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Honors Tutorial College

Student Spotlight: Maddie Sudnick Conducts Field Research

Georgia Curran | Nov 29, 2018

Madeline Sudnick worked for Dr. Kelly Williams as a summer research apprentice, designing and conducting an independent research project on the relationship between birds’ nesting behavior and their environment.

Sudnick, a sophomore HTC biological sciences major, was particularly interested in studying bluebirds and tree swallows. She explained that having some agency over the research made her even more passionate about the project and allowed her to immerse herself in the fieldwork.

Each morning, Sudnick arrived at the lab by 5:30 a.m. and gathered her equipment. By the time the sun started rising, she was already situated at her first field site, recording data about each nest and its inhabitants, monitoring temperatures, placing cameras, and banding birds in order to track them from year to year.

"I took on more responsibility than I thought would be possible at an undergraduate level," she said.

Sudnick explained that their research focused on parasitic flies, which can be highly threatening to bird populations. This project could potentially fill gaps in the academic literature by determining what nest factors allow parasitic flies to thrive, providing concrete methods to mitigate their presence.

"Understanding [interspecies] interactions in the world around us is vital to understanding how to protect it...and I hope that one day I can make a difference [in] maintaining the health of the natural world," Sudnick said.

She added that in addition to conducting important research, one of the highlights of her experience was actually interacting with the birds. From watching the birds hatch to seeing them—quite literally—leave the nest, Sudnick said that “playing mama bird was a neat experience.”

“One of my favorite memories from the summer was during a banding session when…the chicks had been angrily chirping at us and holding their mouths open to beg for food,” she recalled.  “Since we were the reason for the delay in their lunch, [we] found a few worms nearby which they happily accepted, which was very cute.”

Sudnick said that she and Dr. Williams are expanding their research to a larger sample size, and that she is optimistic about the results so far. She added that she is thankful for the hands-on experience and knowledge she has gained throughout the process.

“Fieldwork is mostly adapting to the unexpected,” she said. “It takes a lot of time, energy, and dedication, but it is worth it to follow your passion.”

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