WINTER 2009/VOLUME 23, NUMBER 1
Golondrinas de las Americas
Studying swallows from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego
Tree Swallows are found throughout most of North America, and except for those of us who get annoyed when swallows take over a bluebird house, most people love them for their warm, musical calls, graceful flight, habit of devouring flying insects (including mosquitoes), and simple, elegant plumage. They’re also one of the world’s most well-studied species, thanks in large part to how easy it is to attract them to nest boxes. Cornell researcher David Winkler and a long line of students and collaborators have been researching Tree Swallows for over 22 years.
The amount of information that can be gleaned from long-term studies like this is enormous and valuable. To encourage others to commit to such long studies, and to provide opportunities for collaboration, Wink founded a group, “Golondrinas de las Americas,” dedicated to studying swallows in the Tachycineta genus throughout the Americas. Participants focus on their behavior, prey, breeding biology, and much more. Project coordinator Erin Eldermire says, “Golondrinas de las Americas is every biology student’s dream. It supports top-notch scientific collaboration across the western hemisphere and brings opportunities to visit faraway lands while providing a platform for virtually any Tachycineta-specific study. It is only a matter of time before more collaborations like this one start materializing.”
You don’t need to be a student to become part of this project. From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, ornithologists, entomologists, physiologists, educators, avid birders, and other swallow aficionados have joined the collaboration. Core members of the collective are committed to maintaining a research site for at least 10 years, and to contributing to the core database maintained at Cornell University, by gathering a nominal quantity of data in a standardized way on non-experimental nests. At some sites participants may also produce detailed standardized observations or conduct experiments at a sub-set of nests.
Exciting as the project is for researchers, it also benefits the study’s subjects. As Erin notes, “Golondrinas de las Americas is building ‘swallow cities’ across the western hemisphere. Established sites have as many as 100 or more nest boxes, and we’re constantly adding new sites to the list. These sites provide excellent nesting habitat that many birds return to year after year.”
If you wish to participate in or help us with Golondrinas de las Americas, please contact Erin Eldermire at email@example.com. For more information, see the project website at http://golondrinas.cornell.edu.
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