Professor’s Research in National Wildlife Magazine

Emily Chudzik, Staff Writer

Did you know that the hobby of wild bird feeding is ranked the second most popular activity in America after gardening? Nearly 53 million Americans, aged 16 and older, feed wild birds and other wildlife. Since his arrival at Millikin in 2005, Dr. David Horn has been conducting research with his students on this activity. He is a biology professor here at Millikin who specializes in ecology. He teaches courses on ornithology and conservation biology. Horn said, “My favorite is the immersion courses. I’ve done it four times now, and we go to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador.”

Dr. Horn had an article published in the recent October/November issue of National Wildlife Magazine. It dealt with how to stop squirrels from eating out of bird feeders, but he said that his true interests are in the hobby of wild bird feeding. “We have conducted two major studies here, the first being bird seed and bird feeder preferences of backyard birds. It was conducted in the US and Canada, and it was coordinated by Millikin students,” Horn said. The second was in the spring of 2011, where he and his colleague Dr. Travis Wilcoxen did a study on how bird feeding impacts their populations and the health of individual birds. “We found that the reason most people fed wild birds was because they wanted to help them. However, no one ever tested whether it actually helped,” Horn said.

Over ten Millikin students were involved in a two year study where they asked the following three major questions: does bird feeding help improve the health of individual birds, does it enhance their survival, and does bird feeding change the overall population and community? Here at Millikin, student-faculty collaboration is heavily emphasized, and this type of research lends itself well to that. “What I really love about these projects is that they provide professional opportunities for our students. They gain real world experience, addressing questions for which there is a national audience that can use the information that we discover in their day to day lives,” Horn said.

Last August, Horn and Wilcoxen attended the American Ornithology Union meeting in Chicago. Four of the presentations in the symposium were based on research conducted here at Millikin, which was quite exciting. “The university has developed a national reputation in this field of wild bird feeding. It’s really exciting,” Horn said.

In addition to the two larger projects, he and his students have also undertaken a number of smaller ones for individual companies. “They see the benefit of training the next generation of scientists.” He also said that it is important to mention the third party stakeholders who hold a partnership with them. “Macon County Conservation is one of our bigger ones. Sometimes, people will even open up their homes to let students watch birds at the feeders!”

On a personal note, Horn said that it is fun to walk into a store and see a bag of bird seed and know that it was developed by Millikin students, or that the bag was tested through research at Millikin. It further enhances the national reputation of the institution while simultaneously giving opportunities to students, which is what it is most important.