Northern Saw-whet Owl Research

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How I got interested in research

As someone with a photo/video background, making the jump to research in bioengineering and biology was a new path. A few years ago, I became involved in the northern saw-whet owl research after my photographs and text were published in Pennsylvania Magazine. While I was spending time with the researches, I noticed that every owl was photographed to be “adopted” online to help fund the study.

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One of the areas of research was to quantify the amount of white feathers on the face by researchers in order to see if it indicated sex, age, or was just individualistic feature. So each volunteer would write down a score 0-10. The challenge here was, was Mark’s 4 the same as Susan’s 4? Were the volunteers consistent within themselves and consistent as a group? How could the data be more free of subjectivity?

So I got involved. Since they were taking photos of the owls head on for the website anyway, I offered to analyze the amount of white on the face digitally. Results showed that the amount of white feathers was just an individualistic feature. I just wanted to help at the time, but the technique was something the researchers valued and used in other bird studies thereafter. I only played a tiny part, but I look back and think it was an experience that played a big role in going back to school for research.

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Here is the a PDF of the story!

Studying N. Saw-whet Owls is difficult because they are secretive, nocturnal, and have irregular movement patterns. Having data on this can help provide species protection and management.

Studying N. Saw-whet Owls is difficult because they are secretive, nocturnal, and have irregular movement patterns. Having data on this can help provide species protection and management.