by Katey Hennigan

CLEVELAND, GA., (TMBiology) –Last November Truett-McConnell College Associate Professor of Biology, Tom Hennigan, and a select number of biology students traveled to Lynchburg, Va. to assist Dr. Gene Sattler, a biology professor at Liberty University, in the catching and banding of migrating northern Saw-Whet Owls.

Professor Hennigan shared how the group of Truett-McConnell students assisted with Dr. Sattler’s research: “We set up mist nets in the woods and played a recording of a Saw-Whet Owl call. Owls responded to this recording, flew toward it, and got caught in the nets in the process. Every 45 minutes throughout the night, we walked the half mile into the woods and checked the nets. If there were owls, we carefully untangled them and brought them back to the building where they were processed.”

Hennigan explained that processing the owls’ means their weight, gender, age, fat content, length and overall health are determined. Owls are checked for a little metal band, or ring, to see if they’ve been caught previously; If there is no band, one is placed on the owl’s lower leg. The ring has a serial number that is recorded on a data base and researchers can determine important information such as when and where it was caught, who caught it, and compare how the owls change throughout the migratory season. Once this process is finished, the group gently releases the owls back into the wild. Mist nets are then folded up so that the owls are not accidently caught, Hennigan shared.

“Students had a good time and they participated in a field experience that gave them a working knowledge of how ecological field work is done,” he said.

Ariana Hall, a student who participated on the trip, said: “I find this trip to be necessary for many biology majors. It allows them to see the actual application of what they are studying. These owls are so beautiful and complex, and I think that actually holding them and observing them allows us to better appreciate our Lord’s creativity.”

Ashely Thain, another student who was a part of the trip, said “it was super fun to have the opportunity to study those birds and I really enjoyed talking to the other people who went with us. There were plenty of professors and other scientifically minded people there and they created a wonderful learning atmosphere. They were full of questions and were always discussing different scientific theories, and it was so neat to get to listen.”

In November of this year, Professor Hennigan will embark on the same journey with another group of students who are interested in participating in hands-on ecological work.


Katey Hennigan is a freelance writer for Truett-McConnell

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