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Banding Together

Person wearing mask holds owl at night

Gwendolyn Lam ’24 holds a northern saw-whet owl as part of a volunteer effort in November at the Willistown Conservation Trust in Chester County, Pa.

Chilly temperatures and working at night were all part of an exciting volunteer experience just miles away from Swarthmore’s campus. Students and staff members helped to band and measure northern saw-whet owls in November as part of an ongoing conservation effort by the Willistown Conservation Trust in Chester County, Pa.

“It was amazing,” says Gwendolyn Lam ’24, president of Swarthmore’s Bird Club and a double major in biochemistry and applied math. Founded in 2015, the Bird Club is a student-run organization dedicated to the observation of birds both on and off campus.

“We arrived as soon as they caught an owl, so we didn’t have to wait that long in the cold,” says Lam. “We learned a lot about the owls, local birds, bird-banding career, banding process, and the volunteers and employees themselves. Owl banding is a super cool experience.”

Students also learned about how the owl data — including sex, weight, and age — are documented for research purposes. “The owls are given a unique identification band so that researchers will know who it is if it is ever caught again,” says Lizzy Atkinson ’24, a biology major and chemistry minor and vice president of the Bird Club. “This data gives researchers insight into how owl populations are doing in terms of health and size.”

Below are images from the event, taken by staff photographer Laurence Kesterson:

Students stand outside at night

Students walked through the darkness at the Willistown Conservation Trust to find owls captured in nets.

Students learn about owl banding

Students banded the owls and recorded data — including sex, weight, and age — for research purposes.

Person holds bird

Angel Su ’24 holds an owl.

Person examines owl wing under UV light

Jessica Shahan, a bird bander at the conservation trust, measures the the wings of an owl under a black light.

Person measures owl wing with calipers

Shahan measures the beak of an owl.

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