Biology student does hands-on research with Boreal Owls in Alaska

Academics, Biology, Press Releases

File Under: biology, co-op

My name is Jennifer Taylor and I am a senior in the biology department at the College of Mount St. Joseph.  Every senior biology major has to do a co-op, research study or internship in an area of interest.  My passion is studying animals, and this summer I had an amazing opportunity that led me to Fairbanks, Alaska where I studied Aedolius funereus, more commonly known as the Boreal Owl.  My professors, Dr. Jill Russell and her husband, an ornithologist at Miami University, are involved in an ongoing study of Boreal Owl populations and are trying to better understand the growth and development of this species.  I joined them for a month where I got to participate in a truly unique, hands-on, research opportunity.

We monitored 11 different nest boxes that in all had a combined 51 chicks, along an isolated stretch of highway that runs through the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. Every other day we would stop at each nest box and weigh the chicks and take various measurements to monitor their growth rates and progress.  We monitored each nest box from the time the chicks hatched, to when they left the nest about 28 days later.

Part of my research involves finding out the sex of the owlets.  The only sure way to find out if an owl is male or female is to take a DNA sample.  We took buccal swabs of each chick at a young age which was done by swabbing the inside of their mouth with a cotton swab.  Upon returning to the Mount, I began working with Dr. Andrew Rasmussen to extract the DNA collected, and we will soon begin the process of trying to sex the owls through a process known as PCR.

This was such an amazing experience because I got the chance to hone my field skills as well as my laboratory skills. I will graduate this December and hope to attend graduate school in either marine biology or zoology.  This project has made me confident in my ability to carry out multiple types of research and has really cemented my love for animals, science and the love of learning.