Two University of Illinois Springfield undergraduate students are working with Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Tih-Fen Ting to research factors affecting the winter survival of American kestrels, a type of bird that is experiencing population declines in North America.
Since the start of winter break, environmental studies majors Emily Jones and Sarah Porcayo have helped to trap, mark and monitor American kestrels in Sangamon County and surrounding areas. The team uses GPS technology and a weather-tracking tool to collect data at the time they capture and re-sight the birds.
“We aim to follow the marked kestrels in order to estimate their survivorship and identify factors affecting their winter survival,” Ting said. “While studies on the reproductive ecology of American kestrels are common, research on its wintering ecology is lacking.”
Factors contributing to the decline of the American kestrels are not fully understood. Survival of individual kestrels during migration or in their wintering grounds is considered one of those contributing factors. In the winter months, both migratory and resident kestrels are present in central Illinois.
Jones approached Professor Ting about helping with her research after learning about it in her environmental ethics class.
“I wanted to work with Professor Ting so I could gain experience in a research lab as well as learn the necessary skills to handle wildlife,” Jones said. “I have learned an exceptional amount from helping research American kestrels. I have learned that fieldwork can be time-consuming and unpredictable, but that's what makes it so worthwhile.”
Porcayo said she joined the research team because she has always been drawn towards learning about how organisms and the environment interact.
“Birds have always been my biggest passion, so when I was able to work learning and documenting their behavior, I was extremely happy,” Porcayo said.
Both Jones and Porcayo plan to use the hands-on skills they’re learning from the American kestrels research in their future careers. Jones plans to attend graduate school to learn more about wildlife conservation and ecology, while Porcayo is already applying for wildlife research technician positions.
“This experience will greatly benefit me in the future,” Jones said. “I have learned many skills during my time on this project that will help better prepare me for a career working with wildlife.”
For more information on the American kestrel research, visit Ting's website.