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Published: December 06, 2023

Research Grant Looks Into Species of Birds on Campus

Have you ever stopped to look at the birds on The University of Tampa’s campus and wondered about their species?

That was the case for Katherine Gutierrez ’24 and Alexandra Larson ’24 and their advisor, assistant teaching professor of biology, Amber Brace. 

Research Grant Looks Into Species of Birds on CampusAlexandra Larson ’24, Katherine Gutierrez ’24 and their advisor, assistant teaching professor of biology Amber Brace, with one of the bird feeders on campus. 

Brace received a Research Innovation and Scholarly Excellence (RISE) grant to look at the composition of birds and how it changes over time on campus.

She tapped Gutierrez, who previously had an internship at the World Bird Sanctuary in Missouri and excels at identifying and distinguishing species, and Larson, her mentee of two years in the biology lab, for assistance. 

“I love doing research and (thought) the work (Brace) was doing was really interesting,” Larson said.

Between now and April, when the grant period ends, the three researchers will collect bird fecal samples, looking for parasites. This will help them determine highly and lowly trafficked areas; resident versus migrant birds; how disease/risk changes; and which breeds carry zoonotic diseases, the diseases that can be transferred to people.

The group has set up eight bird feeders in spots around campus that have cameras. Each time a bird, or from what they’ve discovered, other animals, lands on the ledge of a feeder, the cameras will take a picture and send an alert to their phones.

“It does get annoying … especially when the squirrels come and eat all my seed,” Brace joked.

Research Grant Looks Into Species of Birds on CampusA squirrel is caught on camera eating birdseed from one of the eight birdhouses on campus. Photo courtesy of Amber Brace

The bird feeders need to be refilled every four to five days. The group has taken to mixing capsaicin, found in chili peppers, into the feed because the heat deters the squirrels, but the birds cannot distinguish it from the feed.

Gutierrez and Larson are roommates and said they look at the pictures from the cameras together at night and laugh at the sometimes silly things that are captured.

They typically spend 30-45 minutes each night on identification.

Research Grant Looks Into Species of Birds on CampusAmber Brace, assistant teaching professor of biology, received a Research Innovation and Scholarly Excellence (RISE) grant to look at the composition of birds and how it changes over time on campus. Photo courtesy of Brace

“We see maybe five different birds (species) a night,” Gutierrez said. “It’s interesting to see once a bird finds a feeder, it’ll come several times a day.”

They hope to have preliminary data in the next couple of weeks, and Brace said she hopes to renew the grant and turn this into a long-term project.

In February, Gutierrez and Larson plan to present findings at the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference (FURC) in Jacksonville.

After graduation, Gutierrez hopes to return to the World Bird Sanctuary, either seasonally or full-time.

“It’s exactly the field I want to work in,” she said.

Larson hopes to attend graduate school and pursue research into marine ecotoxicology or genetics.

Have a story idea? Contact Brianna Kwasnik, Digital Content Editor/Writer  
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