Student Stories from Abroad - Aaron B.

Join McGill Abroad as we take a tour around McGill's global learning opportunities. Environmental Biology student Aaron completed an exchange to Peru and shares the experience with McGill Abroad.

My name is Aaron and I'm a U2 student studying Environmental Biology with a specialization in Wildlife Biology. This past summer, I did an internship working as a field assistant for McGill PhD student Francis Van Oordt. Francis is studying the foraging ecology and energetics of resident Peruvian seabirds and so I spent my internship in Peru traveling back and forth between Lima and the remote islands which held our field sites. These islands housed the colonies of seabirds which Francis is studying with population numbers ranging from the thousands to over a million.

In the field, I helped identify active nest sites and then extract birds from their burrows which led to banding, taking body measurements, obtaining blood samples, and then releasing them. Learning how to properly handle seabirds of all different sizes in the palm of your hand is not always easy but it is very exciting! I have now personally handled Humboldt Penguins, Markham’s Storm Petrels, Peruvian Diving Petrels, and the silly Peruvian Booby. In my opinion, the penguins were the feistiest ones.

When not working directly with the birds, my job as a field assistant had a wide variety of tasks. I spent a lot of time organizing data, cleaning used equipment, and preparing equipment for the next trip. Living on remote islands of course led to more mundane jobs as well, like cooking and cleaning, but most of the work was shared with the local guardians which just made the experience more interesting.

As a passionate birder with a special interest in seabirds, and as an aspiring field biologist specializing in ornithology, this opportunity was a dream come true. Ever since I was a child I have been watching nature films wishing I could one day be the biologist who gets to go study penguins or albatross in remote wild locations. The possibility of turning that dream into reality is why I decided to go to McGill. Now, after only my first year, I’ve experienced a day in the life of a field biologist—fulfilling that dream—and have witnessed and learned firsthand how research in the field is conducted. In addition, I’ve learned all about the ecosystem of the Humboldt Current, the seabirds of Peru, and seabird colonies, which, as a passionate naturalist seeking to explore the world, is priceless knowledge that could help lead to many more ventures. I’m extremely grateful for the internship, for I know that obtaining this specific first-hand field experience based on research related to ornithology will directly help me pursue many more opportunities in the future.

This experience confirmed my love of the ocean and its wildlife, and I am planning on going back to the big Blue for the next few summers. I also have serious interest in perusing research on seabirds one day as well.

This internship was not just an amazing opportunity or something to put on a CV, it was the fulfilment of a dream for me and the first very big step toward the life I envision for myself.

The Schull Yang Award allowed me to fulfill one of my dreams this summer: to spend many nights on the Pacific Ocean surrounded by stars, to study and help conserve the beautiful marine wildlife which I love, to see my first penguin, and even to experience South America for the first time!


Aaron numbering metal plates used to mark active nest sites within a colony of Peruvian Diving Petrels (Pelecanoides garnotii) on the Island of La Vieja, Peru. (Photo taken by Francis Van Oordt)

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