It was 7:30 am, I was taking in the view of the morning sun reflecting upon the lake and the newly bloom Tulip Polar flowers. I never knew that research could be so open and beautiful. In my head I always imagined some test tubes and a lab coat, but this…this is something I could get used to.
Since the beginning of Spring, I have traveled all over Raleigh and Cary conducting point counts in a mission to understand the community structure of bird species in the urban environment.
It all started when I talked to Dr. Madhu Katti about inquiring a position within his lab. He told me about a finding from his previous study in Fresno, that really got my gears turning. The Fresno Bird Count study found that there was a higher abundance of birds in urban areas rather than rural areas. I wondered which species were contributing to this higher abundance. After that it was off to races to document all the birds l could find around Wake County.
Going into to project, I knew that I was going to find a mix of native and non-native species. I also expected there to be lots of generalist species and almost no specialist. The city of oaks helped me broaden that mindset. There were definitely specialist species living in and around Raleigh and Cary urban areas. I heard Northern Parulas near apartment complexes and saw Great Blue Herons fly over subdivisions. I used to think that birding was this outdoor experience where you had to escape the city to find interesting birds, but the urban environment is full of its own surprises. The urban environment is not the end of where wildlife can persist, but instead is the beginning.
Deciding to take on this project was by far one the most rewarding experiences I have had. I had always been curious about if research would be an option for me and now, I know that it is. Through awe-inspiring moments and exhaustion, I loved every minute of it. I chased down hawks, had wonderful conversations with local residents about their neighborhood birds, and spent hours logging my data. I walked away from this experience knowing that research is more about hard work and passion than is about lab coats.
My quest is far from over though. I will be presenting my recent findings as a poster presentation at the International Urban Wildlife Conference 2019 in Portland, OR. I also hope to complete a second field season to provide more data for a potential paper.
I encourage any undergraduate at NC State to get involved with research even if you are unsure. You might just find yourself finding a passion you never knew you had.