Millikin University's Institute for Science Entrepreneurship has partnered with the Wild Bird Feeding Industry (WBFI) Research Foundation to host the WBFI International Research & Development Center. Under a contractual arrangement with the WBFI Research Foundation, Millikin University will perform testing on a confidential basis for members of the WBFI.
Beginning in September, Millikin University students and faculty are performing tests of bird feed or bird feeder products. As part of the research process, the team will simultaneously test four feed products or four feeders to determine how products compare to one another in their ability to attract birds.
Led by Dr. David Horn, Millikin professor of biology, students will make observations of the bird feeder products over a three-week period during each test. The students then deliver a written report to the WBFI member upon completion of the observations. Overall, six test studies will be conducted during the 2015-16 academic year.
"What makes this partnership exciting is that we are in one of the agricultural capitals of the world, and Millikin University is now host to a research and development facility for an industry in which over 50 million Americans and Canadians participate in," Dr. Horn says.
Dr. Horn added, "It's my hope that a year from now, when someone goes to a retailer, large or small, that the blend of bird seed they purchased was tested by students at Millikin University and that results of the test were used to improve the blend, and ultimately make the bird feeding experience better for people and wild birds."
2015 represents the 10-year anniversary from when Millikin University began performing research on wild bird feeding. Millikin's first research project with the WBFI was Project Wildbird, a three-year, $1 million study on bird seed and bird feeder preferences across the United States and Canada.
Dr. Travis Wilcoxen, Millikin assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Horn, with the assistance of many Millikin students, also conducted a three-year study on how bird feeding impacts bird populations and the health of individual birds.
The launch of the center represents the third large-scale research project that Millikin University has done over the past 10 years with the Wild Bird Feeding Industry.
"We are continuing a 10-year tradition of being a scientific leader in one of the most popular hobbies in the United States, and we are carrying out the tradition of using Millikin students in that endeavor," said Dr. Horn.
"As the center grows, we expect to be a year-round test facility for the WBFI that tests products before they enter the market, and also have the capability to examine other emerging issues in wild bird feeding," said Dr. Horn.
Three Millikin students are currently involved with the center: Sierra Birdsell, a sophomore biology major from Lisle, Ill.; Sydney Brangenberg, a junior English literature major from Jerseyville, Ill.; and David Braun, a senior biology-allied health track major from Barnhart, Mo.
The tests are being conducted in Decatur-area suburban neighborhoods and parks, such as the Rock Springs Conservation Area.
"This is one of the first times that the industry is offering a program that will allow its member companies to improve their products," said Dr. Horn. "Thus, students will be directly involved with an industry ready to expand its research and development program, and will help catalyze new innovations."
The WBFI Research Foundation positions itself as the means to conduct scientific and behavioral research that encourages and supports the hobby of wild bird feeding in the United States and Canada, and is committed to educating people about the value of wild bird feeding and its benefits to humans. For more information, visit wbfi.org.
The mission of the Millikin University Institute for Science Entrepreneurship is to connect Millikin University, its students, and the greater community to opportunities for personal, professional and organizational advancement through science entrepreneurship. For more information, visit millikin.edu/instituteforscienceentrepreneurship.