Students Demonstrate You Don’t Have to Be a Biology Major to Make Meaningful Contributions to Avian Research

Rhodes College group discussing the journey of an ovenbird
Ben Reynolds and Soren Sijapati (l-r) listening to Alix Matthews explain the southern journey of the ovenbird that she is holding (photos taken by Paige Walker)

Non-biology majors in the BIOL 105: Everyday Evolution: Genes, Diversity, and Society course had the chance to participate in hands-on scientific research involving migratory birds.

Alix Matthews, a visiting instructor of biology and a member of the Rhodes Class of 2014, along with first-year student Alexandra Baroody (undeclared major) and seniors Ben Reynolds (English) and Soren Sijapati (international studies) recently took a field trip to the Arkansas State Bird Observatory (ASBO) in Jonesboro, AR.

Fall migration has been underway for many migratory bird species, and students were able to observe the birds first-hand making their way to Central and South America.

image of student A. Baroody holding unharmed bird as part of research of migratory birds
Alexandra Baroody holding an American Redstart that was safely released after data was collected

“The students captured several migratory species such as warblers and resident species such as chickadees, which allowed them to compare species with different life history strategies and directly observe evolutionary trade-offs,” said Matthews. “They squinted to see the tiny feather mites that I study,  and we discussed the coevolutionary history the mites have with their avian hosts. Alexandra, Ben, and Soren collected data and even got to hold and safely release the unharmed birds!”

Data taken at the ASBO and other banding stations are added to a global database, which allows scientists to track individuals and monitor bird populations over time.

“It was a great excuse to be outside and a good reminder that evolution can be observed in our everyday lives,” said Matthews.

Matthews is in her final year of her doctoral program at Arkansas State University where she is pursuing her Ph.D. in molecular biosciences. At Rhodes, she majored in environmental sciences.