35 Years of Ornithology Research Grant Scholarships

by Ann Carpenter

By 1982, just five years after hatching, the Bird Club was financially strong enough to grant research scholarships to Graduate Students who were studying ornithology at the College of William and Mary. A proposal for these scholarships was presented to and approved by the membership in November 1981. The rationale was that the club was being supported by the College which donates the club meeting space free of charge; one of the club’s primary goals is to educate people about birds; and the club could afford to support a scholarship from fund-raising projects. In fact, the third Bird Seed Sale, a project initiated in 1980, yielded over $1800 to be used towards these grant awards.
The Board voted to award a total of $500 per year for these scholarships.

When the Bird Club announced to the College of William and Mary’s Biology Department that it was offering a scholarship stipend for ornithological research for one of its students, the club had no idea there would be so many worthy applicants. Therefore, instead of one, the club made two awards of $250 each to Bob Anderson and Fenton Day. Bob proposed studying the feeding and population dynamics of Oystercatchers, while Fenton proposed looking into the effects that Herring Gull colonies have on adjacent tern and skimmer colonies.

In 2004, the Bird Club named the research grants in honor of William J. Sheehan, a Charter Member, the Club’s first Secretary, and the keeper of local bird club records from Day 1. In 2007, at the club’s 30th anniversary meeting, it was announced that one of the scholarships would be named to honor Ruth Beck, retired professor of Biology at W&M and a charter and founding member of the Bird Club. The scholarships are now called the Bill Sheehan/Ruth Beck Ornithology Research Grants.

Awards were made to one or two students per year until 2006 when the number was increased to three awards per year. Award amounts increased to $500 per student in 2000 and to $600 per student in 2014. Following the passing of Dr. Ruth Beck in 2015, the club received more than $5,000 in memorial donations. These funds are being devoted to the research
grants, allowing the club to make four awards in 2015 and five awards in 2016. In addition, the club receives semi-annual donations from Wild Birds Unlimited which also go toward funding the research grants. Members also may make designated donations to the grant fund.

Since 1982, the Bird Club has awarded 72 grants, totaling more than $35,000, to 66 graduate and undergraduate students. The mentors to the grantees over the last 35 years have included: Mitchell Byrd, Ruth Beck, Dan Cristol, John Swaddle, Matthias Leu, and Bryan Watts. Twenty-five of the grantees’ projects led to published, peer-reviewed articles. Each year, in the spring following the award, the students present the results of their research studies at a Bird Club meeting.

Student Researcher and WBC Grant Recipient Carly Hawkins and two Zebra Finches
This year’s awardees are Megan Thompson, “A Study of the Cognitive Memory of Birds and their Ability to Avoid a Toxic Food Source”; Carly Hawkins, “Investigating the Effects of Anthropogenic Noise Disturbance on Songbird Social Networks”; and Ananda Menon, “The Effect of Mercury on Reproductive Function in Male Songbirds”.

YEARAWARDEE(S)PROJECTAWARDS AMOUNTMentorPeer-reviewed article published
1982Bob AndersonEastern Shore Birdlife - Studies of Feeding and Population Dynamics of American Oystercatchers$250.00Byrd
Fenton DayEastern Shore Birdlife - Studies of the effects that Herrring Gull Colonies have on Adjacent Tern and Skimmer Colonies$250.00Byrd
1983Irene RusnakHome Range and Habitat Utilization of Resident Bald Eagle Pairs in Virginia$500.00Byrd
1984Chuck RosenbergResearch on nesting Barn Owls$250.00Byrd
Tim KinkeadNesting ecology of Ospreys$250.00Byrd
1985Peter McLeanStudies of Chesapeake Bay Ospreys$500.00Byrd
1986Lynn WalterResearch on the food caching behavior of Carolina Chickadees$500.00Byrd
1987Bob CrossStudies of Piping Plovers on Virginia's Eastern Shore barrier islands$500.00Byrd
1988Bob CrossStudies of Piping Plovers on Virginia's Eastern Shore barrier islands$500.00Byrd
1989Bob CrossStudies of Piping Plovers on Virginia's Eastern Shore barrier islands$500.00Byrd
1990Kennedy ClarkShoreline Habitat Selection by Bald Eagles in Non-Breeding Concentration Area on the James River$250.00Byrd
Gregory KellerNesting Substrate Preference and Breeding Success of Common Terns and Black Skimmers in Virginia$250.00Beck
1991Tim O'ConnellThe Effects of Gull Predation on the Colony Reproductive Success of Terns and Skimmers in Virginia$500.00Beck
1992Ellen BentleyA description and landscape analysis of the habitat requirements of Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets and Green-backed Herons in Tidewater Virginia$500.00Beck
1993Kristine ClementsResearch on Great Blue Herons along the James and Chickahominy Rivers$500.00Beck
1994Kristol MatthewsNesting habitats of Black Skimmers$500.00Beck
1995Elaine MertusInvestigating nesting Red-headed Woodpeckers on Jamestown Island$500.00Beck
1996David WhalenThe Breeding Ecology of Barn Owls in Upland versus Marsh Habitats in Virginia$500.00WattsJ. Field Ornithology, Auk
1997Chris GordonIs Food Acquisition a Limiting Factor in the Reproductive Success of the Black Skimmer$300.00BeckWaterbirds
Valerie WeissPopulation Declines and Habitat Requirements of the Brown-headed Nuthatch$300.00Cristol
1998Karen JohnsonDetermination of Spring Departure in White-throated Sparrows$500.00CristolJ. Experimental Zoology
1999Jenny GambleLearning of Drop-Catch behavior in Herring Gulls Foraging on Clams$500.00CristolAnimal Behaviour
2000Renae HeldTern nesting on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel$500.00Beck
Emillie Snell-Rood*Constructed Wetlands as Habitat for Native Birds$500.00CristolCondor
2001Kevin CrollHabitat Use, Productivity, and Winter Dispersal of the American Oystercatcher in Virginia$500.00Beck
David DesRochersBirds of Man-made Salt Marshes$500.00CristolEcoscience
2002Alexandria WilkeResearch on American Oystercatchers on Virginia's Barrier Islands$500.00WattsWaterbirds
2003Alexandria WilkeResearch on American Oystercatchers on Virginia's Barrier Islands$500.00Watts
Catherine MarkhamThe influence of salinity on diet, prey delivery, and nestling growth in Bald Eagles in the Lower Chesapeake Bay $500.00WattsAuk, J. Raptor research
2004Elizabeth LongPrey Selection of Peregrine Falcons During Breeding Season in Virginia$500.00Watts
Caitlin KightThe effects of human disturbance on the breeding success of cavity-nesting bird species$500.00SwaddleBiological Conservation
2005Caitlin KightThe effects of human disturbance on the breeding success of cavity-nesting bird species$500.00Swaddle
Ariel WhiteMercury Effects in Belted Kingfisher and Eastern Screech-Owls$500.00CristolWaterbirds
2006Caitlin KightThe effects of human disturbance on the breeding success of cavity-nesting bird species$500.00Swaddle
Anne CondonAn examination of mercury levels in fledgling birds along contaminated portions of the South and Shenandoah Rivers in Virginia$500.00CristolEnvironmental Chemistry and Toxicology
Rebecka BrassoThe effects of mercury contamination on the nesting of tree swallows$500.00CristolEcotoxicology
2007Joanna HubbardChoosy birds choose who? Exploring male mate choice in eastern bluebirds$500.00SwaddleAuk
Elise LarsenImpacts of urban development on bird diversity in the Coastal Plain: the role of diet$500.00Watts
Mikaela HowieDistance from aquatic source to which mercury contamination affects wildlife$500.00Cristol
2008Allyson JacksonGolf Courses as Replacement Habitats: Effects on Fledgling Survival?$500.00CristolJ. Wildlife Management
Mikaela HowieThe Infiltration of Aquatic Mercury into the Terrestrial Ecosystem$500.00Cristol
Ryan BurdgePesticide Exposure and Diet of an Insectivorous Songbird on Virginia Golf Courses$500.00Cristol
2009Leah WilsonMate guarding behavior in the Australian Zebra Finch: Is it flexible and Optimized$500.00SwaddleBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Marie PittsReproductive success of eastern bluebirds on golf courses: habitat effects across multiple spatial scales$500.00Swaddle
Andrew McGannRusty Blackbird: Winter Ecology of a Disappearing Species$500.00CristolCondor
2010Sarah LemelinEffects of Mercury on Reproductive Success and Adrenocortical Function$500.00CristolBulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Catherine LewisThe Sublethal Effects of Mercury on the Songbird Immune Systems: An Experimental Study$500.00CristolArchives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Amanda BesslerThe Effect of Mercury on Zebra Finch Spatial Memory$500.00Cristol
2011Megan KobielaThe Effect of Mercury on Starvation and Predation Risk Tradeoffs in Zebra Finches$500.00SwaddleAnimal Behaviour
Jenna CarlsonSublelethal effects of methylmercury on avian flight: a captive dosing study on European Starlings$500.00SwaddleEcotoxicology
Kenton BuckVariation and Heritability of Avian Mercury Bioaccumulation$500.00SwaddlePLoS ONE
2012Morgan NiccoliIs Occupany Modeling a Feasible Alternative to Collecting Demography Data?$500.00Leu
Jessica EbersThe Effect of Methylmercury on Immune Response to a Common Parasite in Songbirds$500.00Cristol
Courtney TurrinNegative Feedback Effects of Population Saturation in Bald Eagles in the Chesapeake Bay$500.00WattsArdea, J. Raptor Research
2013Vitek JirinecWood Thrush habitat use at the home range scale: implications for local distribution$500.00LeuCondor
Margaret WhitneyThe Impact of Methylmercury on Passerine Migratory Behavior$500.00Cristol
Ghazi MahjoubEffectiveness of a "Sonic Net" at an outdoor aviary: implications for reduced aircraft bird strikes$500.00SwaddleBulletin of the Wildlife Society
2014Stephanie ChinThe effect of dietary methylmercury on parental care of a model avian species$599.00Cristol
Autumn SwanEffect of Noise on the Social Structure of European Starlings$599.00Swaddle
Akshay Deverakonda*Determining Space Use of Breeding Wood Thrush Pairs in Southeastern Virginia$599.00Leu
2015Sarah WolfAssessing the ototoxic effects of methylmercury exposure in the zebra finch$599.00CristolJournal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Virginia GreeneMercury and Mate Choice in Zebra Finches$599.00Cristol
Nicole IngrassiaUsing sound as a barrier to bird strikes with stationary objects$599.00Swaddle
Nicholas Newberry*The investigation of the relationship between housing prices and bird diversity $599.00Cristol
2016Juan BoteroInducing Oxidative Stress in Captive Zebra Finches$599.00Cristol
Nicholas Newberry*Exploring the Relationship Between the Birds Outside and the Price on the ‘For Sale’ Sign$599.00Cristol
Virginia GreeneToxic Song: The Effects of Mercury on Song Attractiveness in Zebra Finches.$599.00Cristol
Ohad ParisThe Effects of Methyl-mercury Exposure During Development on Songbird Reproductive Success$599.00Cristol
Sarah WolfAssessing the effects of mercury on hearing: auditory brainstem response in the zebra finch$599.00Cristol
2017Megan ThompsonA Study of the Cognitive Memory of Birds and their Ability to Avoid a Toxic Food Source$599.00Swaddle
Carly HawkinsInvestigating the effects of anthropogenic noise disturbance on songbird social networks$599.00Swaddle
Ananda MenonThe effect of Mercury on Reproductive Function in Male Songbirds$599.00Swaddle
TOTAL AWARDED $35,585.00 25 led to peer-reviewed article published
* undergraduate student