Posted by: missouriugr | June 29, 2007

“I Film the Death of Baby Birds” | Curtis Kukal (LSUROP Intern)

“I film the death of baby birds. Hopefully that caught your attention and somebody might actually read this. If the above statement did not make you even a little upset, then you have bigger issues than I care to deal with. This is Curtis Kukal saying hello from the field in hills of southeast Missouri.
I probably began work here in Ellington before many of us- on May 24th. If you don’t know where Ellington is, then look at a satellite image of Missouri. Find the greenest spot, and you’re there. More precisely, I am at the Current River Conservation Area.

My project seeks to understand if roads act as corridors to the predators of migratory songbirds. Basically I find, monitor, and film bird nests. This lets me know the nesting success of the birds (calculated as something called a Mayfield estimate of survival), as well as their predator community. My day begins at 4:50 or 3:50 am, depending on the morning. I haul motorcycle and marine batteries around the woods, snort gnats up my nose, ignore poison ivy rashes, try not to drive my car into a barrage of suicidal deer (though I’ve already failed at that once), and I’m having a great time!

The field is a messy laboratory. I’ve had some pretty unique obstacles to the flow of data- obstacles other than the ones I just mentioned. The digital video recorders that capture the two days of infrared video have had some problems. They keep dropping their software. We’ve installed a program onto the PC that can recover the files from the memory cards, so I think that problem is out of the way. Another problem is that Indigo Bunting nests far from roads have been harder to find than I had originally thought. And for whatever reason, I couldn’t find any Bunting nests until the beginning of June.

Data has begun to flow pretty well though. I’ve added another two questions for my research. I want to know if roads cause edge effects in Acadian Flycatchers (a cute, though not too colorful, bird). Also, I am measuring the diameter of Indigo Bunting nests to see if nests built later in the season are smaller than those built early in the season- clutch size tends to drop slightly later in the season in this species. Some of the data is already being collected, and the questions are interesting.

Ellington Missouri is not really what you would call a hoppin’ town. I either go home to Springfield or work through the weekends. I plan to do the latter this weekend. Because of the way the cameras are set up, someone has to be here every day to keep the batteries going.

Oh well, you probably have a lot of work to do. Besides, it’s 8:22, which is WAY past my bedtime.”

Curtis Kukal, MU Student
Mentor: Dr. John Faaborg



  1. Hilarious story Curtis! Sounds like you are having a blast!

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