4/03/2020 Peter Durantine

Helping to Save Bird Population Decline

With an estimated decline of 3 billion avifauna in North America since 1970, two Franklin & Marshall professors embarked this winter on installing a series of bird boxes on two campus annexes that also would serve as student projects in environmental studies and biology.

“This project was the result of many factors, including my interest in woodworking with wood I have cut locally, my love of birds, and the recent appalling study that suggested that bird numbers are declining at an alarming rate across the United States,” said Professor of Geosciences Andrew de Wet.

Professor of Biology Daniel Ardia, who is president of the Association of Field Ornithologists, is collaborating with de Wet and Nic Auwaerter ’11, sustainability coordinator with F&M’s Facilities & Operations Department.

  • Daniel Ardia, left, and Andrew de Wet, F&M professors of biology and geosciences, respectively, have installed a series of bird boxes on the fields of Baker Campus. Daniel Ardia, left, and Andrew de Wet, F&M professors of biology and geosciences, respectively, have installed a series of bird boxes on the fields of Baker Campus. Image Credit: Andrew de Wet
  • A bluebird, one of the customers who the bird boxes are designed to serve. A bluebird, one of the customers who the bird boxes are designed to serve. Image Credit: Lee DeHaan
  • F&M's Facilities & Operations' crew, keeping their social distance, plant to posts for the bird boxes. F&M's Facilities & Operations' crew, keeping their social distance, plant to posts for the bird boxes. Image Credit: Nic Auwaerter
  • Professor de Wet's hand-made bird boxes, stocked and ready to go. Professor de Wet's hand-made bird boxes, stocked and ready to go. Image Credit: Andrew de Wet

Compelled to help reverse the bird population decline, de Wet constructed 13 bird boxes from locally cut pin oak, the design based on a recommendation from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. Auwaerter’s team installed the first seven posts at Baker Campus; later this year, they plan to install six more at the Spalding Conservancy wetlands.  

Ardia and de Wet, practicing social distancing, attached the bird boxes and predator guards to the posts at Baker Campus fields over spring break. The initial plan was to have students install the bird boxes in the spring, but the coronavirus pandemic altered their agenda. 

“Given the virus, we decided to not involve students,” de Wet said. “We also could not wait until later in the spring or summer because the birds were already on the posts looking for nesting sites.

“We will wait until the students return to install the boxes at the wetlands.”

Ardia, whose primary research involves the environmental interactions of birds and mammals, will use the nest boxes as part of the bird-related observations he does at Baker. 

“I’m teaching a course in urban ecology in the fall and Nic is partnering with me to develop student projects focused on campus sustainability,” Ardia said. “We anticipate the boxes playing a role.” 

Also, as part of an effort to create meadows across campus, F&O, under Auwaerter’s supervision, will convert to meadow the grassy areas around the bird boxes at the Baker Campus fields. The intention is to reduce fossil-fueled mowing and provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. 

“We plan on allowing a swath of the area surrounding the bluebird boxes to grow into a more natural meadow-like state,” Auwaerter said. “This will include allowing the grasses to grow uninhabited as well as the addition of a variety of wildflower seeds typical to this sort of environment.” 

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