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A Research Project for the Birds


Amelia Boyd ’20 began every morning this summer at 5 a.m., searching for bird nests in Butte Valley, Calif. 

Once the nesting season got started, Boyd and her research team had a limited window, so they had to work hard to take advantage of it. After the early wake up call, Boyd spent up to 11 hours each day combing the grasslands and juniper forests of Butte Valley.

She recorded the nests that she found, placed a band on each chick, took body measurements and blood samples, and then put them back in the nest.

As a wildlife technician, Boyd researched and banded Swainson’s Hawks, which are listed as threatened in California, but breed in higher numbers in this particular region. Her objective was to band and monitor all nestlings of this species in the valley.

“I really loved being outside all day handling the chicks,” she said. “It was so cool to be able to work with wild animals and learn how to care for them properly. It was also fun to be able to watch the chicks grow. We would visit some nests several times over the course of the seasons and see them develop more and more with each visit.”

Her research job was no simple task. She was part of a 40 year ongoing study on the hawk population in Butte Valley.                                                                                 

about Amelia Boyd ’20

Major: Biology

Hometown: Cambridge, NY

High school: Emma Willard School

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On top of this long term initiative, Boyd conducted her own project in the lab of Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Christopher Briggs. Her goal was to study the ratio of two types of white blood cells in the hawks and determine whether they are an indicator of health and juvenile survival.

While Boyd has done previous work in Professor Brigg’s laboratory, she’s also worked at the climbing wall on campus. “I was so excited by the prospect of an internship that would both let me climb and be outside,” she said. “I’ve also been analyzing blood smears of Swainson’s Hawks all semester, so I thought it would be cool to see and work with them in the wild, all while collecting data for my own project.”

After graduation, Boyd is considering medical school, but she says that her plans aren’t set in stone. “Working in the lab and analyzing blood smears has given me some good experience with the ‘hard science’ part of medicine, while handling and drawing blood from chicks has taught me a little bit about the physical side. I would definitely be open to both sides of it,” she said.

Boyd's internship was supported by the Sandra Solomon Summer Internship Fund.

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