A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

A Summer for the Birds

START Intern Spends Summer as Avian Phlebotomist

Not many college students would claim to be a “bleeder” with pride, but START intern Claire Weber has no qualms about it. Weber spent the summer of 2013 as an avian phlebotomist, helping to study American bald eagles.

Without any previous experience taking blood samples from winged creatures, Weber headed to Michigan to gain some field experience to support her studies in ecology.

She joined the project led by University of Maryland professor Dr. William Bowerman, which journeyed through Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. Aside from experiencing the forest’s scenery and insects firsthand, Weber also got to work directly with the eagles.

“As a bleeder, my field partner and I would drive, hike, kayak, motorboat, or wade through swamps to an active bald eagle nest,” Weber said.

Weber’s partner would climb into the trees to lure the baby birds out of their nests, bringing them down for Weber to examine the chicks, take blood and feather samples, and fit them with bands.

“The older chicks are as big as an adult bald eagle, so you have to be careful of getting bit in the face or footed by their sharp talons,” Weber said.

The birds were only one source of potential danger in the woods. While hiking to reach the nests, Weber and her partner often saw signs of black bear activity. Weber’s predicament – she is terrified of bears. She had plenty of time to dwell on this fear as her partner would wait in the tree as she finished examining the birds.

“It was a challenge to sit quietly by myself and hope that I wouldn’t encounter a bear with only an eagle chick for company,” Weber said.

Luckily Weber’s work at START and at the University of Maryland, although interesting to her, is without the risk of a black bear run-in.

Weber is in her third semester interning at START where she works on an open source intelligence project to analyze the spatial patterns of terrorist groups in Pakistan. She is a senior with a double degree in biology with a focus on ecology and geography with a focus on Geographic Information Science (GIS). Weber also has a minor in Global Terrorism.

A career in counterterrorism is on Weber’s radar as she applies to graduate schools for geography. She said that she would like to continue working with animals in the future as well.

More than a year has passed since her summer working with eagles in Michigan’s forests, but the lessons Weber learned have not been forgotten.

“Being afraid is a terrible reason not to do something,” Weber said.