 credits (6 hours/week) of graded (not pass/fail) work — less than that, and you spend too little time for you to learn much. If you can’t commit that kind of time, you won’t be a good fit for our lab.  

Current opportunities:

Bird eggs as a teaching tool: We have a large collection of wild bird eggs that came to us, without collection data, from the Science Center of CT. These need to be sorted into groups illustrating the extensive diversity of size, color and shape in bird eggs, then curated into clear boxes that will protect them and make it possible for us to use them in classrooms.  This could be a good opportunity for someone with an artistic bent, or an interest in design.

Thermal ecology in Chimney Swift roost and nest chimneys: As small birds with high energetic demands, chimney swifts are thought to be sensitive to thermal conditions in the structures they roost and nest in. Yet very little is known about the daily and seasonal flux in temperature in the chimneys they actually use. We have begun installing small data loggers in local chimneys occupied by chimney swifts to measure and record thermal conditions; we need assistance with tracking and maintaining the data loggers (for example, monitoring battery condition, and replacing as needed), downloading data from data loggers, date-aligning the data, and (as capable) analyzing data. Contact margaret.rubega@uconn.edu

Thermal quality of Monk Parakeet plumage across time and space: Monk Parakeets have invaded cold North American environments (Chicago; New England) with surprising ease for a parrot. A number of factors probably have contributed to this ability; we are conducting a study that investigates the number, morphology, and insulative qualities of their feathers in order to assess whether Monk Parakeets in cold places have heavier, more insulative feather coats than they would have had when they arrived. We need assistance with removing the skins from specimens (if you are squeamish, this is not your gig, but you’d be surprised at how un-squeamish you may be); removing, counting (yes, one at a time), weighing, and bagging feathers from skins. We’ll also be inspecting feather structure under a dissecting scope, and there is likely to be work photographing, then digitally scoring/measuring feather structure. Contact kevin.burgio@uconn.edu

Feeding mechanics of herons: Fishing across an air/water boundary is a complex problem of visual and behavioral coordination that herons solve every day. We’d like to know how. A field study to be conducted in Winter 2014 will collect 3-D high speed video of herons feeding in the field that will allow us to analyze how they are overcoming glare and refraction at the water’s surface through their head and body placement just prior to striking at a fish; we’ll also be looking at how fish respond to the herons. We will need help (hours and hours and hours) downloading, aligning, and digitizing videos frame by frame. This involves lots of precise, repetitious use of a computer mouse to place points on images; it’s a great project for a gamer. Really. Contact holly.k.brown@uconn.edu