FURSCA Feature: Rachel Kohanov, '14
Briefly explain your FURSCA project.
My project focuses on the sensitivity of nestling house wrens to food and alarm calls made by parent birds. It has been suggested that birds are developmentally restricted in hearing different frequencies upon hatching. Food and alarm calls are given at different frequencies. A food call serves to let nestling wrens know that a parent bird has brought a morsel back to the nest. The nestlings respond by gaping their beaks and vocalizing. This noise can potentially alert predators to the location of nests. Because house wrens are cavity nesting birds that reside in safer shelters than exposed, vulnerable cup nests, it is expected that they will show early sensitivity to food calls over alarm calls.
What have you learned so far in doing your research?
The analysis portion of my research is still in progress, but this summer has been an excellent opportunity to give me a peek into the world of fieldwork. The most rewarding discovery has been learning how to relate what I have learned in previous courses to my everyday experiences during research. I find new connections every day; the application of that knowledge has been very exciting and rewarding. In addition, I have learned the ups and downs that come along with research -- from the excitement that comes with a successful day in the field to having to be flexible and find creative solutions when electronic equipment or birds don't cooperate as hoped.
Why did you pick this particular project?
I am a pre-veterinary student who has always been interested in animals. I have been fascinated with the communication aspect of animal behavior after taking an Honors Animal Communication course with Dr. Dale Kennedy last year. For my final project in the class, I conducted a small observational study on black-capped chickadees in the Whitehouse Nature Center. I really enjoyed the experience; it inspired me to look into other opportunities to study animal communication.
How will this FURSCA project help you after Albion?
I am planning to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, so a project focused on animal communication is a great foot in the door to behavioral courses I will be taking in the future.
What's next for your project?
My thesis will focus on the findings of my study. Because I have not yet completed analysis, I'm not exactly sure what it will detail as of now!
Looking back, how has the project worked out?
I loved working on my FURSCA project. It is a unique side of learning application that I would have otherwise been unable to experience. It has given me the opportunity to grow as a student, researcher, and scientist.