“Outdoor Classroom” Benefits OU Students …and Bluebirds

Oglethorpe seniors Andrew Davenport and Sandy Vuong recently let me tag along to watch their springtime, end-of-semester urban ecology project take off… literally.

The two students were assigned special projects for their Urban Ecology class, taught by Dr. Roarke Donnelly, OU associate professor of biology and director of the Urban Ecology Program. Davenport and Vuong, both biology majors, decided to team up and investigate the behavior of Eastern bluebirds.

OU senior Andrew Davenport "flushing" the bird box

“Bluebirds prefer to find pre-existing cavities and build their nests in them,” said Davenport. “They pick already available accommodations and make them their own. Our research aims at explaining why they choose certain locations to nest and not others.”

The project quickly became a campus-wide effort. OU’s Sigma Zeta National Science and Mathematics Society stepped in to help create the habitats, in hopes that the birds would choose them. Chassidy Teal, Sigma Zeta president, and the other Sigma Zeta members built the birds’ boxes as a service project. Dr. John Cramer, OU professor of physics, helped with the building effort and installed them around campus.

There are now 10 boxes all over the OU campus and half of them are occupied by bluebird families. Some are home to adult birds only, some have eggs in them and some little hatchlings. Davenport and Vuong take turns checking the boxes and recording data several times every week.

“Eastern bluebirds don’t have as many cavities available for nesting as they did before extensive logging and land development,” said Dr. Donnelly. “Boxes serve as suitable substitutes.”

Thanks to the joint effort of the honor society and Dr. Cramer, the two OU seniors are able to use their classroom knowledge and apply it to this hands-on project. But, the experiment has benefitted the bluebirds as well as the students studying them.

“We did not have many bluebirds on campus,” said Dr. Cramer. “The experiment has attracted them to our outdoor classroom.”

Join the Urban Ecology Program and other OU science students during Science-Palooza on Wednesday, April 25, from 12:30 to 1:30 in the Academic Success Center, when they will present their projects and findings from their end-of-semester projects.

The male bluebird passes a worm to the female. She will then feed it to the little baby bluebirds.

View more photos of OUr bluebird families!