APPLICATIONS FOR SUMMER 2015 are now CLOSED
The REU Site in Raptor Research (REU-RR) is funded by the National Science Foundation and Boise State University. REU-RR is a 10-week summer research program located at Boise State University, Boise, Idaho. Field and laboratory research projects are available for students.
The goal of the REU-Raptor Research site is to engage undergraduates in biological research using birds of prey (hawks, owls, falcons, and eagles) as model systems. Though partnerships among the Department of Biological Sciences and Raptor Research Center at Boise State University, The Peregrine Fund, Inc., Intermountain Bird Observatory, College of Western Idaho, and the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, undergraduates will spend 10 weeks conducting field and/or laboratory research under the guidance of experienced mentors from academia, government, and NGOs. Students also participate in a core program that includes workshops on the biology of diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey, endangered species restoration, responsible conduct of research, applying to graduate school, the publication process, and scientific communication. The summer research experience for REU-RR participants culminates with a statewide interdisciplinary summer research conference that provides participants the opportunity to communicate their work to a diverse audience of students and scientists.
SUMMER 2015 Dates are May 26 – July 31, 2015
Applications for Summer 2015 are now CLOSED. Please see the Application Tab for additional information and to apply to REU-Raptor Research. Please know that REU-Raptor Research welcomes your application. We are especially interested in receiving applications from groups underrepresented in science (i.e., women and racial minorities), first generation college students, persons with disabilities or veterans of military service, and students from institutions where research opportunities in STEM are limited.
If you have questions, please contact:
Dr. Jim Belthoff, REU-RR
Department of Biological Sciences and
Raptor Research Center
Boise State University
Boise, ID 83725
Boise, Idaho is known throughout the world as a hub for raptor research. It is home to the Raptor Research Center (RRC) at Boise State University, The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey, the Intermountain Bird Observatory at Boise State University, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, and the Raptor Biology Graduate Program in the Department of Biological Sciences (DBS) at Boise State University.
The REU-RR is designed to use raptor research as a model to understand biological phenomena and interactions, and to provide participants opportunity for a cohort experience, mentored research, and professional development. Research on raptors will use modern tools to address questions ranging from molecular ecology to ecosystem processes and span both basic and applied science. Students will gain broad exposure as well as focused study.
For additional information or if you have questions, please contact:
Dr. Jim Belthoff, REU-RR
Department of Biological Sciences and
Raptor Research Center
Boise State University
Boise, ID 83725
Below are some of the mentors for REU-Raptor Research. Note that some mentors may not have openings each year, and some mentors may have several openings for REU students. It is likely that mentors not listed below with expertise in raptor biology will also participate, but the list below should give students an idea of the research areas of mentors and collaborative opportunities.
Dr. David AndersonProgram Director for The Peregrine Fund’s Gyrfalcon and Tundra Conservation Project
Research Interests: I am the Program Director for The Peregrine Fund’s Gyrfalcon and Tundra Conservation project. My goal is to learn how climate change may affect the breeding biology and population status of Gyrfalcons throughout the Arctic through a series of cascading effects that ripple through the entire tundra ecosystem. This is a new program, and we are starting field studies in western Alaska on Gyrfalcon diet, and factors related to population biology like productivity, occupancy, and nest site selection. See Dr. Anderson’s Peregrine Fund web page here. Dr. Anderson’s Raptor Research Center web page is here.
Dr. Marc BechardProfessor, Department of Biological Sciences and Interim Director Raptor Research Center, Boise State University
Research Interests: I am interested in plants and animals, particularly birds. I have conducted botanical and air pollution research projects but more recently have turned to ecological studies of the habitat needs of such birds of prey as eagles, hawks, falcons, and ospreys with the aim of helping to preserve biological diversity.
- Northern Goshawk Breeding Ecology in aspen forests of Nevada. With the help of two graduate students, I have addressed the issue of habitat requirements of this species when nesting in an unusual setting like high- elevation aspen forests.
- Swainson’s Hawk Migration. I am conducting satellite telemetry study in cooperation with several federal, state and private entities to document the routes and wintering areas of this species in while it migrates to Argentina.
- Kestrel Population Ecology. I am conducting a long-term study of the longevity and lifetime reproduction of American kestrels that breed in nest boxes in an agricultural setting
Dr. Jim BelthoffProfessor, Department of Biological Sciences and Raptor Research Center, Boise State University and PI on REU-Raptor Research
Research Interests: Much of my research focuses on the biology, behavior, and ecology of owls and other birds. I’m interested in dispersal, migration, mating systems, territoriality, ectoparasites and disease ecology, and how habitat conversion to agriculture affects birds of prey. I have current projects related to the population biology, behavioral ecology, ectoparasites, and conservation of burrowing owls; roadway mortality and ecology of barn owls; and the biology of flammulated owls and western screech-owls. Visit Jim Belthoff’s faculty page here.
Dr. Jay CarlisleResearch Director, Intermountain Bird Observatory (IBO) and Department of Biological Sciences, Boise State University
Research Interests: Jay’s research interests are focused on the stopover ecology, habitat needs, and conservation of migratory land birds in the West and in Latin America. He has authored and co-authored over 15 peer-reviewed publications, many of which focus on migration and stopover issues, as well as numerous technical reports. He also dreams of establishing a year-round research program that would include migration and wintering studies in Latin America. Equally important, Jay really enjoys the outreach aspects of IBO’s many programs and hopes that IBO can be instrumental in instilling a conservation ethic in and around the communities in which we work. In 2010, Jay and several colleagues at Idaho Department of Fish and Game began working to form the Idaho Bird Conservation Partnership (IBCP), an effort designed to contribute to the management, science delivery, outreach, and conservation of birds and their habitats in Idaho via enhanced collaboration and communication. Jay is now excited to be serving as the part-time coordinator for the IBCP. In his free time, Jay enjoys birding, soccer, hiking, biking, trying to speak Spanish, and international travel. Visit Jay Carlisle’s page here.
Dr. Mark FullerAffiliate Faculty, Raptor Research Center, Boise State University
Research Interests: Avian habitat associations, annual movements; Raptor population dynamics, survey and monitoring, food habits; natural resources conservation. Visit Mark Fuller’s USGS page here and his Peregrine Fund profile here.
Dr. Julie HeathAssociate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences and Raptor Research Center, Boise State University
Research Interests: My lab addresses questions about how birds survive and reproduce in human-dominated environments. We use physiological and behavioral ecology approaches to understand interactions between global change and bird populations. Much of the research in my lab has focused on avian reproduction and migration. Studies that aid in our understanding of the links between habitat conditions and the physiological or behavioral mechanisms that are driving population declines can help inform wildlife management and aid in the conservation of declining species. Visit Julie Heath’s faculty page here.
Greg KalteneckerExecutive Director, Intermountain Bird Observatory (IBO), Boise State University
Research Interests: One of Greg’s objectives was to provide an exciting and real-life research and training opportunity for Boise State students while conducting long-term research and community outreach. Greg’s research passion is bird migration, and his lifelong pursuit is to educate the public about birds, science, and conservation. He believes that a strong public community presence is critical to being an effective scientist and the easiest way to accomplish conservation is through active public engagement. The most rewarding part of his life is sharing his passion with the local public, and introducing children to birds, nature, and the outdoors. In his spare time, Greg can be found enjoying the public lands of Idaho while fishing, hunting, and hiking. His thoughts and efforts focus on his family including wife Deniz and two daughters Ayla and Alara. He daydreams often of his favorite outdoor pursuit: saltwater fly fishing, and Greg and family vacation to the sea as much as possible to chase this passion. Visit Greg Kaltenecker’s page here.
Dusty PerkinsAssistant Professor, Department of Life Sciences, College of Western Idaho and Affiliate Research Scientist, Boise State University
Research Interests: My research interests include conservation biology, population genetics and ecology. My work uses molecular approaches to address questions related to population structure, gene flow, and the evolutionary and demographic processes that shape genetic diversity. My research also focuses on evaluating the impacts of human activities and land management practices on the food habits and breeding ecology of animal populations.
Dr. Jim SmithProfessor, Department of Biological Sciences, Boise State University
Research Interests: My laboratory focuses on molecular approaches to addressing evolutionary questions in animals and plants. Advances in the past 20+ years have enabled the use of DNA to rapidly answer many important biological questions in a cost-effective manner. Among these are questions relating to gene flow, population structure, species boundaries, source of migrants, and identifying species using DNA barcoding, all of which can be applied to raptor biology. Visit Jim Smith’s faculty page here.
Below are some examples of potential projects. The projects on which REU participants work may include one or more of these or others not listed depending on student and mentor interest at the time of selection of program participants and as Summer 2015 approaches.
Dr. David Anderson’s Project
Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus) have an interesting diet. Early in the breeding season the only type of prey that is available to them are ptarmigan (Lagopus spp.). As other types of prey become available later in the breeding seasons, such as migratory birds or young squirrels and foxes, they gradually incorporate these into the diet as well.
The goal of this project is model the complex relationship between shifts in the timing of the availability of alternative prey, and their potential affects on reproductive success in Gyrfalcons. Diet studies are based on videos at the nest and the collection of prey remains. REU-RR students will have the opportunity to analyze the diet composition of Gyrfalcons, or other raptors of the Seward Peninsula, such as Golden Eagles and Rough-legged Hawks.
Dr. Marc Bechard’s ProjectThe movement ecology of migrating raptors is poorly understood, often because of the great distances these birds cover during annual movements. The development of satellite telemetry has greatly facilitated data collection. I have been conducting collaborative research with Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (Orwigsburg, PA) on the movements of migrating turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) in Argentina. Turkey vultures were equipped with satellite transmitters and have been tracked for three years. Sufficient data are now available to characterize the movement ecology of the vultures and address research questions about the factors influencing vulture movement.
The goal of this project is to use GIS to understand the spatial ecology and migration patterns of vultures. The REU-RR student will evaluate hypotheses concerning spatial use, age-related differences in the timing of migration, and habitat use on wintering grounds and along migration routes. The REU-RR student will have the opportunity to learn about satellite telemetry and GIS and interact with graduate students and other collaborators at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
Dr. Jim Belthoff’s Projects
Research in the Belthoff lab focuses on avian ecology, behavior, population dynamics, management, and conservation.Thousands of barn owls die annually along this highway; in fact, we have documented the highest roadway mortality rates of owls reported world-wide. Our research is focused on deciphering the factors contributing to the high rates and experimentally testing mitigation alternatives to reduce collisions. We also use the carcasses to address hypotheses related to evolution or the biology of birds; e.g., two recent papers tested relationships between plumage ornamentation and individual quality, and whether beak and claw morphology is related to ectoparasite prevalence and intensity.
The goal of this project is to document barn owl use of the highway corridor. REU-RR participants will document 1) barn owl activity using radiotelemetry, 2) the effects of mortality on population dynamics using occupancy and demographic modeling, 3) the role of perch availability in influencing highway mortality, or 4) the effect of small mammal abundance on owls along roads. Some overnight travel from Boise will occur required.Using a variety of field experiments and follow up laboratory studies, we examine the behavioral ecology of burrowing owls in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. REU-RR students will learn how to capture, handle, and mark burrowing owls, obtain feather and other tissue samples for analysis, and conduct field field ecology and behavior research.This study will use blood samples collected during long-term studies of these species. REU-RR participants will combine field and laboratory studies to address questions about multiple parentage in nests, genetic diversity within and between populations, offspring sex ratios, relationship between morphology and sex, or to identify the source populations of barn owls dying along the interstate.
Dr. Jay Carlisle and Greg Kaltenecker’s ProjectThe IBO and Boise State partner with the USDA Sawtooth National Forest to study breeding northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis), a species of special concern for many land management agencies, in southern Idaho. This population has been studied for the past decade for occupancy and productivity at a subset of historic nesting territories. The population is unusual in that (1) it occurs in an area lacking tree squirrels, which are important prey in virtually every other portion of this species’ geographic range, and (2), though the species typically is found in coniferous forests, in the South Hills it resides in both aspen (Populus tremuloides) and coniferous forests.
The goal of this project is to examine and model the complex relationship between prey availability and habitat structure of nesting areas with occupancy and nesting success. Studies are planned that focus on the importance of annual variation in prey availability, genetic population structure, demography, and the impacts of endo- and ectoparasites on nestling health and survival. REU-RR students will gain field experience and draw from published literature to design their research questions. Students will have access to long-term data sets to address novel questions on raptor migration, predator-prey dynamics, and/or aspects of northern goshawk nesting ecology. Field experience will include prey availability sampling (count transects and songbird mist-netting), nest-searching, capture/banding of northern goshawk nestlings and breeding adults, and collection of blood, ectoparasites, and/or feather samples. Some overnight travel of REU-RR students from Boise is required.
Dr. Mark Fuller’s ProjectSurveys for raptors often require special design and field procedures because many individuals often are widely dispersed and thus are detected infrequently across the landscape. This is problematic for research of occurrence, abundance, and behavior such as habitat use. Imperfect detection also presents a problem when species are not reliably sampled even though they are present. This information is important to determine the efficacy of restoration activities currently underway within the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (NCA) to combat the effects of invasive species, fire, and human activities on habitat change.
The goal of this project is to design and execute a field study to estimate raptor occurrence and habitat use in the NCA. REU-RR students will be mentored through the research steps associated with study design, selection of field procedures for at least two types of topography and vegetation environments, gathering field data, data management, analysis, and interpretation and reporting of results. The basic analysis procedures will be occupancy estimation and modeling using Program Presence or Program Mark. We will test hypotheses about the effects of time of observation and extent of sample plots on probability of detection and estimates of occupancy. This project includes collaboration with DBS faculty and staff.
Dr. Julie Heath’s ProjectHuman activities are driving rapid changes in climate and land use (e.g., increased suburban sprawl and recreation in wild areas) and these human-induced changes are affecting avian life histories and population ecology. In southwest Idaho, minimum winter temperatures have warmed significantly over the past 20 years and the number of American kestrels (Falco sparverius) over-wintering in Idaho has significantly increased. Over-wintering kestrels nest earlier in the breeding season than migrant kestrels and are likely to have higher reproductive success because the timing of reproduction has important implications for local fitness (i.e., nestlings hatched early in the season have a higher probability of survival and recruitment than nestlings hatched later in the season). Also, during the last 20 years, American kestrel nesting phenology has advanced by ~28 days.
The goal of this project is to work with an American kestrel nest box population that has been studied since 1987 to study the effects of global change on population ecology. Potential investigations include: 1) Examining the physiological differences between over-wintering and migrant birds; 2) Determining the costs or trade-offs of over-wintering near Idaho breeding areas; and 3) Exploring endogenous and exogenous factors that contribute to the seasonal decline in fecundity. Visits to kestrel nest boxes are safe and dependable so that we can quickly train students on how to handle birds, minimize investigator disturbance, accurately collect and record data, and obtain an appropriate sample size. The extensive history of research on this population, covering a broad range of topics, provides a rich background that will help to develop new ideas for student research. Given the increasing importance in understanding human impacts on biological systems, participation will provide students experience with subject matter and research questions that they are likely to encounter in future academic or professional work.
Dusty Perkin’s ProjectOsprey (Pandion hailaetus) populations have been a focal point of conservation and study since their decline during the 1950s-1970s. Despite strong population recoveries in most regions of the USA, the density of breeding ospreys in some areas appears highly variable; with many localities unoccupied despite the apparent existence of quality habitat. Our research is focused on evaluating and quantifying the diversity of abiotic and biotic factors that affect osprey nest occupancy, breeding success and productivity in a human-dominated ecosystem in Long Valley, ID. To accomplish this, we use a diversity of field techniques as well as geospatial analyses to quantify and test the relative impacts of a several variables related to site characteristics, water quality, habitat, prey availability, human disturbance and environmental contaminants.
The goal of this project is to explore the influences of nest site characteristics, prey availability and human disturbance on osprey site occupancy and breeding success. This field season, we will expand our efforts to collect and analyze data for water body characteristics as well as land use and cover. REU-RR participants will be mentored through each step of the research process and will learn how to use field research techniques to study osprey breeding biology. Participants will gain experience collecting data for habitat evaluations and making observations to quantify human disturbance and will learn to handle, measurement and mark osprey nestlings. Some overnight travel from Boise will be required.
Dr. Jim Smith’s ProjectDr. Smith’s laboratory focuses on molecular approaches to addressing evolutionary questions. Advances in the past 20+ years have enabled the use of DNA to rapidly answer many important biological questions in a cost-effective manner. Among these are questions relating to gene flow, population structure, species boundaries, source of migrants, and identifying species using DNA barcoding, all of which can be applied to raptor biology.
The goal of this project is to conduct population genetic studies of raptors using microsatellite markers that have already been developed for American kestrels, burrowing owls, barn owls, and western screech-owls. DNA can be extracted from either blood or feather samples and and analyzed. REU-RR participants could engage in any of several investigations. For example, a student with a strong interest in population genetics could analyze samples already collected. Or a student could gain experience in field and laboratory techniques by spending time with one mentor to learn field techniques and sample collection and then spend the remaining time conducting DNA analyses. All REU-RR participants under my direction, regardless of their focus, will be given detailed and personal instruction on each of the techniques to be employed (DNA extraction, PCR amplification, running gels, scoring data, and data analysis and interpretation).
REU-Raptor Research Benefits for Participants
Student Research Conference
REU-RR participants present the results of their research during an interdisciplinary undergraduate research conference.
REU-RR participants gain hands on research experience with birds of prey and their habitats.
Snake River Birds of Prey Area
REU-RR participants will have opportunity to work within the world-famous Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.
REU Student with nestling Osprey near Lake Cascade, Idaho
Banding Ferruginous Hawks in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey Area
Osprey Banding near Cascade, Idaho
Learning climbing techniques to access raptor nests
Our summer research program is an excellent way for students to gain skills and prepare for graduate school and a career in a STEM field. In addition to the research experiences and professional development opportunities afforded by REU-RR, each participant will also receive:
- A stipend of $5,000
- Campus housing with internet access
- A supplement for purchase of some meals, and
- Travel expenses to and from Boise
For questions, please contact:
Dr. Jim Belthoff, REU-RR
Department of Biological Sciences and
Raptor Research Center
Boise State University
Boise, ID 83725
APPLICATIONS FOR SUMMER 2015 ARE NOW CLOSED
We welcome applications from students interested in a variety of biological disciplines who are interested in field or laboratory research. We are especially interested in receiving applications from groups underrepresented in science (i.e., women and racial minorities), first generation college students, persons with disabilities, those returning from military service, and students from institutions where research opportunities in STEM are limited.
To be eligible for the REU-RR program, you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
- Not be graduating with your undergraduate degree until at least Fall 2015
- Be a full-time college or university student, and
- Be available for full-time program participation and research during the 10-week summer program from May 26 – July 31, 2015 (or dates close to these).
Summer 2015 Application Instructions for REU-Raptor Research:
To apply to our program you must complete Step 1 and Step 2 below:
1. Complete the online application by the February 20, 2015 priority deadline.
The online application requests the following information (which should be assembled prior to starting the form):
- Contact information
- Academic information that includes colleges/universities attended, major, year in school, expected graduation date, GPA (overall and science/math), and grades for up to 10 science/math courses.
- An electronic copy of college transcripts (unofficial is suitable) that includes Fall 2014 grades and Spring 2015 classes for which you are registered.
- Education and career plans.
- Demographic and background information, including citizenship status, race/ethnicity, military experience, and parent/guardian education information.
- Two short essays (each no more than 300 words) that describe 1) why you want to participate and what you expect to get out of the program, and 2) any prior relevant experience (e.g., research, laboratory classes, employment, etc.). We suggest preparing your essays in advance using word processing software and then copying the text into the form when you are ready to submit the application.
The online application for summer 2015 is now closed:
2. Request two letters of reference from academic faculty.
- At least one of the references must be able to comment on your potential for independent research. Both should attempt to comment on your interest in science, motivation, work ethic, etc.
Request that the reference providers submit their letters/comments at the following website:
- Request that the letters be submitted by the February 20, 2015 deadline.
Applications received on or before February 20, 2015 will be given priority. Late applications may be considered if there are still openings in the program. Any questions should be directed to Dr. Jim Belthoff via the contact information below. Email correspondence is preferred.