The Hummingbird Project

Hummingbirds at a feeder, image taken from Wild Birds Unlimited Website.

Kamryn Schnieder ~ Copy Editor

     Students enrolled in Natural Resources Stewardship (HONR 200)at the University of Lynchburg are installing bird feeders across campus as part of their lab requirement

     So far, two new hummingbird feeders have been added, one between Schewel and Snidow Chapel, and one right outside of Schewel Hall. 

     Dr. Jennifer Styrsky is an assistant professor of environmental sciences and teaches the Honors 200 class.

     Styrsky explained the class “was designed to include a citizen science project as part of the lab” and “[a]s the COVID cases kept increasing over the summer, I started searching for a project that … [c]ould be done on campus or possibly at home if the university closed … [c]ould be done outside to avoid closed spaces … [c]ould be done by students working individually to maximize social distancing … and … [w]as interesting and relevant to the topic of natural resources stewardship.” The project that she settled on was hummingbird feeders. 

     While hummingbird feeders are not only a pleasant visual addition to the campus, but they also help with a wider goal. In a video posted to the Westover Honors College Facebook, the students explain that the data collected from observing the bird feeder helps both the Hummingbirds at Home (National Audubon Society) and the Journey North (University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum) initiatives. 

     Styrsky also added, “I am a steering committee member of the Undergraduate Student Experiences with Citizen Science (USE Cit Sci) network. This Research Coordination Network was funded by the National Science Foundation in 2019 as part of the Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education initiative. The University of Lynchburg is the only Primarily Undergraduate Institution currently represented on the steering committee.” 

     She said, “One of the primary goals of the network is to engage students in authentic science practices by involving them in projects that are much larger than a single class or campus community. I think it is important for students to realize that they can make valuable contributions to science as part of their educational experience, and I want to provide them with opportunities to do so. I also think it is important for students to make connections with the natural world.”

    Students were skeptical whether they would see any hummingbirds during this project, but thanks to the feeders and the input from volunteers they know at least some have shown up. 

Styrsky said, “These projects rely on outside observers, such as students in HONR 200 and other members of our campus community, to collect and submit accurate data to the project website.” 

     Sophia Tully, a sophomore philosophy and political science double major and one of the students of the HONR 200 class, stated, “I hope that this project will carry into future HONR 200 classes. The HummingBurg project and HONR 200 as a class opened my eyes to the prevalence of world issues on campus. It is easy to see our campus as a little bubble, but the project gave me a greater understanding of how our actions as a student body can create an impact. The real world application is something I love about the HONR 200 class and the Westover curriculum in general.” 

     This project has been a beneficial experience for every party involved and Tully hopes that the project will be continued by future HONR 200 classes. Styrsky listed a few examples of other projects done either by members of the school, or by the University itself, including the Christmas Bird Count, eBird in association with Cornell University, and iNaturalist. 

     As for future projects, Styrsky said, “A second collaborative research project involving flowering plants and insect pollinators. This project is a joint collaboration between the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) and National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).” This project and other sustainability projects will be group efforts between BIOL 310 Ornithology, ENST 360 Sustainability in Practice, and HONR 200. Tully expressed that “[they] will take down the feeders in the next couple of weeks” due to the end of migration season but hopes the spring HONR 200 class will continue the project next semester. 

     This project has helped expose students to the diversity of wildlife around campus, not just the squirrels seen all over. Additionally, the creation of a cultural event for Westover Students further promoted the observation of these feeders and generated incentivized students to take 20 minutes out of their day to just sit and wait.

     Tully explained her experience with the project as a member of the class, stating “ Dr. Styrsky introduced the project as part of HONR200.” The project was relatively easy but engaging. Tully added “[a]ll students in the class are non-science majors, so Dr. Styrsky really walked us through how to conduct research projects and empowered us to take control of our own research and feeders. Each student is in charge of feeder maintenance and collecting data through observations.”

     The feeders will only be out for a few more weeks until next semester. Styrsky also wanted to acknowledge, “all the work Mr. Curtis Layne, Director of Campus Grounds, had done with creating and maintaining the campus gardens!” 

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