Every morning since mid-May—including weekends—Dominique Iaccarino ’19, Rojas Oliva ’19, and Natalie Wigger ’19, pull on rubber boots, gather their gear, and wander down to Amherst’s bird sanctuary to study Tree Swallow nestlings. The rising sophomores are Amherst Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF). 

Designed to give undergraduates an opportunity to conduct research and experience what it’s like to be a scientist, the ten-week SURF fellowships are in high demand. The Tree Swallow team checks 80 nest boxes, weighing baby birds, called nestlings, and measuring their bodies—head, bill, torso, and wing length. They also take blood samples.

Back at the lab each afternoon, the students test the blood and look for the presence of blowfly larvae, a parasite that will give them insight into bird behavior and parasite-host relationships.

The Tree Swallow team is mentored by Professor Ethan Clotfelter. This summer Amherst SURF students have faculty mentors in biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy, math and statistics, geology, neuroscience and psychology.