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Studying American Kestrels with Summer Research Fellow Kara Kutsch

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American Kestrel
KARA KUTSCH '21

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. (Westminster College)-- Meet Kara Kutsch, one of 10 students selected for a 2020 Summer Research Fellowship. During Kara’s fellowship, she examined what impact the removal of European starlings from American kestrel nest boxes would have. The senior biology major and secondary education minor from Home, Pennsylvania, is a member of the Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society and the Lambda Sigma Honor Society. Her project, “Measuring the Effect of European Starling Removal on American Kestrel Nest Box Use,” was mentored by Dr. Kerri Duerr, associate professor of biology.

Why did you apply for the Summer Research Fellowship?

I applied for the fellowship because it helped me to expand on my capstone research, primarily. The idea of applying for the program was out of my comfort zone, but with Dr. Duerr's encouragement, I felt more comfortable going into my summer research—and I'm so glad I took the chance to pursue this program.

Talk about your research.

In my project, “Measuring the Effect of European Starling Removal on American Kestrel Nest Box Use,” I am researching population dynamics between the American kestrel and the European starling. More specifically, I am looking at how the removal of European starlings from American kestrel nest boxes impacts kestrel nest box use. Kestrel populations are declining in North America, and competition for nesting sites with invasive starlings may be contributing to their decline. I chose this project because I have studied invasive species in the past and I thought it would be meaningful to me if I could help to prevent an invasive species from driving yet another amazing native species to extinction. If the results from this study show that removing starlings from the nest boxes allows more kestrels to occupy them both within and across breeding seasons, this project will shed a light on the reasons for the kestrel’s population declines.

Tell us about your faculty mentor and how it was working remotely this summer.

Dr. Duerr was more than willing to take the time to call, text or video chat when I had questions. She also encouraged me throughout the whole process, making me feel more confident in my skills. I am glad I chose Dr. Duerr to be my mentor and help me with my project this summer. I think it was a great experience and I would recommend everyone to do summer research! Though the remote nature of this year's program did make understanding proper field techniques more difficult, Dr. Duerr and I were able to communicate weekly and do our research without major issues with the help of Zoom.

What are your post-Westminster plans?

I am pursing secondary education after graduation. I hope to share my research experience with my future biology students and inspire some of them to explore biology after high school, since I have similar memories from my high school science teachers.

To learn more about Westminster’s biology major, visit www.westminster.edu/biology.

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