Written by Ava Enriquez
This Fall, I’ve had the privilege of being able to work closely with Dr. Proppe and a wonderful research team to observe the behaviors of the Black-Crested titmouse as it responds to human noise and various mobbing calls. I’m so excited for the chance to build on my skills in the field, especially since I am striving to successfully experience all of the environmental and political opportunities presented by the ENSP major. After working at the Capitol for two years and interning for several house representatives and senators, I am thrilled to be able to work more closely with an environmentally-driven team to build my navigation skills, outdoor experience, and research exposure. Before beginning this experience, I was unsure of whether I would be passionate about observing bird activity, but it is clear now that I am just happy to be in the field doing hands-on work! It’s been so satisfying to be able to spend two mornings out of my week outdoors, enjoying the beautiful bird songs regardless of whether I am able to identify their specific calls or not!
As my research team and I work to add to Dr. Proppe’s ongoing research, we hypothesize that bird behavior is affected by urban noise. We plan to conduct various test runs which will give us insight into the ways the effectiveness of mobbing calls is threatened by urban human noise. Dr. Proppe hypothesizes that such urban noise may have a negative affect on bird communication. Although we have only collected about 12 playback runs, it appears that our hypothesis may be accurate. Every Tuesday and Thursday, my research partner Wren and I head out into our field location for the day, which varies each week. So far, we’ve visited Wild Basin three times and Blunn Creek once, running three playback experiments at each location at different ‘plots’. We plan to vary our field locations so we are able to collect diverse data to contribute to Dr. Proppe’s research regarding bird behavioral changes to urban noise. An average day in the field begins with us hiking until we are sure bird activity is present, specifically listening for calls of titmice or chickadees. Once we’ve established a presence, we begin setting up our experiment. We set down a speaker in the middle of the trail which contains three bird playbacks, the first being exclusively mobbing calls with no urban noise present, the second being mobbing calls with urban noise overlapping, and the third being mobbing calls with urban noise staggered. Each of us takes an end of a 10 meter rope and walks until the rope is taut, then places a flag at the 10 meter mark to establish a perimeter for our research. Once the perimeter is established, we begin one of the three playbacks, start our stopwatches, and find a hidden spot to observe the following bird activity. We record both acoustic and visual activity, tallying the amount of calls we hear within a 10 meter radius and the visual activity we observe as birds attempt to move closer to mob in reaction to the playback.
This internship, although in its early stages, has provided me with so much newfound knowledge and experience. Observing bird activity throughout these experiments has given me such inspiration regarding environmental science and constantly reminds me of why I am working to conserve such natural beauty. It’s been so refreshing to work with such down-to-earth people, especially Dr. Proppe and my field partner Wren. Working with her has been so entertaining and educational, as she is never shy to point out different plant species and insects and is so patient to help me learn more about the hobby of birding! I’ve felt so refreshed these past few weeks, especially as I notice the stark differences that can sometimes exist between politics and environmental science. It’s been so wonderful to make the switch from such a cutthroat field in politics to a serene and instantly rewarding internship focused on observing the wonders of nature!