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Jennifer Mortensen

Jennifer Mortensen – The White-Breasted Thrasher: An Endangered, Cooperative Breeder

The White-breasted Thrasher, described as a “very rare bird” by James Bond in 1928, continues to be rare today.  We have been studying White-breasted Thrasher demography and cooperative behavior at the stronghold of its Saint Lucian distribution, the site of recent, significant habitat loss.  Here I will present on the species’ natural history, our ongoing research (just four weeks ago we banded our 473rd bird!), and a recently created species conservation plan.

Jennifer Mortensen received a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MS from Villanova University. After finishing at Villanova, she was the coordinator for a University of Pennsylvania-led project investigating the ecological and social impacts of climate change in northern Mongolia. At present she is a PhD student at Tufts University, working under the direction of Michael Reed. Her research focus is on understanding how avian social behavior affects population dynamics and extinction risk, with fieldwork focused on White-breasted Thrashers.

Here is more from Ms Mortensen:

I did not grow up loving birds and seem to remember always wanting to be a dentist. And somehow I ended up on tropical islands chasing White-breasted Thrashers. Everything definitely worked out for the best.

I was raised in an Army family. We moved every few years, from Panama to Michigan to Kentucky to Kansas to California to Thailand to Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, I fit right in, consuming my daily quota of cheese and settling into an undergraduate career at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. After graduating, I found work on a Dane County organic farm, caught California Sea Lions in Mexico, desperately searched for the Cerulean Warbler in Kentucky, before finally making my way out east. In Philadelphia, itching to do my own research (and tiring of waitressing), I began an MS in the Biology Department at Villanova University.

I saw my first White-breasted Thrasher nine months later. After finishing at Villanova, I stayed in Philly and worked as the project coordinator for a University of Pennsylvania-led project investigating the ecological and social impacts of climate change in northern Mongolia. I facilitated a National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Resarch and Education (NSF – PIRE) collaboration by coordinating and tracking the activities of researchers and students at the University of Pennsylvania, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the National University of Mongolia. A job perk was being a member of the field research team in Mongolia for three seasons. However, I couldn’t stay away from neotropical birds for long.

I am currently a PhD student at Tufts University working under the direction of Dr. J. Michael Reed. My research focus is on understanding how avian social behavior affects population dynamics and extinction risk, with fieldwork focused on the cooperatively breeding White-breasted Thrasher.

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