Kelsey Biles is a PhD candidate in the College of Science specializing in avian research, both passerine and raptor species. She is currently finishing up her dissertation under the mentorship of UNT biological sciences professors Drs. Jim Bednarz and Andrew Gregory. Her primary project has been researching wintering American Kestrels, North America's smallest raptor.
"Most of my research entails trapping kestrels across Denton County during the winter, putting unique color bands on their legs, and then resighting them across the rest of the year," said Kelsey. "On some of the larger kestrels, I attach migration tracking devices to understand where our wintering population breeds."
American Kestrel populations across the continent have been in a steady decline since robust surveys began in the late 1960s. In addition to directly informing current management practices for kestrels, Kelsey's research has implications for the conservation of other generalist raptor species, such as Red-tailed Hawks. This past December, Kelsey's team also tracked the first wintering American Kestrel migration.
"Connecting wintering and breeding habitat has major implications for conserving a declining population," said Kelsey. "I am also studying an increasing pairing behavior in our wintering population, which could inform how kestrels are adapting to changing environmental conditions."
Kelsey has a Bachelor's of Science from the University of Texas at Arlington, where she studied phenotypic plasticity in a small aquatic invertebrate called Daphnia, and a Master's of Science from Baylor University, where she studied an endangered fish species and its relationship to its highly modified habitat. She chose UNT for her PhD studies in large part because of the robust ecological and avian research taking place here, and she is grateful for the faculty she has been able to work with since making her decision.
"Dr. Jim Bednarz has been a very present and consistent mentor across my PhD. He not only taught me how to trap raptors and complete various aspects of my research, but he introduced me to banding songbirds, which I love!" said Kelsey. "He has also encouraged me to present at multiple international conferences and taught me how to build and manage a research team."
Because kestrels can have distinct personalities, one of the most rewarding aspects of her research is getting to know some of these birds on an individual basis.
"In addition to holding and banding them during trapping, I spend years watching and documenting the behaviors of particular kestrels, and I get to know their distinct habits and quirks," she said. "Some of them even get names from me or my field techs! For example, there is a female kestrel in North Lakes Park I call Mary that loves to catch snakes- she is a pro at it! I have watched her catch countless snakes and lizards across the last four years."
Kelsey encourages her students to get involved in research early if that's where their passion is.
"Not only does it help you if you want to pursue a graduate degree in the future, but in ecology, any experience in the field or lab is highly valuable when searching for jobs after graduation!"
To read more about Kelsey's research, visit: https://www.audubon.org/news/as-american-kestrels-mysteriously-decline-r...
To watch a video about Kelsey's research, visit: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=292238582873703&ref=sharing