From VT News, written by Cassandra Hockman. 

BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 5, 2015 – Once a baby wood duckling hatches, it follows its mother’s repetitive whistle-like call to jump out of the nest and join its siblings in a family group.

But whether a duckling successfully follows depends on the nest environment, said fish and wildlife conservation graduate student Sydney Hope of Howell, New Jersey.

Using Virginia Tech’s new Research Aviary, Hope investigates how the wood duck’s nesting environment affects its ability to perform certain behaviors important for survival, like leaving the nest to follow its family.

In particular, Hope investigates how small changes in temperature of a wood duck’s eggs during incubation impact the ducklings once they hatch and begin to grow.

“Small differences in incubation temperature can have large effects on the physiology of wood ducks and other birds and reptiles, and as I’m discovering now, it can also affect their behavior,” said Hope, whose research is funded by a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. “If factors like climate change and urbanization alter the nesting environment, these changes in physiology and behavior can impact the survival of young animals.” 

Sydney Hope measures a duckling.

In addition to behaviors like jumping out of nests, Hope measures behaviors related to the duckling’s degree of sociality and how they interact with the world around them, including movement patterns, vocalizations, and responses to vocalizations.

“Wood ducklings are extremely social, so it is common for them to call out to others in hopes they will join them,” Hope said.

While analyzing the video footage of these little creatures, Hope takes into account all of the behaviors, creating a snapshot of each animal’s overall behavioral tendencies. This is a lot like how suites of behaviors can be considered indicative of personalities in people. 

Read the full artilce here.