The no longer so secret lives of the gulls

The Portsmouth Public Library hosted me for a public gull talk via Zoom this month, and they kindly recorded it so it could reach a wider audience. Here it is, for your consideration. I am hoping this means I gain newfound respect with my 12 year old, for whom being a YouTuber is the ultimate life goal.

July banding “week” a qualified success

In a normal year, we head out to Appledore Island in mid-July to catch and band the young of the year. They grow fast, and we have to try to get there in the sweet spot when they are large enough to band, but not large enough to fly away when we chase them. This year, with COVID restrictions still in place, Shoals Marine Lab could not give us time on island until the end of July and early August. We decided to chance it anyway and accepted the slot.

Within hours of arrival, it was clear that most of the young birds were fledged, fledging, or dead. The island had a calm, quiet quality that I am ill-accustomed to. We elected to try banding the next day, and if the pickings were slim, we’d truncate our trip and leave early. Reader, the pickings were slim. That morning we set out chasing after the young birds, and in most cases, instead of remaining earthbound and running around like chickens, they simply lifted off and glided several meters away each time. We had no hope of catching most of them, though with a madcap strategy of flushing them into thickets and then leaping in after them, we came away with over two dozen banded chicks, as well as a crop of raised welts and wheals on our skin from a heady blend of poison ivy, raspberry thorn, and stinging nettle. For science.

The team crouches around a young gull, restrained in a canvas bag, as its blood is sampled and bands placed. The parent looks on from a dirt pile.

We were running a lean team anyway, with Mary Elizabeth and I marginally in charge, and our crew of gull catchers: Sean, Dylan, Val, Emma, Isabelle, Marina, and Beck. All of them had volunteered their time with us, taking a break from mainland obligations (and paid work) to aid us in our endeavors. We also had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Anjali, who has spotted banded gulls for us for a while, and has a particular fondness for 2E2. We instructed her on where to find him on island (reliably on the roof of the Sunset Pavilion gazebo), and then later, she joined us for gull catching too. We had some intriguing conversations about her plans to pursue a PhD, and her interest in studying gulls for same. Hopefully, we’ll be following up on how our project might plausibly be patchworked in with the expertise of some data wonk/analysis types to forge a science synergy we’ve long imagined.

After the fair amount of success we had on Thursday, we found that there were precious few chicks left for us to band. They either could fly, or were unflighted, but not part of our study population. So, Mary Elizabeth, Sean, Val, Isabelle and I headed off island on Friday morning. This saves our project some money, but there was yet work to be done, so Dylan, Beck, Emma, and Marina remained behind to spend two and a half days focused on resighting banded birds on island. This critical work sometimes gets set aside when banding is in high gear, but there is truly no point to banding if no one ever goes looking for where those bands turn up. With the human population on Appledore lower than normal because of the pandemic, we had fewer students and other visitors to make incidental sightings for us. It therefore struck us an excellent use of time and funds to station our partial team there to traverse the whole island and scour it for every band they could spot. We left them with a bag full of binoculars, a spotting scope, bike helmets, and their own intrepid spirits, waving as our boat headed for Portsmouth.

As ever, this project runs almost entirely on volunteer power, time, and energy. It is with profound gratitude to everyone who gave all three this summer that we set this field season in the books, and hope for better days, and banding weeks, next year.

Anthropomorphize that Rat with Wings!

Today’s Guest Blogger is UNH student Rachel Lewis, a current Field Ornithology student on Appledore.

Those pesky seagulls, stealing food at the beach, dive-bombing the peaceful beach goer. It doesn’t take much to see why so many people find gulls annoying and intrusive. And yet, with a little more understanding and a shift in perspective, the beachgoer may not be so inclined to call these birds their (obviously affectionate) nickname, “rats with wings”.

2E2 pilfering. Photo by Dave Adrien

Introducing: anthropomorphism, the practice of applying human characteristics like thought and emotion to anything that is not human. The object can be anything from a lamp to a god, to (you guessed it) a gull. Many people, ranging from the general public to lab scientists, hear the word “anthropomorphize” and immediately think ‘Wait! I shouldn’t do that! That’s bad!’, but that’s not entirely true. Sure, at the current moment there is no way to be 100% sure that an animal is feeling what you and I would describe as sadness, happiness, longing, love, etc., but to observe any animal in its natural habitat is to be immersed in its world. To study its behaviour, even through simple methods like focal sampling, is to try and understand the world through its eyes.

Author and marine biologist Carl Safina, in a 2015 interview with Becca Cudmore for the National Audubon Society, was asked the question, “How did you come to distinguish ‘who’ from ‘it’ animals?”. Essentially, this question is asking ‘why do you find it inappropriate to hurt some animals, but not others for entertainment or study’. Safina talked about how they are fine with other people fishing or hunting deer, but think someone killing a dolphin, ape, or elephant as murder. When they delved deeper into why they felt this way while writing their book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, Safina made the connection that the latter animals experience personal, individual relationships in which what happens to the individual significantly affects others in its family or population. The ‘who’ animals remember each other. They build societies and families off of interactions with each other. Safina gave the example of ravens relating to each other, like primates do.

I have been observing the gulls on Appledore Island, Maine, USA for just a few days. Yet, still, in this short amount of time, I find it impossible to observe their behaviour and still come away thinking  that these birds are pests. Currently, the Herring and Great Black-Backed Gull populations on the island are nesting, hatching, and raising chicks. This has given me the unique opportunity to observe interactions between mates, parents, and offspring, and to see how willing the gulls are to defend their young from any perceived threat. The commitment that these birds have to parenting their young is quite endearing, even as they charge you for unwittingly getting too close to their nest, hidden in the brush on the side of the trail.

A lovely couple caring for their chicks.

I have seen mates rushing back to the nest to help defend from a gull attack. I have seen mates working together to build their nest, exhibiting ‘choking’ behaviour when they agree, which to me looks like a vigorous bird nod, each time eliciting a smile from behind my mask. I have seen chicks begging for food. I have seen eggs being incubated. I have seen parents protecting their hatching chicks, and mates exhibiting partnering behaviours, like trusting each other enough to turn away and let them watch your back. There have even been off-island observations of chicks from past years coming back and their parents feeding them still, even when they have a new clutch for the year. With each new behaviour that I have been lucky enough to observe, it becomes increasingly clear that the lives of these gulls are built off of these interactions on Appledore throughout the nesting and breeding season. They construct intimate relationships with their relatives as well as their mates. If these relationships were to be altered or lost, it would significantly affect the well-being and quality of life for the individual gull. Safina would refer to a gull as a ‘who’ animal, and so do many of the researchers on Appledore who coexist with the gulls through every breeding season.

Back to the beachgoer: it is important to remember that on the beach, we are in the gull’s habitat, their hunting grounds. Why wouldn’t they try to eat? It is not their fault that we are providing food while they are looking for it. Appreciating where you are can quite abruptly change your perspective about the behaviour of animals you affect. So, I challenge you to think about whether or not you really believe that a bird with such capacity for connection can truly be the rat-with-wings pest many assume it is. And while we’re at, what’s so bad about rats?

Here is an example of nest building that I observed:

Remove, replace, reband

Generally speaking, banding week is about placing things, adding things. True, we may steal a few feathers or a bit of blood, but the main purpose is to put bands on birds and then release them to go about their days, months, years, lives, as they were, but now individually identifiable to us humans, with our notoriously poor ability to recognize individual animals by face, or posture or mannerism. We didn’t capture all that many unbanded birds today, and the theme of the day’s work often seemed to be more about removing things.

In 2018 and 2019, we deployed backpack style GPS loggers on a few of the gulls. We intended to recapture the birds in 2020 and remove the loggers, but, well, 2020. Today, we discovered one of the logger bearing birds sitting on a nest under some of the island’s solar panels. For some reason, the logger is no longer transmitting, so we captured that bird to relieve it of the burden it’s been carrying for a few years now. Hopefully the data locked up inside this little device can be downloaded once we send it back to the company. Here is the logger:

And here is the patch of skin where the logger was in contact with the bird’s back.

We were relieved to see it had suffered nothing much worse than some broken feathers and light scabbing, but it still felt good to remove it and let this bird go back to not bearing this burden for the sake of our curiosity.

We did capture a few birds that were entirely new to us as well. One, a rather calm, sedate female, was largely unperturbed by our presence. Being grabbed off her nest and put in a bag, however, disturbed her peace enough that she regurgitated an earlier meal of potato chips and rice. Her apparent close associations with humans and their food was also illustrated by the evidence of a less pleasant run in with human refuse: the monofilament and string wrapped tight around her foot.

We snipped it off and inspected the foot, finding early abrasions and indentations that would likely have progressed over time had we not chanced upon her. Pleased to have relieved her of this painful entanglement, we released her with a much more comfortable set of anklets, but not before she gave me rather an impressive twisting bite to the wrist. Mary was eventually able to pry her off, and we returned her to her nest where she re-ingested the potato chips. They were not doubt just as delicious on their second trip down her esophagus.

We had hoped she’d be a good candidate for the stress hormone study, since we had all of us marveled at her sedate demeanor, but alas, the requirements for participation in that study are strict: the bird must already have three eggs in the nest, and she had but two.

This has been a theme of our banding work this week; the team’s overall impression is that the colony is slow to get started. Many nests still have two, one, or even no eggs at all yet, putting a damper on the hormone sample collection aspect of the work. We’ve been lucky to be able to trap such birds since many of them are not all that motivated to return to the nest (where we place the traps) until they have a full clutch of three eggs to incubate. One of these cooperative birds with only two eggs so far is a very dear old friend of ours.

2E2 is rather a famous gull in these parts. A denizen of Plum Island in Massachusetts most of the year, he’s been breeding on Appledore since our study began in the early 2000s. He received his 2E2 band back in 2006, and in recent years, it’s been showing increasing signs of wear and tear (the band, not the bird–2E2 himself is still full of vim and vigor, as well as clams, skates, stolen picnics, and the flesh of washed up dead seals. He has a varied palette.)

Today, we managed to catch 2E2 and replace that band. Normally, we issue a new alphanumeric code when we replace a worn band, but 2E2 is so well known by that moniker, we couldn’t bear it. Luckily, Robin Haggie, who manufactures our bands, kindly made us a replacement 2E2 band which we placed today. Here you can see the 15 year old band alongside a newly minted one.

The plastic thins and becomes brittle over time, and we’d have been lucky to get one more year out of this old band before it broke clean off. Now, 2E2 goes back out into the world with a shiny new band ready to be seen and reported. As we entered the data on his recapture this evening, Mary and I talked about the inevitable time when we won’t hear any further word of 2E2. Most likely, we’ll never know when and where he died, we’ll just stop getting reports of his exploits, and one year, he won’t turn up at his accustomed nest site beside Sunset Pavilion here on Appledore. But may that be many, many years hence.

We’re back!

Today was our first day of gull banding in nearly two years. We lost 2020 to COVID entirely, and didn’t set foot on island at all. There was a certain satisfaction in knowing the birds were having a breeding season of peace, unperturbed by banders or all and sundry students, staff, and faculty trundling to and fro near their nests, but we did pine for the lost data, and what we’ll never know about who mated with whom in 2020, and how their babies fared. But, onward we go. Mary Everett, co-lead of the project with me, has been the advance guard, on island since the 17th. Our intern, Dylan, joined her on the 19th, and the rest of us wandered in yesterday. We benefited greatly from Mary and Dylan’s groundwork, so it was easy-peasy to get right to it.

Me in collared shirt, spike helmet. Because you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

This week, we’re back, and the muscle memory of trapping, catching, bleeding, and banding kicked in as if we we never left. We have a small but absolutely lovely team of banders: Robin, Sue, and Sharon. Dylan is as diligent, clever, and bright as you could possibly want a person to be. They are on top of the data, shrewd in their observations, and, to my Type A heart’s delight, extremely tidy in their field notes. It is an easeful pleasure to work with this team. Gull banding is dirty, tiring, taxing work, but with the right crew, our first day’s work sped by and we were more successful that we’d anticipated. We recaptured a few birds who needed replacement bands for ones they’d lost, and in one case, we inspected a worn band but decided to leave it in place. 2V2 was banded back in 2012, and this band looks to have several more years’ of life in it.

As usual, we are working on several overlapping projects at once: the long term, social and family structure and life history work that we see as the backbone of the whole gull endeavor; a more recent focus on hormone levels and how they correlate with nest defense activity (working with Dr. Kristen Covino); and analysis of the stable isotopes in blood and feathers from the birds that can tell us what sort of foods (marine vs. terrestrial) they’ve been eating (also in concert with Kristen).

Dylan, Sue, and Sharon setting a trap as the gulls disapprove.

After the day’s banding activities wrapped up and Mary and I turned to data entry, the rest of the crew headed back to out to search for more target nests so we can hit the ground running tomorrow morning. We hope for another fabulously productive, fun, satisfying day like this one. I’ll be sorry to see Sharon and Robin leave us on Monday morning, so we are all the more motivated to derive as much benefit from their positivity and cheerful work ethic as possible before we wave them off at the dock.

Until the morrow, gull friends.


Sunset, ocean, I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Peace vs. stress

by Sophie Burns

Most people that live by the ocean will tell you that it’s a serene and peaceful place to live, but it’s quite the opposite from the gulls point of view. Throughout the semester we built up to this final project of sorts where we got to choose something to explore concerning stress levels in the gulls of Appledore island based on data we were given from previous years. For my project I chose to look at how the location of the gulls nesting sites affected their stress levels using data from 2017. I predicted that the gulls nesting closer to the rocks would be more stressed than gulls nesting father inland. I found that the average H/L levels (which indicate how stressed a gull is) was 0.58 for the gulls nesting closer or on the rocks and 0.37 for the gulls nesting farther inland. Which I found to be extremely interesting as I was expecting the stress levels for the gulls nesting on the rocks to be much higher. My theory has been that the birds with less competition would have less stress because they’re more spread apart and don’t have to compete with one another for nesting space. This theory may be correct because stress levels were somewhat lower in the birds inland but I would need to see a larger data set in order to feel confident in my theory. While my initial hypothesis wasn’t completely proven, there are suggestions that birds living inland are a bit less stressed out.

This is my bar graph with the data I found:

This is a screen shot of the google earth map I put together of the locations of the gulls nests, corresponding to the numbers at the top of my bars in the graph above:


by Nancy Lynn Sarcia

Image a magical world filled with different forms of communication and tiny, tiny components that can be used to indicate survival. One where the silence and swift movement of appendages can be used to instantaneously convey messages. A place where words are unnecessary and predators are at every corner. A place where fighting for space can mean the difference between death and life. You have just entered the reality of the gulls of Appledore. You don’t have to stand on the Platform 1 and 3-quarters to get there. No, you can come with a whole dollar in your pocket in the form of 4 quarters. If you want to wear your Dumbledore hat, that’s entirely up to you. 


They say you get back what you put in. I am not entirely sure who this “they” is, and what this “collective they” surmises what we’re all putting in, or must put in, but I took away a lot of meaningful concepts about immunology in avian species from my study of the gulls of Appledore. Like most students, I surmise my limited exposure to mammal immunology was not considered out of the ordinary. Having the ability to work on enhancing this element of my skill set was appreciated, since most instructors like to focus on other species. The highlights of what I learned that I think will be the most helpful to build on later is the following:

  1. Heterophils are part of the immune system for birds, and looked to as the first line of cellular defense against invading microbial pathogens.They have phagocytic capabilities, allowing heterophils to ingest bacteria and other foreign invaders (Rogers, 2020b).  

(Samour, 2009)

  1. Lymphocytes are part of the immune response system. Receptor molecules on the surface of lymphocytes have the ability to bind to specific antigens, allowing the immune system the ability to respond to foreign invaders (Rogers, 2020a). 

(Samour, 2009)

  1. Heterophils and lymphocytes are used in a ratio as a way to gain a better understanding about the health of birds. Researchers value this ratio under the belief that it reflects a bird’s readiness to cope with infection. It is posited that heterophil numbers are a reflection of infection via injury, while lymphocyte counts are associated with infection from communicable diseases (Minias, 2019).


Isn’t it said that you’re the one that gets to ascribe value to things? I feel like I’ve heard that throughout my life. We live in a society that attempts to dictate what we’re supposed to value, and how we’re supposed to see it. Truthfully, I’ve never really paid much mind to what society claims I’m supposed to value, or what we’re all supposed to value. I think the majority of us are equipped to determine such things on our own. When it comes to the gulls of Appledore, my realizations extended beyond “this time and place,” and pushed into a larger picture of understanding in my mind. It went into concepts that are timeless and can be applied to larger elements, rather than just one location and one avian group of “heroes and villains” fighting to survive.  

I really valued discovering how complicated the collection of data and blood samples are in general. Yes! Didn’t expect that one, did you? Hey, what can I say? I like biology and learning about the blood. 

As a class we reviewed some articles that described the technique needed to obtain avian blood samples, transport them, and store them. I was fascinated. I found it incredibly detailed and complicated with a great deal of “some do it this way, I prefer.” Needless to say, techniques are important for consistency, quality, and “best practices” for the bird itself. If you’re going to do anything in this world, please have an understanding as to why. If you must have madness, give yourself a method!

(Samour, 2009)


Remember that song with the lyrics “this land is your land, this land is my land”? In the bird world it seems like the song should more appropriately be sung, “this land is my land, stay away from my land.” Next time you’re standing amongst a group of birds posturing for dominance and territory, try singing it in your head, scripting the interaction they are having amongst each other. Maybe you’ll chuckle. Maybe you’ll wish you had some bread in your hand to get the birds to be nicer. 

Territoriality and aggression regarding avian species is a great deal more involved than it appears. There are different types of body language and sounds that birds use as signalling to convey a multitude of messages to other birds. For example, there are mating sounds and physical actions that the birds do to attract partners, as well as sounds and nonsound signalling that birds engage in to defend against outsiders once they are parents. When sound signals fail, violence can erupt, resulting in threats, boundary disputes, and attacks by predators. Physical signalling can come in handy to convey meaningful messages, but it seems the communication process is best when sound and physical signals are combined to project dominance (Dantzker & Brown, 2009). As the sayings go, “move fast and break things,” “be loud and proud,” “leave your mark on this earth,” “fight for what you want.” I feel like this is the anthem of the gulls of Appledore. 


Ah, challenges. Nothing like adding a little stress to the mix to make yourself push past comfort zones. Growth… Is this what is meant by “growing pains”? Perhaps, the definitions aren’t as narrow as we all surmised. Personally, I think growth pains can include pushing past your comfort zone to learn new things. 

Breaking free from my comfort zone found me in the microscopic realm. Welcome to the world of blood smears. Reading blood smears was and is very challenging. Even with an excellent microscope, it can be difficult on a blood smear image to determine with full confidence that the microscopic element you are viewing is in fact that component and not one that looks rather similar. As a class we all felt anxiety, wanting to be able to definitively say what we were looking at in a blood smear. For example, that a particular slide image contained “x number” of heterophils and “y number” of lymphocytes. A collective sigh of relief was felt when our instructor admitted that it can be a challenging task, which is why it is best to have 1 person do a count because it will make the data more consistent, in that the same style will be used throughout. We all had the “a-ha, so it doesn’t need to be perfect because it can’t ever really be perfect” moment. It was comforting. It is life. Was it Oprah that started the whole “live your truth,” “live your best life” adages? Well, Oprah, even if it wasn’t you, truth is in fact somewhat subjective, I suppose… And, “best life”? …If blood is the life force, well, there’s no such thing as the “best” slide. There’s just the “specimen that must make due.”

(Samour, 2009)


Admit it: when you watched or read Harry Potter, you totally thought about which house you wanted to join. You probably thought about which one your siblings or significant other should be in too. You probably sat there shocked about the houses that your favorite Potter characters found themselves in. It was stressful, wasn’t it? In some strange way, you had emotions towards these houses! “But it’s so silly,” you probably tried to reason with yourself. Was it? Do we all stress the same? Is there something about who we are that has a tie to how we perceive or experience stress?

I had assumed, based on the research that I had done regarding birds that the gulls of Appledore would exhibit similar relationships as other birds had between stress levels and mass. Based on this premise, I had surmised the following: 

  • Gulls that are less massive will be more stressed than gulls that are more massive. 
  • The higher stressed gulls (less massive) will have higher H:L than lower stressed (more massive) gulls.

I decided to create a statistical analysis using regression to analyze the relationship between H:L ratios and the mass of birds using the data collected during 2019 from the gulls of Appledore. The hypotheses:

H0: There is no relationship between H:L ratios and the mass of gulls.

H1: H:L ratios and the mass of gulls are linearly related.

What I found, to my surprise, was that there was no statistically significant linear relationship between H:L ratios and the mass of the gulls at Appledore during 2019. I used a 95% confidence interval. Looking at the data below, the quickest way to determine nonsignificance is the fact that the upper bound and lower bound values for the confidence interval passes from negative to positive. The p-value can also be used, which would need to be less than 0.05 to be statistically significant at a 95% confidence interval. My p-value was 0.47, which is not statistically significant. The scatterplot of the data below also does not follow the linear regression line imposed on the graph; this indicates that data is not linearly related. 


Is life really like a box of chocolates? Will we ever know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Did and does Ms. Carrington actually use fly legs in that cake she makes for her 6th grade science class to eat each year? Can I believe something is perfect even if I know it has flaws? There are just some mysteries in life we will never absolutely know, but have a pretty good idea about the solution. While we all strive for “truth” – be it “Oprah’s truth,” your truth, or my truth – the fact remains that the gulls of Appledore are ready and willing to let others join their world as observers and researchers and scientists to understand a bit more about avian truth. I recommend checking it out. If you want to put 3 or 4 quarters in your pocket along with a dollar, that’s entirely up to you. As always, wizard house hats are optional; New England can be fairly windy. 

Works Cited

Dantzker, M., & Brown, D. O. (Directors). (2009). Signals for survival [Video]. Cornell Lab of Ornithology & Shoals Marine Laboratory. 

Juul-Madsen, H. R., Viertlboeck, B., Hartle, S., Smith, A. L., & Gobel, T. W. (2014). Innate immune responses. In K. A. Schat, B. Kaspers, & P. Kaiser (Eds.), Avian immunology (2nd ed.) (pp. 121 – 147). Academic Press.

Minias, P. (2019). Evolution of heterophil/lymphocytes ratios in response to ecological and life-history traits: A comparative analysis across the avian tree of life. Journal of Animal Ecology, 88(4), 554-565. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656

Rogers, K. (Ed.). (2020a). Lymphocyte. Retrieved from

Rogers, K. (Ed.). (2020b).  Phagocytosis. Retrieved from

Samour, J. (2009). Diagnostic value of hematology. In H. G. Harrison, T. Lightfoot (Eds.), Clinical avian medicine (pp. 587 – 610). Spix Publishing, Inc. Retrieved from

The Owen Lab. (2015). Avian white blood cell counts. Retrieved from

Common ground over common stress

by Maddison Flibotte

I signed up for Introductory Biology I, I did not think anything of it, just another class I must take to get my degree, no big deal. I assumed it would be like every other science class I had taken. The teacher would talk information in our direction, and I would memorize it long enough to pass the exam. Man was I wrong. From the beginning, we were encouraged to try new things and ask questions. My professor wanted us to be curious, and curious I was.

From the first video we watched about the gulls, I was intrigued. From the communication between gulls to dealing with hurdle after hurdle. The gulls faced an abundance of difficulties on the island, but still managed to persevere. For example, there was not enough food sources on the island to support all the gulls, so not all of them survived. It really was an early bird gets the worm kind of situation. Surely all these obstacles must have caused them some stress, but how much? Using data collected from studies done on the gulls in previous years, we analyzed the H:L ratios (heterophil to lymphocytes, two kinds of white blood cells that determine the stress of the gulls) of the gulls. There are so many different things that could affect their H:L ratios. I had so many options. From things like the site of their nest to their age to the quality of their mate. The list goes on and on.

Overall, I could not believe that the same things that tend to stress us out, also effects the gulls. This goes to show an even deeper part of evolution I fear I would have never uncovered if not for this class. We are not just related in terms of physical features, but also mentally. In the ways we communicate to the things we stress about. Sure we each have our differences, I mean can you picture a herring gull pulling his feathers out in bumper to bumper traffic? No, but you can imagine them worrying that their partner is not compatible? Maybe. You can certainly picture both us and the gulls worrying about where our next meal is coming from.

Do Birds Get Hangry Too?

by Amanda Smith

[This is the first post by this semester’s Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) students. These students were all enrolled in my Intro Biology course at Northern Essex Community College, and pursued their own research projects using gull data!]

When tasked with trying to discover what exactly causes the gulls of Appledore Island to stress out, I asked myself, “When do I feel most stressed?” While thinking it over, my stomach started rumbling for my 2pm pick-me-up smoothie and I could no longer focus on the assignment. I was groggy and irritable but knew I needed to power through and get my work done. That’s when it hit me. There’s a reason I always carry around a granola bar and have stashes of cashews in every bag I own. If being hungry makes me miserable, surely the gulls of Appledore would feel the same way. 

I decided a gull’s food availability would be a good place to start on our class journey to discovering what exactly it is that raises these bird’s H:L ratio (heterophil to lymphocytes, two kinds of white blood cells used in measuring stress levels in gulls). I immediately hit a snag as there was nothing in the data that specifically indicated how much food was available to each bird, so I scanned it again to see if anything did seem relevant. I thought of how a human’s weight generally correlates with the amount of food they are eating and sure enough, the gull’s masses were recorded. In the 2019 data there was an additional column titled “Total Protein” that also seemed like a good indicator of healthy vs starving gulls. 

To my surprise, there didn’t seem to be any connection to be made between mass, protein, or stress. The H:L levels were all over the place regardless of a bird’s size or total protein. If they’re anything like I am, they’re probably stressed about homework and money. 

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This Science Class Was Different

Today’s post comes to us from Courtney Walsh. Courtney is from Newburyport MA. She played field hockey in high school and wishes NECCO had a team. She did Best Buddies where she realized she enjoys helping others. She went to Haiti on a mission trip and decided one day she would love to work with people, especially kids, who are less fortunate. Her major is Psychology and someday she hopes to work with kids who are not as fortunate and set them on a good path to success (in whatever makes them happiest).

I hate science, I have never been good at it and I always go into it thinking that maybe this year will be different and it never is. I put so much time and effort into something that I know I will never succeed in, but this semester was different. I went into this biology class thinking the same thing I always think: maybe this year will be different. I went from every class to every lab more confused. This was the first time in my life that I was content with being confused. Not only did I enjoy learning about gulls but learning more about myself; I realized that it is okay to be confused and not understand. Trial and error was a main part of this class and I was forced to adapt to that. Kind of like how gulls have to adapt to things. I never would have thought that sitting in a lab learning about gulls could help me learn about myself. My first thought when hearing we would be learning about gulls was, boring. Boring was the last thing it was; I not only learned about gulls but learned how to ask better questions. I learned that when I am questioning something, I should do research and ask more questions. But the most important lesson I learned in lab was that it is okay to be wrong. I struggled a lot but this class made me grow as a person and want to learn more about the gulls of Appledore. One part of this class was to draw a dichotomous key, I remember sitting for hours trying to figure out how I would do it and how I would get a satisfactory on it. I never got a satisfactory on it, I still need more work on it. Initially when I received the grade I was upset but the fact is it wasn’t satisfactory. I really thought I understood how to read and tell the difference between blood cells. I knew the general ideas but clearly not enough and it something that I want to learn more about and understand better. I don’t know if I ever will fully understand it I know I want to know more.