By Mike Servedio
Academy member Victoria Sindlinger has been interested in birds since she was four years old. Last year, two experiences with the Academy allowed her to explore these fascinating creatures in depth. First, she took an ornithology class with the Academy’s former Director of Visual Resources for Ornithology (VIREO) Doug Wechsler. And last September, while attending Members’ Night, she struck up a conversation with Academy ornithologists.
That night she learned that the research collection accepted specimen donations, and she quickly realized the Academy was the perfect place to donate the dead birds she had been collecting during her bird-watching travels. Since Members’ Night, she has contributed five birds to the collection, including a red-tailed hawk.
“When we came to Members’ Night and we saw them skinning birds, we asked where they got them from, and we were told that some were donated,” Sindlinger says. “We were excited to find someone that accepted them because we were finding a lot.”
Sindlinger told me about her investigation of the wing shapes of local birds, a science fair project she started in 2015. Entitled “Bird Wing Shape Across Different Habitats,” the project hypothesized that birds from similar habitats have similar wing shapes and that each habitat supports a unique wing shape. She used a total of 99 bird wing specimens from 52 different bird species, all drawn from the Academy’s renowned Ornithology Collection.
The young scientist measured the wings with a wing ruler, calculated the hand-wing index, or distance from the “finger” bones to the longest feathers, and then recorded that data. She gathered habitat and behavior information from Cornell University’s “All About Birds” website and summarized and recorded habitat information from Birds of North America: Eastern Region. She then assigned each specimen to one of five habitats: forest, marsh, open air, pond and river, or shoreline. She repeated this process for male and female birds if specimens of each were available.
Sindlinger’s research confirmed her first hypothesis that birds living in the same habitat have similar wing shapes. She concluded that each habitat does not support a unique wing shape, a finding that contradicted her second hypothesis.
Sindlinger submitted her project to the Homeschool Science Fair as well as the George Washington Carver Science Fair, held at the Academy in February. She won First Place at the Homeschool Fair and in the Life Science Category for sixth-graders at the Carver Fair. She also won the Vince Russo Award for Data Presentation and Best of Fair for all of sixth grade at the Carver Fair.
The Academy is proud to count this young naturalist among our members and contributors. Congratulations, Victoria, for your outstanding accomplishments in the field of ornithology!
This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 issue of Academy Frontiers.