Many of you might be wondering why we use SciStarter to manage our project.
SciStarter is a website where citizen scientists can find, join, and contribute to science through more than 1600 formal and informal research projects and events.
If you are already participating in other projects like, nestwatch, ebird, inaturalist, or project feederwatch, SciStarter is a way for you to keep track of your contributions to those projects as well as Sparrow Swap.
I’d like to introduce you to some of SciStarter’s features:
Messaging – We are happy to announce that you can now respond to the messages you receive from Sparrow Swap using your email. You can still log-in to SciStarter to see your sent and received SciStarter messages (see photo below). Please note, we cannot receive photos this way. If you need to send us a photo, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your Profile- Through your profile (see below) you can fill out at a little more about your interests, activities, skills, and instruments. Once you do this, SciStarter will recommend other projects you may be interested in. Your profile also gives you an overview of the number of projects you are participating in and your total number of contribution to SciStarter Affiliated projects, like Sparrow Swap. Right now, if you complete 3 tasks to complete your profile, you can receive a free ebook “The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science!” that features a chapter written by Dr. Caren Cooper, Sparrow Swap’s lead researcher.
Your Dashboard: The dashboard is a place for you to view and manage projects you are participating in. (See Below).
My Projects, Bookmarks & Events – If you click on the My projects, Bookmarks & Events, you can get a more detailed look into the projects you are participating in. If you have joined a project, and haven’t participated in a while, the “Jump In” will direct you to resources you need to contribute!
We know SciStarter has been changing throughout this season and we appreciate everyone’s patience and feedback as we all have been adjusting to the changes!
If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to ask!
Sparrow Swap Team
We have been busy in the lab processing over 50 clutches that have arrived at the Museum!
Once at the Museum, we use every part of the egg to determine differences in color and speckling, eggshell thickness, water loss through the eggshell, embryo development, persistent contaminants in the eggs, and the diet of the mother.
First, each clutch is assigned a catalog number, a unique number that separates the clutch from all other specimens in the Museum’s collections. Each individual egg in a clutch is then assigned a letter. Our intern, Imani, carefully removes the eggs from the plastic Easter egg packaging and inspects them for any cracks that may have occurred during packaging and shipping.
After unpacking, Aubrey meticulously photographs each clutch using a standard technique to be able to compare color and size of each egg to each other. Later the photographs are analyzed by our collaborator Dr. Daniel Hanley, to compare the variation in eggshell color and speckling between clutches across the United States.
Next we use a dremel to carefully cut around the base of the eggshell, being care not to cut through the membrane. The cut piece of eggshell is lifted off the egg and the contents of the egg are placed in a certified contaminant free jar. Once in the jar, we can determine the development stage of the embryo. These jars will later be sent off to be analyzed for persistent environmental contaminants such as PCBs, DDT, and heavy metals.
Currently, we are working on acquiring the tools and protocols to be able to measure the individual thickness of each eggshell, the water loss the happens across the eggshell, and the collecting eggshell membranes from each clutch to gain some clues into the diets of the mother. By gathering all of this data on each egg, we hope to find clues to understanding the natural variation in eggshells and the variation that may be caused by contaminants!
Suzanne spent some time the last two weeks in Lexington, Kentucky visiting researchers, including Dr. Dave Westneat, who are doing work involving house sparrows at the University of Kentucky. Dave Westneat has been studying house sparrows for over 25 years. Dave has written in that past that:
“choosing to study House Sparrows would seem to ensure one a dull life. No adventures or extraordinary bravery in the face of extreme conditions are necessary. With some common birds, such as Red-winged Blackbirds, one can at least imagine being a stoic adventurer who slogs through impenetrable marsh in pursuit of (somewhat) elusive quarry. There simply is no romance in studying sparrows. Yet House Sparrows offer another kind of adventure—of a more intellectual nature. And as one comes to know these birds intimately, they emerge as creatures both charming and mysterious.”
Because they are so common and not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, house sparrows have served as a perfect study organism for researchers, including Westneat and the Sparrow Swap Team, to study many different aspects of general bird biology.
Currently most of the research Dave and his team are conducting involves studying the behavior of house sparrows. During a year where they had a high population of house sparrows, Dave’s team noticed that entire broods were dying within the first 72 hours of hatching. They think that with so many pairs looking for suitable nesting sites, there is more prospecting of birds into nestboxes already inhabited. The pair of house sparrows currently using the nestbox may then spend more time defending their nest than providing food for the hatchlings! Since observing this phenomena, they have just started conducting aggression tests to see how house sparrow pairs respond to a stuffed house sparrow “intruder” that is placed on the side of the nestbox during the first few days after hatching. The Sparrow Swap Team is looking forward to following up with them in the future to see what they discover!
Unsure how to mail the house sparrow eggs to us at the Museum?
Watch the video below to find how you can use items found around the house to package the eggs.
It’s a busy time of year here! Some of the Sparrow Swap team was in St. Paul, Minnesota last week at the Citizen Science Association conference getting inspired and learning from other citizen science projects. I’m currently in Lexington, Kentucky learning more about house sparrows from Dave Westneat at the University of Kentucky. I’ll be sure to fill you in on what I’m learning. Back at the Museum we have new people joining the Sparrow Swap Team for the summer we hope to introduce to you soon. We are gearing up to process and curate the eggs that are arriving the Museum day by day. Thanks again to everyone who has sent eggs so far!
In even more exciting news, Caren Cooper, the lead researcher of Sparrow Swap, gave a talk last month at a TedX Greensboro that features the project.
We hope your nestboxes have been busy with successful native bird nestlings and fledglings! 🙂
Suzanne & The Sparrow Swap Team
We’ve heard reports from participants that the house sparrow nesting season is well under way across parts of the country! Last week, the Sparrow Swap team swapped our first house sparrow nest of the season.
We updated the datasheets slightly to ask if you are using any HOSP deterrents on your boxes. If you are a Remover, Swapper, or Monitor please download the new datasheet. If y ou are already using this year’s datasheet, you don’t need to print out a new one. Instead, please write in the comments what house sparrow deterrents you are using for the nestboxes listed on the datasheet (Halo, Spooker, Other, or None).
Now that Easter weekend has come and gone, be sure to stock up on discounted plastic Easter eggs for packaging while you can!
Sparrow Swap Team