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New Mexico State University’s Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center designed and manufactured a computerized hummingbird feeder that will bring insight to hummingbirds and their territorial behavior.
The hummingbird feeder will help researchers find out more about the correlation between a hummingbird’s cognitive abilities and whether or not they have territory.
The project is collaboration between M-TEC, NMSU’s biology department and the electrical engineering department, and is led by Tim Wright, biology associate professor, and Wei Tang, electrical engineering assistant professor.
M-TEC designed and modified a hummingbird feeder to accommodate multiple micro servo motors which open and close a door through wireless frequencies to allow access to the nectar. The electrical engineering department contributed the controller, the detection mechanism to alert the feeder when a bird is near, and data logging. The biology department will conduct research with the feeder in Costa Rica beginning in March 2014.
The project is funded by an Interdisciplinary Research Grant from the NMSU Office of the Vice President for Research, with plans to apply for further funds from the National Science Foundation.
M-TEC engineer Yu-Ping Tang provided several design options for the team. Through collaboration, the team came up with the best solution that was energy efficient, low-cost and simple.
Chase Remley, a senior in mechanical engineering technology and M-TEC employee, was heavily involved in the project, which provided design experience along with advanced manufacturing and prototyping. Remley said he was able to learn more about the design process and project management through this work.
“M-TEC students work on projects and as they progress through our program, and they also learn how to design, engineer and manufacture products. This leads to students becoming project managers for a multitude of projects here at M-TEC,” said Charlie Park, M-TEC’s manager.
Marcelo Araya Salas, the NMSU biology graduate student who will conduct the research with the feeder, said that the automated mechanism M-TEC designed and built will provide individually-tagged birds with access to different flowers on the nectar feeder. A radio-frequency identification reader circuit designed by the electrical engineering team led by Tang will read the identification of each bird and open an individually-specific sequence of flowers on the feeders.
Salas will keep track of the birds that remember which flowers had the nectar and which ones have to try multiple flowers when they return to the feeder. The smarter birds will remember which flower has the nectar and those not as smart will have to try multiple flowers before finding the nectar.
The hummingbirds will have tags that will read the birds’ identification and Salas will take video so that he can analyze how many flowers the hummingbird tried before finding the right flower.
“What we want to do is relate the cognitive abilities of individuals to their ability to defend territories,” Salas said.
Salas said that this kind of prototype could be useful in other studies of hummingbirds, as there also are different ways to test the abilities of hummingbirds with the device.
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