Colby-Sawyer senior Calum Dixon, an environmental studies major from Avon, Maine, was awarded the Nellie Johnson Baroody Award at the American Ornithological Society’s (AOS) annual meeting in Tucson.
The award, which includes an honorarium, recognizes an outstanding presentation of research by a student. Dixon’s poster presentation, “Examining Temporal Changes in Morphology, Population Dynamics and Wind Migration Patterns of Raptor Species Migrating Through Cape May, New Jersey,” was selected from among 240 entries.
The poster presentation encapsulates months of research and analysis conducted with Dixon’s adviser, Professor of Natural and Environmental Sciences Nick Baer.
The student-faculty duo traveled to Cape May to assist in raptor banding, and then Dixon launched his three-prong research project. He evaluated morphological data collected by the Cape May Raptor Banding Project over 49 years to evaluate wing chord length temporally; assessed population dynamics of six raptor species over a 40-year period using migration count data; and compared migration on north and west wind days to days with other wind directions using wind direction data and daily migration counts.
“Professor Baer and I were excited to have the opportunity to be part of the AOS conference and be among such accomplished researchers, including Professor of Natural and Environmental Sciences Ben Steele,” Dixon said. “When we heard about the award, we reacted with shock and pure joy. I worked hard on the project and am pleased the judges saw that in my work.”
Dixon’s work, according to Professor Baer, will provide a better understanding of long-term patterns in hawk populations. Populations of the American Kestrel and the Sharp-shinned Hawk, for example, have declined over recent decades, while Cooper’s Hawk and Peregrine Falcon populations show growth. The research also verifies that migrating raptors take advantage of the autumn north westerly winds to migrate through Cape May. Perhaps most interesting, Dixon’s analysis shows raptor wing lengths are slightly smaller over time, which suggests there may be some selective force impacting the bird morphology.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Calum; he did a lot of hard work to analyze several large data sets, teach himself a new statistics tool and engage researchers from around the country to improve his analyses,” Professor Baer said. “It was a wonderful opportunity for him to present at a national conference, and winning the best student presentation award is a great honor, especially when most of the presentations are graduate students. I look forward to continuing Calum’s work with future students, as it sparks further analysis and new questions to explore.”
Dixon will graduate on May 5 and plans to pursue a career in environmental law.
“My time at Colby-Sawyer has been characterized by learning about the interconnected parts that make up the world we live in and then going out to experience them firsthand. Those experiences have motivated me to do my part to protect and conserve our natural wonders and ensure they will be available for others to benefit from in the future,” Dixon said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my professors and advisers for their dedication to fostering my success at Colby-Sawyer. I couldn’t ask for a better group of individuals.”