The Cornell Lab is a behavioral ecology and ecological physiology research lab at Penn State Altoona

Lab News

August 2022

Congratulations Madleen! Altoona Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow, Madleen Anes, presented a poster on her summer project "Abandonment during incubation is unpredictable in bluebirds". Congratulations on your excellent poster presentation!

May 2022

First chicks: The field season is well underway with bluebird and kestrel chicks already hatching and ready for sampling! 

April 2022

Let the field season begin: Nest checks for the 2022 field season are underway! The nest check crew includes undergraduate volunteers and BIOL/WFS 494 students. So far we have a lot of activity at boxes but no eggs yet!

March 2022

Lab alum accepted into grad school! Congratulations to 2021 field tech Matt Bowers on his acceptance to Western Kentucky University for an MSc in Biology! Your grad lab will be lucky to have you.

Undergraduate Research Award Received! Congratulations to sophomore Madleen Anes on her Altoona Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (ASURF) award of $3,500 which will support her staying over the summer to assist in field work and conduct her own project on nest abandonment in bluebirds. Well done!

February 2022

Overwintering birds spotted! We've been catching glimpses of our banded adults from this summer overwintering at the Penn State Arboretum. We hope they'll re-nest in our boxes in 2022. Thank you to Joe Gyekis for the photos!

October 2021

Conference symposium: Dr. Cornell enjoyed presenting in the symposium on American kestrel decline at the Raptor Research Foundation Annual Conference. Her symposium talk was entitled, "The role of food quantity and quality in nestling development of American kestrels (Falco sparverius)." And the abstract can be read here:

July 2021

Field work fun: We've been enjoying a very busy field season this year monitoring nests of American kestrels, Eastern bluebirds, house wrens, and tree swallows!

April 2021

First eggs! The field season has officially begun! Both Eastern bluebirds and American kestrels have active nests. We're hopeful for a productive field season for both the birds and the lab.

February 2021

Grant Received! We are thrilled to receive a Larry Zeleny Research Grant grant from the North American Bluebird Society to support our 2021 field season! A significant portion of the funds will go towards stipends for two new undergraduate research assistants, Lauren and Emily. We can't wait to begin our project "Nestling Development, Nutritional Resources, and Parental Care Behavior in Nest Box Breeding Birds"

November 2020

Manuscript Accepted! Our paper entitled "Nestling physiology is independent of somatic development in a common raptor, the American kestrel (Falco sparverius)" was accepted for publication in the 2021 March/April issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology! Special congratulations to student authors Mercy Melo and Courtney Zimmerman on their first publication!

October 2020

New Publication! The article, “Distribution, Survival, and Development of Spotted Lanternfly on Host Plants Found in North America” was recently published in Environmental Entomology. The manuscript includes a series of experiments led by USDA Entomologist Dr. Miram Cooperband that test the preference and suitability of potential host plants for the invasive spotted lanternfly. Coauthors on the article include senior biology major Leslie Abreu, recent graduate Miranda Fetchen, and Dr. Cornell. The findings will help inform pest management decisions.

June 2020

The Cornell lab is excited to support the first ever Black Birders Week!​ Learn more about this week's virtual events from the Audubon society here:

and search #BlackBirdersWeek in your social media. Dr. Cornell especially benefited from this roundtable: Everyone should be able to safely engage in outdoor activities. The more accessible bird watching is, the better we can conserve, research, and enjoy these amazing animals!

The Cornell lab is moving! Beginning Fall 2020 the Cornell Lab will be at Penn State Altoona! Dr. Cornell is excited to teach and research within the Penn State community.

April 2020

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, spring conference attendance and our summer field season have been cancelled. We hope everyone is staying home, staying safe, and staying healthy!

March 2020

Student Accomplishments! Congratulations to lab members Mercy and Zainab for successfully obtaining competitive NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduate positions for Summer 2020!

Congratulations to lab alum Fernanda Culichia for on her acceptance to Ohio State Veterinary School!

February 2020

Student Accomplishments! Congratulations to Zainab, Courtney, and Mercy, who all received funding from the Pennsylvania Wildlife Society to attend the annual meeting in March! All 3 students will be presenting posters at the meeting in State College, PA.

November 2019

Grant received!  Congratulations to Mercy Melo (class of 2021) for receiving a $700 research grant from the Beta Beta Beta Honors Society to fund her senior thesis project, "Gastrointestinal microbiome biodiversity in developing American kestrel chicks." Mercy will be working with fecal samples from kestrel chicks she collected during the 2018 and 2019 field seasons and to identify bacteria in the digestive tract.

October 2019

Grant received! Dr. Cornell received a $5,000 research grant from the Blake-Nuttall Ornithological Club for the project, "The role of nest microclimate and food supply in nestling development of a declining farmland raptor." This project will be used to fund equipment for the 2020 field season and pay undergraduate research stipends. Read more about the Blake-Nuttall Club here:

September 2019

Manuscript accepted! Dr. Cornell's collaborative project with Dr. Francois Criscuolo (University of Strasbourg, France),  Sandrine Zahn (University of Strasbourg, France), and Dr. Tony D Williams (Simon Fraser University, Canada) was accepted for publication. The study is entitled, "Oxidative status and telomere length are related to somatic and physiological maturation in chicks of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)." Read the article here:

May 2019

Our Summer field season has begun! 2019 field crew includes Mercy Melo (returning for a second field season) and Courtney Zimmerman, both funded by the Blake-Nuttall Ornithological Fund, and volunteer field assistant Leslie Abreu! We have 18 active kestrel nests at the moment and are looking forward to hatching starting at the end of May.

March 2019

Mercy Melo, Taylor Robbins, Jaime Matson, Miranda Fetchen, Leslie Abreu, and Courtney Zimmerman all presented their research at the Pennsylvania Academy of Science Meeting. Leslie Abreu was recognized with an Honorable Mention for her fantastic poster! The Cornell lab as a whole presented more presentations than any other lab in attendance at the conference.

Miranda Fetchen, Jaime Matson, and Taylor Robbins presented at the Lehigh Valley Ecology and Evolution Symposium and Miranda won 2nd place for her awesome oral presentation!

February 2019

All 6 research students this semester submitted abstracts for poster (3) and oral (3) presentations at the Pennsylvania Academy of Science Annual Meeting. We're looking forward to the meeting in March!

January 2019

Senior Taylor Robbins gave a Departmental Seminar on her senior thesis topic, "Parenting Behaviors in American Kestrels". Great work, Taylor!

November 2018

Freshman researcher Courtney Zimmerman found 2 bat wings in our kestrel pellets from the 2018 breeding season. Prior to Courtney's findings, we did not know our kestrels were hunting bats to provision chicks! So far only 2/9 nests show bat predation.

Dr. Cornell coauthored a study recently published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, "Effects of an introduced, novel prey on diet and reproduction in the diet-specialist European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)." Read the article here:​

September 2018

Our lab received funding from the Blake Nutall Fund for the project "Diet, landscape, and physiological and morphological development in a declining population of American kestrels." Funding will be used to purchase equipment and fund stipends for undergraduate field researchers over the summer!


Local newspaper, The Morning Call, featured our lab's collaborative research with the USDA on the invasive spotted lanternfly. Lab students Miranda Fetchen and Leslie Abreu were both interviewed and featured prominently! Read the article here:

Welcome ​to our new Cornell lab members for Fall 2018:

Taylor (Senior, Environmental Conservation Major)

Miranda (Junior, Environmental Conservation & Math)

Courtney (Freshman)

Cassidy (Freshman)

Good to have you in the lab!

May 2018

The American kestrel field season has begun! We'll be in the field daily until the chicks fledge at the end of June. Keep an eye out for photos and videos we'll be uploading to the lab site in the next several weeks!

April 13, 2018

Dr. Cornell was honored to be the speaker at the Beta Beta Beta (biology honors society) Induction Ceremony. Her talk was entitled, "What do songbirds and Cedar Crest women have in common?" Congratulations to the new inductees!

April 7, 2018

Alexis Zigarelli (junior BIO 353 research student) and Mercy Melo (freshman BIO 243 research student) each presented a poster on their independent research projects at the Lehigh Valley Ecology and Evolution Symposium hosted at Cedar Crest College. Excellent job, Alexis and Mercy!

March 23-25, 2018

Fernanda Culichia (junior BIO 353 research student), Leslie Abreu and Mercy Melo (both freshmen BIO 243 research students), each presented a poster on their independent research projects at the Pennsylvania Academy of Science Conference hosted at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Everyone did an awesome job presenting! Mercy received an Honorable Mention for her poster presentation!

March 20, 2018

Dr. Cornell taught at 1-day course for Cedar Crest's Institute for Learning in Retirement on "Birdwatching and Citizen Science". It was great to teach such an energetic group of students and she looks forward to offering more courses in the future.

March 5, 2018

Dr. Cornell and colleagues from Simon Fraser University had a teaching case study accepted to the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science!

Citation: Sharp J, Barley E, Lam K, Aulakh S, Cornell A, Fitzpatrick K. 2018. Speciation and the threespine stickleback. National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science​

March 2, 2018

Dr. Cornell volunteered at the Da Vinci Science Center's Women in Science Career Exploration Day, and engaged students who visited the Cedar Crest table with a live experiment.

January 6, 2018

Dr. Cornell received a Faculty Development Grant from Cedar Crest College to fund field supplies for this summer's research at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

October 26, 2017

Lab member Fernanda (Fern) Culichia was awarded the John R. Griswold Award in Organic Chemistry for the highest overall score in Organic Chemistry I & II. Congratulations, Fern!

September 2017

Dr. Cornell had a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The study focuses on the developmental trajectory of chicks and the Cornell Lab will continue this work on American kestrels in summer 2018!

Citation: Cornell A, Williams TD. 2017. Variation in developmental trajectories of physiological and somatic traits in a common songbird approaching fledging. Journal of Experimental Biology 220(21): 4060-4067.


Madleen (right) with her poster and Dr. Cornell (left)


An incomplete nest in one of our bluebird nest boxes. By the end of April we expect these nests will be completed and first eggs will be laid.


Upper: Female Eastern Bluebird banded red, red, red, and a federally issued metal band

Lower: Female Eastern Bluebird showing her white and red bands on her left leg

Photos by Joe Gyekis


Lauren, Emily, Dr. Cornell, and Matt holding kestrel nestlings


A nest box with 1 Eastern bluebird egg


American kestrel nestling from our recent study


Spotted lanternfly, image from National Park Service

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Good memories from the 2019 field season


Mercy holding a 21 day old kestrel

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Mercy, Courtney, and Leslie setting up a new kestrel nest box for the 2019 breeding season


Courtney presents her poster

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Courtney Zimmerman with bat wing


Top: Leslie Abreu, Bottom: Miranda Fetchen

Photos by the Morning Call photographer April Gamiz (

Kestrel chicks on day 7, photos by Jaime Matson

Alexis at her poster

Leslie, Fern, & Mercy with their PAS posters

Mercy, Dr. Cornell, Leslie & Fern at PAS

Dr. Cornell at the Da Vinci Science Center's Women in Science event

Fern with her award in the chemistry hallway

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