The Ovenbird Mystery

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CATEGORY: Academics
TYPE: Articles
RELATED PROGRAMS: Biology

By | Karina Li ’14
Idyllwild, California
Biology

“Every day was different—building artificial nests out of meadow grass,  analyzing teeth marks in clay eggs, or wading out into Pratt pond to catch  painted turtles.”

Last summer I received a stipend and free room and board for conducting outdoor wildlife research at Macalester’s Katharine Ordway Field Station, a research facility about 25 minutes from campus. We were seeking to understand why Ovenbirds, a ground-nesting species, were largely absent from the Ordway property.

I worked with Mark Davis, chair of the Biology Department, and Jerald Dosch, director of the Ordway Field Station, and collaborated with five other students on additional ecological projects. One dealt with tree carbon sequestration and another with turtle demographics. Every day was different—building artificial nests out of meadow grass, analyzing teeth marks in clay eggs, measuring tree diameters, or wading out into Pratt pond to catch painted turtles.

Karina Li holds Ovenbird eggs

Because being outside was so enjoyable, it was easy to forget how much I was learning. Working with faculty and staff members with similar enthusiasm for studying Minnesota wildlife helped me build valuable personal and professional relationships.

It was great getting to know the other students living at the field station, cooking dinner together, playing cards, or simply enjoying the Mississippi River bluff views. And since Ordway is so close to campus, I could spend weekends enjoying city life with my other Mac friends.

The research itself turned out to be a very neat story. At one point, we pulled a graph of our data that could not have been cleaner. For the first time in my life I felt like I had discovered something. Ovenbird activity decreased with increasing raccoon activity, suggesting that Ovenbird populations may be absent from Ordway because of its large raccoon population.

I wanted to delve deeper into how our findings fit within the published scientific literature, so I’m developing my summer work into a capstone project. By the end of my time at Ordway, I didn’t want to leave a place I had begun to call home.

PUBLISHED: 12/17/2013