MAY 20, 2020
by Adrienne Berard, The College of William & Mary
Operation Decoy Dan begins at dawn.
Heather Kenny loads up her Honda CRV with three metal rods, two large nets, a rubber mallet and a Tupperware box containing the remaining tools she'll need to weigh, measure and band nesting bluebirds.
Kenny, a biology master's student at William & Mary, has spent the past two years studying the parenting behavior of bluebirds. Specifically, she is working to understand how human-made noise influences nesting and productivity.
She does this by maintaining experimental speakers, which play traffic noise on loop next to bluebird nest boxes. The goal is to see if birds are less likely to nest near the noisy boxes—and to see what behavioral traits are common in the birds who do decide to nest there.
"A previous study in our lab found a correlation that birds nesting in noisier areas raise fewer babies than the ones in the quiet areas," she said. "My study is following up on that and doing an experimental manipulation of noise to see if it's actually noise that is causing this difference in reproduction and if so, why?"
Kenny collected data on 28 nesting bluebird pairs last year. This spring, she monitored 30 nest boxes, located in Newport News Park, New Quarter Park and York River State Park on the Virginia Peninsula.
"We found from last year's data that they were not really responding to noise directly," Kenny said. "So, this year, I set up the speakers before they started building their nests to see if it influences where they decide to nest. I'm also examining the timing of their nesting and egg laying, as well as keeping track of how many eggs they lay and how many chicks fledge."