Outreach – Scottish Ornithologists’ Club

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The Scottish Ornithologists’ Club gave a warm welcome to Sophie at an evening event in St Andrews inviting PhD students to talk about their research. Sophie spoke about nest building and about whether temperature affects the nest that a bird builds. The talks were followed by a reception where Sophie could chat to the attendees further, some of whom have since stayed in email contact. Great work Sophie!

Fieldwork in the Canadian rockies

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A shot of David, Vicki, Maria, Mabel, and Freya during a hike in the rockies (photo credit to Freya Coursey)

Another successful fieldwork season in the Canadian rockies! David and Georgina were joined by former Healy lab member Dr Maria Tello-Ramos, as well as three undergraduates from the University of St Andrews (Vicki, Mabel, and Freya) to work on wild rufous hummingbirds for 7 weeks. David and Vicki paired up to find out how the hummingbirds use landmarks, Maria and Mabel looked at whether the hummingbirds change their foraging sequences, and Georgina and Freya focused on how the hummingbirds make foraging decisions. Everyone worked fantastically hard, and got lots of data as a payoff. Well done everyone!

 

Conducting research in the Rocky mountains was an experience I will never forget. Alberta is a beautiful place to work and hummingbirds are the most fascinating species to study. I’m really excited to spend the next year reminiscing about the experience while working with the data we collected. I’m so incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work with such esteemed scientists, who were not only inspiring and excellent teachers but good fun too. Thank you for all your continued guidance. To future adventurers I would recommend a good sunhat, plenty of bug spray and a better camera than I had!

– Mabel Barclay

 

I was completely amazed to be given this opportunity to carry out research for my dissertation in the beautiful setting of the Canadian Rockies. Being able to watch hummingbirds behaving in the wild was a real treat, and is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I learnt a lot, not only about cognition in hummingbirds, but also the often tricky process of data collection and the general world of academia. My gratitude goes to Dr Sue Healy and Dr Andy Hurly for the fantastic opportunity, and also many thanks to Georgina, Maria and David for putting up with us undergraduates. Extra thanks go to Georgina for your mentoring and endless enthusiasm!

– Freya Coursey

 

I had such a fantastic experience in Canada. I saw far more wildlife than I could have imagined. The hummingbirds were amazing, and never mind the experiments – they would come feed from a feeder that I was holding a foot away from my face!! But of course, the best thing had to be seeing that wolf. MOST EXCITING MOMENT OF MY LIFE!!!!!

 – Vicki Balfour

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David, Maria, Mabel, Freya, and Georgina enjoying a day off before leaving Canada (photo credit to Mabel Barclay)

Conference – ISBE

Dave Shuker joining Nora, Georgina, and Sue for a lab photo outside the conference venue

Nora, Georgina, and Sue all attended the International Society for Behavioral Ecology conference held in Exeter. This conference marked the 30th anniversary since the founding of ISBE, and as a result attendees were able to purchase special anniversary t-shirts, as shown below.

Nora modelling one of the ISBE anniversary t-shirts

At the conference, Nora gave a talk about information encoding strategies in UK tit species, whilst in the poster session Georgina presented her work on whether rufous hummingbirds make “irrational” decisions. Finally, Sue also joined in by chairing a session on cognitive processes. A productive conference all round!

Georgina presenting her poster on decision-making in hummingbirds

Outreach – Edinburgh International Science Festival

At this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival visitors has their eyes opened to the world of nest building! Lauren, Sophie, and Alexis set up an exhibit on ‘Why Do Birds Build Nests?’, inviting both children and adults to try out their own nest building abilities by creating a nest sturdy enough to hold a chocolate egg! Not only that, but various nests (built by the birds, not the visitors) were on display for all to see and touch for a real hands-on experience of nest building. Attendees were also encouraged to test their bird-based knowledge by matching up birds and nests to their environment in Scotland. All the while, footage of nest building by our zebra finches in the lab and of wild weaver birds in the field (South Africa) were running for the viewing pleasure of the hundreds of people who stopped by.

Many thanks to the BBSRC for funding to deliver this event.

Well done team!

New papers out – Reviews

We’ve had some more publishing activity from the Healy lab, recently in the form of reviews! Well done Alexis, David, Maria, Lauren, and Sue!

 

What Can Nest-Building Birds Teach Us?

Photos by Ida Bailey (a) and Kate Morgan (b) and (c).

The structures that animals build are extraordinarily diverse, particularly nests built by birds. As part of the annual edition of Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews, members of the nest building team (Alexis, Lauren and Sue) review 150 years of observational and experimental data to show that bird nest building is a useful model for the study of learning, memory and brain-behaviour relationships. To read more, click here.
 

 

Why study cognition in the wild (and how to test it)?

A lot of what we know about animal cognition comes from studies in the lab, but researchers (including us!) are getting more and more curious about the role of cognition outside of the lab, studying animals in their natural habitats. As part of a recent special issue of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, we (David, Maria, and Sue) have written a review looking at why researchers are so interested in cognition in the wild, how we go about testing it, and some of the challenges that people face by working in the wild.

We particularly talk about some of these topics in the context of our own work on the spatial and temporal cognition of wild hummingbirds, so if you like that work, and want to check this out too, you can read the review here.

Outreach – Research Illustration

Illustration by Alina Loth

Illustration by Alina Loth

David‘s work on hummingbirds has been included in the Research Illustration project, which aims to communicate science through the use of art. After contacting David, the team of artists and researchers put together a piece on his paper ‘Wild rufous hummingbirds use local landmarks to return to rewarded locations‘, and the final product is available here.

Papers published – on a roll!

The Healy lab has been busy over the last few weeks, with several papers being published.

Lauren and Sue have published a paper focusing on nest building, the forgotten behaviour (with a couple of cheeky snaps from the paper above).

 

Next up, Ida has had two papers accepted: The first on whether taste affects nectar consumption in sunbirds, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. The second is on observations on nest material collection in male weaver birds, published in Emu, with Kate and Sue as co-authors among others.

Well done all!