A Common Eider Flying.jpg

The Research Saga Continues

During my junior year, Dr. Frank Fish offered me the opportunity to work on a second research project studying the locomotion of eider ducks (Somateria mollissima) at Shoals Marine Laboratory. The project involved locating flocks of the birds swimming at the surface of the water and driving near them with an inflatable boat to provoke an escape response. Video analysis of these escape responses revealed two distinct locomotory patterns. One involved rapidly beating the wings against the water to produce thrust and hydroplane along the surface (steaming), while the other involved lifting the body out of the water and “running” along the surface while flapping the wings (paddle-assisted flying). These behaviors had been mentioned briefly in descriptions of other species, but our study was the first to describe them for the eider duck and the first to give a full biomechanical definition for each.

The project solidified the interest in behavioral research that I had been cultivating through my research on dogs, but it also gave me an appreciation for the biomechanical processes that underlie behavioral responses. During my senior year, I wrote up the results for publication in the Journal of Experimental Biology (Gough et al., 2015).