Island life is for the birds

Photo copyright Jacinda Martinez

Cameron Rutt ’08
Summa Cum Laude graduate, biology
Currently resides in Borneo, Southeast Asia

Lions and tigers and bears? How about leeches, leopards, and pit vipers? Collecting data from bird’s nests in Borneo, Southeast Asia comes with unexpected dangers and welcome rewards for this biology alum from Messiah College.

On daily treks through the Bornean jungle, a region known for its unparalled biodiversity, Cameron Rutt analyzes bird nests to capture data on avian lifespan, gestation periods, number of offspring, and more. His work, part of a National Science Foundation research project, is far from typical. From peeling dozens of leeches from his feet and ankles (and occasionally from his belly button), to sharing space with masses of cockroaches, and even sidestepping snakes tucked snugly in birds’ nests, Rutt finds himself in a world far removed from Grantham, yet one always close to his heart.

“Fieldwork does not go without its perils and hitches,” says Rutt. “I’ve encountered pit-vipers, skimmed by leopards and orangutans sleeping on riverside branches, and even had parasites from a nest infect my scalp.” Yet, according to Rutt, life on the world’s third largest island has its rewards: such as chasing down Bornean endemics (species found only in Borneo) like the Barbet, Blue Flycatcher, and Whitehead’s Spiderhunter. Even the unusual Rafflesias catches Rutt’s attention. The species is credited as having the largest individual weight of any flowering plant. “But the most interesting thing about the Rafflesias is that it smells like rotting flesh!” he exclaims.

My time at Messiah College helped me to cement my desire to intertwine birds and my vocation. Participating in biological travel courses, landing bird jobs during summers, and garnering an intellectual background in the science were all critical in helping to prepare me for this experience. The foundation that my biology training at Messiah provided was fundamental in achieving this end.

Cameron Rutt

On a break from work, Rutt and friends visit Gomantong Caves—limestone caves teeming with millions of bats and nesting swiftlets whose byproduct—guano—accumulates in mounds on the floors and walls. Massive populations of cockroaches scurry along the walks ways and handrails, oblivious to locals in pursuit of swiftlets nests, a culinary delicacy composed entirely of saliva. Says Rutt of the adventure, “The caves were wonderfully disgusting, absolutely filthy, and lose-your appetite intriguing.”

Posted in 2008, Biology, Environmental Studies, Honors Program, Majors & Minors | 1 Comment »

Posted on July 2nd, 2009

One Response to “Island life is for the birds”

  1. Benny Ong Says:

    I did a similar Earthwatch Expedition in the Wetlands of Belarus which this article reminded me of. I found this page while researching on swiftlets. A nice read!


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