Published: Dec. 7, 2020

During my junior at CU Boulder, I began the process of working on an honors thesis in the Safran lab. I knew I wanted to study parental care in Barn Swallows, and after a lot of reading, I landed on a research question: how do barn swallows alter their feeding effort in response to changes in nestling number? This question addresses life-history trade-offs, a fundamental concept in animal behavior and evolutionary biology. Life history is the timing, rate, and nature of life events, and there are trade-offs between life history traits, which include things such as lifespan, number of offspring, and frequency of reproduction. Organisms have finite resources and must balance, for instance, whether they invest those resources in the offspring they currently have or in their own condition and potential to produce more offspring in the future.  My thesis research seeks to understand how Barn Swallow parents balance the costs and benefits of investment in their current offspring—if the number of offspring they have is manipulated, will they flexibly alter how much they feed those offspring? If they have more mouths to feed, will they change their foraging strategies?  Exciting new technology, lightweight GPS tags that can be deployed on small songbirds, has allowed me to examine how Barn Swallows alter their foraging behavior in response to changes in nestling number. The process of completing an honors thesis has been a wonderful experience and has no doubt improved my skills in multiple aspects of the scientific process, from experimental design to reporting my results. I hope to make use of these skills in the coming years as I apply to graduate programs in animal behavior.