Are We Feeding Birds Wrong?
Growing up, Kristy Huddleston ’18 watched in frustration as the forests that surrounded her rural home were destroyed, making way for cul-de-sacs and other trademarks of suburbia. “Watching the area around my home change so drastically made me more aware of humans and their effects on the world around them, a topic that has since been a strong interest of mine,” said Huddleston.
This summer, Huddleston is taking her interest in studying human impact, and applying it to a different species: birds. Under the guidance of Assistant Professor of Biology Cynthia Downs, Huddleston is studying the effect of bird feeders on the health of wild birds. Downs collaborated on the project with Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Chris Briggs, who is overseeing the field component of the research.
“There are data from other studies to suggest that bird feeders can negatively impact bird health, so this study aims to identify whether or not bird feeders being cleaned regularly could affect this impact for the better,” said Huddleston. Currently, the hypothesis is that regularly cleaned bird feeders will reduce rates of infectious disease transmission. Huddleston began this project in the spring of 2017 as part of thesis work that will be continued in the fall of 2017.
Two sites of bird feeders were maintained during data collection, during which birds were observed regularly throughout each week of the study. Downs’ Ecological Physiology class (Bio 343) helped collect samples for this project during the semester last spring. Huddleston and Downs occasionally took small blood samples for analysis later, which was the focus of Huddleston’s work this summer.
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
High School: Clackamas High School
Specifically, Huddleston is looking at the blood samples to determine heterophil/lymphocyte ratios, also known as H:L ratios, which have been shown in many studies to be indicative of stress levels in birds. Once the fall semester starts, she will have the time to formally look for blood parasites to add to the current data, though some parasites were noted during initial H:L ratio counts.
Though she still has work left to do, the research Huddleston has done will serve as a pilot study as a proof of concept that will be used to create a larger study on the idea. While the work Huddleston completed this summer does not directly pertain to her future professional career plans in cardiology, it does relate to a personal passion of hers. “Having seen a lot of negative impact of humans on the environment where I grew up, striving to find connections and inform people of their potential effects on animals and nature means a lot to me,” she said.