Dr. Ray L. Winstead
IUP Professor of Biology

Aerial Insects Balloon Project:
Project Description

                Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) are birds commonly seen in downtown Indiana during the spring and summer months.  After migrating from Peru the birds arrive in Indiana in mid-April, based on my own personal records over many years.  (In 2006 I saw the first Chimney Swifts over Indiana Friday April 21 - in fact, right above Weyandt Hall on campus.)* During the day they are often seen continuously flying over the buildings in downtown Indiana and over campus while “hawking” aerial insects, their almost exclusive source of food (Zammuto et al. 1981).  “Swifts are very aerial species and spend much of their lives on the wing,” “require foraging habitat with high numbers of aerial insects,” and because they are insectivores, swifts are also important agents in pest control” (Camfield, 2004).  One author (Woods, 1940) stated “The Chimney Swift is perhaps our most valuable bird as a destroyer of large numbers of insects.”  My objective for the proposed research study is to answer the question "What aerial insects are available for local Chimney Swifts to eat?"  The insects can not be seen from the ground and searches of scientific journals and the Internet reveal that very little detailed information is known about this topic.  My proposed method of answering that question would be to capture the insects by attaching Acrylic "sticky traps" or "flight intercept traps" at different heights to the tether rope of a ten-foot-diameter helium balloon.

                Before applying for research funds a number of people have been contacted to verify the feasibility of the study.  For example, I have already gained approval both from Mr. Todd Heming, the manager of the Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport, and Mr. Terry Ricker (through Mr. Heming), who is Federal Aviation Administration Principal Operations Inspector of the Allegheny Flight Standards District Office in Pittsburgh, PA, to fly the balloon up to 200 feet (60.96 meters) off the ground from the top of Weyandt Hall on campus.  (The deck on the roof of Weyandt Hall where the balloon is attached is 14.10 meters (46.25 feet) above the ground.) Mr. Heming has agreed to issue an “FAA Advisory Notice to Airmen” (NOTAM) to pilots using the local airport about the presence of the balloon.  I have inspected the roof of Weyandt Hall and picked out a good place for the balloon.  Dean Eck of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM), as well as Dr. Carl Luciano, chair of the Department of Biology, have also approved the project.  Mr. Mike Robertson, the person in charge of the NSM chemical stockroom, and Mr. George Carenzo, the technician in the NSM Science Shop, have been helpful in planning for their parts in the project.

                I plan to attach a total of five, 31.62cm x 31.62 cm (1,000-square-centimeters) Acrylic panes to the tether rope at different heights.  (The panes are attached at 55 meters (180.45 feet) above the ground, 48 meters above the ground, 41 meters above the ground, 34 meters above the ground, and 27 meters (88.58 feet) above the ground.) I have already been in contact with a balloon vendor and with other vendors to get their advice and to verify they have the supplies I would need (but nothing has been ordered or purchased).  The pane of Acrylic would be coated with a sticky substance, and insects when either hitting or landing on the sticky surface would be unable to extricate themselves.  I plan to use "Tangle-Trap Insect Trap Coating" as the sticky substance, since, according to its advertisement and company personnel, it is pesticide free, clear and odorless, able to endure all weather cycles and temperature changes, as well as available in three formulas: brush, paste, and aerosol.  I have been in contact both with the manufacturer of Tangle-Trap Insect Trap Coating and a vendor, and, in addition to them communicating with each other about this project, they have advised me to use Histoclear as the solvent to remove the insects from the Tangle-Trap Insect Trap Coating on the Acrylic pane.  Information on the vendor's website also states that Histoclear "will remove the adhesive (tangletrap) so you can have a clean, undamaged specimen."  The insects would then be preserved in 75% alcohol for later identification.  The Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA through Mr. T. J. Tomon, Curatorial Assistant in the Section of Invertebrate Zoology, has already agreed to identify the collected insects to order.  IUP professor Dr. Bill Meil, chair of the IUP Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) has confirmed that no IACUC approval is needed for this project.  The plan is for the balloon to be up three days a week during April, May, and June, 2006.

                Besides regularly teaching a graduate course on biostatistics and research design (BIOL602 Biometry) every fall, I have also taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in ornithology (BIOL261 Ornithology, BIOL622 Advanced Ornithology) during the last two years.

Literature cited:


Camfield, A. 2004. "Apodidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web.

Woods, G. T. 1940. “Chimney Swifts Destroy Many Insects” Bird-Banding XI: 173-174.

Zammuto, R. M., E. C. Franks, and C. R. Preston. 1981. “Factors associated with the interval between feeding visits in brood-rearing Chimney Swifts” Journal of Field


* Highlighted areas above have been added to the original grant description.

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