Mount St. Joseph University

Some of Us Are for the Birds

Behavioral and Natural Sciences, Biochemistry, Biology, Faculty, Alumni


File Under: biology, ornithology, outcomes, pathophysiology, physiology, psychopharmacology

“We pack up our RV each summer, have the itinerary mapped out to which city we stop in each night and then we drive for several days until we get to Alaska,” said Russell.

Think that trip is for the birds? It’s actually for the owls. The Boreal Owls specifically.

Russell, associate professor of biology and an avid birder, and her husband, Dave, an ornithology professor at Miami University, study Boreal Owls and their chicks. They weigh and measure them, take DNA samples so they can determine the sex when they get back to the biology department lab, and band each bird with a U.S. Geological Survey Federal Bird Band. Her research focuses on the growth and development of Boreal Owls because they are considered a species of concern. Her research, in which Mount biology students also take an active role, looks at the effects of climate change on the Boreal Owl populations.

Jen Taylor, a Mount alum, went to Alaska two summers ago as a research assistant. “We monitored 11 different nest boxes that in all had a combined 51 chicks, along an isolated stretch of highway that runs through the Alaskan wilderness,” she said.

Such research opportunities are vital to students’ education. “Students learn better when they are actively discovering new and novel information,” Russell said. “So I believe that involving students in my research in Alaska gives them a well-rounded research experience that takes them to an exotic, wild habitat where they can experience the dynamics of nature firsthand. This field experience is then ties into bench lab work back at the Mount providing the student with the tools needed to be successful in the 21st century.”

Russell is co-founder and executive director of the Avian Research and Education Institute, a non-profit bird conservation, education and advocacy organization. She’s the founder and director of the Mount’s Clifford Bird Observatory where students and community members participate in research projects designed to monitor bird populations at the Mount.

Recently Russell was named co-recipient of a $500,000 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which will further enable undergraduate students to participate in a significant research experience. “I am thrilled that a small private school like the Mount has been recognized by such a prestigious institution such as the National Science Foundation for having excellent research opportunities for students,” she said.

Dr. Russell received her undergraduate degree in biology from the Mount. She teaches a variety of biology classes including anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, psychopharmacology, and ornithology.