One of the best things about Project SNOWstorm has been the opportunity for us to work with up-and-coming young biologists. We’d like to introduce you all to one of those energetic collaborators: Andrea Brown, a 25-year-old from Montréal, Québec.
Andrea started her undergraduate honors thesis, supervised by McGill University professor Dr. Kyle Elliott, and McGill Ph.D. candidate Rebecca McCabe (herself a long-time SNOWstorm team member) in the winter of 2019. After discussing potential projects, Andrea showed a special interest in the spring migratory behavior of snowy owls.
Andrea spent her first semester reading scientific articles and writing her literature review. In the spring she visited Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania to work with Rebecca and Dr. Jean-François Therrien (again, a SNOWstorm founder) to start her analysis. She also got to spend some time in the field, banding eastern screech-owl nestlings, and learning about various aspects of raptor research at the sanctuary.
During the fall semester, Andrea finished her analysis and wrote her undergraduate thesis. Using Project SNOWstorm’s dataset along with a dataset from Dr. Karen Wiebe of the University of Saskatchewan, from owls tagged in that province, Andrea analyzed the spring movements of 24 owls and compared the migration phenology and use of stopovers among sex and age classes. She and her co-authors just published the resulting paper — “Nomadic breeders Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) do not use stopovers to sample the summer environment” — in the prestigious journal Ibis. They found that adult snowies completed migration earlier than immatures, with no difference in the number of stopovers or time spent at each stopover. In addition, they found that snowy owls had a higher probability of making stopovers at the beginning of migration that at the end.
“I really enjoyed this work because it gave me hands-on experience in data cleaning and analysis, mapping in QGIS, working with RStudio [an open-source statistical package] and writing a scientific article. I even improved my public speaking skills when I had to present my research project at a symposium in my fall semester!” Andrea said.
Andrea recently presented her results at the Canadian Society of Zoologist’s online meeting and created this wonderful animation to go along with the paper, which is online early in Ibis. (We’ve also included a static image of the resulting map, at right.)
Currently, Andrea is working on her master’s in biology at McGill University with Dr. Laura Pollock. Her new research focuses on a vulnerability risk assessment of Canadian birds to climate change.
We would like to thank Andrea for all of her hard work. The entire team at Project SNOWstorm is grateful for the time, dedication, and enthusiasm she showed, and we’re certain she is going to continue to do great things.