“This robotic system is unique,” Davis said, different from anything he has seen at a research aviary. “We can change and control feeding and treatment, even monitor the birds remotely. The system also keeps track of how much treated food a bird eats throughout the day and when it should be fed.” The aviary’s study of birds has broader implications for research on environmental change and biological processes in other species, Davis said. For instance, learning how sparrows deal with stressors may lead to breakthroughs in treating stress-related illnesses in humans.
Davis and Armistead designed and built the aviary behind the Barn, the multipurpose meeting and research center at Selu. The building’s deck extended over a concrete pad that was being used to store lawn mowers and other groundskeeping equipment. With help from RU facilities management employees, Davis and Armistead moved the machinery and, using agricultural grade plastic mesh, lumber and high-density polyethylene, enclosed the space. The floor of the deck became the ceiling of the aviary. The lumber is treated to prevent microbial growth, and the concrete floor is easy to clean and disinfect. The birds have perches, houses, even heated water bowls. The area is adjacent to an existing research and teaching laboratory fully equipped with a surgical suite and wireless Internet connectivity, giving researchers easy access to both aviary and lab space.