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Video Transcript – Barn Owl and Burrowing Owl Research

[Bird chirping]

[Music plays]

[Jim Belthoff, Professor Department of Biological Sciences]: We’re out here today in a portion of Canyon County. We’re out here because we’re studying barn owls, and the barn owls we’re studying are often nesting in nest boxes that we have access to. These nest boxes have been placed by Canyon County Weed and Gopher Control, and they work with private landowners in an integrated pest management system. They try and attract barn owls to these agricultural lands so that the barn owls can help reduce the rodent populations. We’re out here at one of our nest boxes, it’s occupied by three nestlings, and we’re going to go up and catch those nestlings, put some leg bands on them, and record a few measurements for some of the research that we’re doing.

[James Jarrett, Boise State University R.E.U. Student]: My research is – what I’m looking at is is the variability and plumage of the barn owls. There’s a lot of variation from reddish to white, and we’re trying to see if we can quantify that plumage coloration and use that to be able to visually tell which sex the barn owls are by telling the difference in the plumage. That information can be helpful because then you won’t have to take a blood test or have to sex the owl in a different manner, and a lot of the research has to do with differences between male and female.

[Sounds of tires on dirt road]

[Paola Iglesias, University of Puerto Rico, R.E.U. Student]: Basically I’m studying the host and parasite interaction between burrowing owls and the human flea. My research is composed of the long-term data that has been collected since ’97, and I’m gonna use this compilation of data and try to map out what are the places where they’re most commonly found, how weather might affect the abundance of these fleas, and if they’re more prevalent in agricultural areas or non-agricultural areas.

[Sound of owl entering nest]

[Katie Care, Boise State University R.E.U. Student]: Today we were banding some of the new nestlings for this year. And for that we put a little band around their leg – a little aluminum band so it identifies each bird with a unique little serial number. We take measurements of their wingspan, their tarsus, their culmen, things like that, just so we can kind of track their progress as they grow, and we take some blood for some DNA sequencing, and then we put them back in the nest and bury them again and wait so see if we can find them again.

[Sound of owl entering nest]

[Belthoff]: REU stands for Research Experiences for Undergraduates. We’ve come to realize that it’s really critical to get students a research experience as early as possible in their academic careers. They’re more likely to stay in science if they have some hands-on research experience. They become better scientists down the road if they’ve had this undergraduate research experience that they can build upon.

[Austin Davis, Boise State University R.E.U. Student]: I would highly recommend REU program to anybody who has even the slightest interest in working with animals of any kind. It’s really a great introduction to animal handling as well as the research side of things: learning how to deal with the different rules and finding past sources and all of that, as well as there’s not many wildlife programs out there that are REU centric, so you don’t really get to handle the animal in those programs. So this is a really great opportunity for anyone.

[Care]: There’s not really a place to go and get this anywhere else unless you take like a biology lab or a chemistry lab, but even then it’s not the same kind of research experience you’d get. This is like the real deal.

[Iglesias]: I love this. I know I am all for conserving animals. I just need to figure out what’s the way I’m gonna do it, and that’s why I did this REU.

[Belthoff]: One of the most rewarding things for those of us that work with undergraduates and research is really the rapid transition that they make, I think. Seeing them from somebody with a complete lack of experience turning into somebody that can participate and actually conduct research in an almost independent fashion. So seeing the rapid growth and the accomplishments that the students make is really rewarding.

[Sound of owl entering nest]

[Music plays and fades]