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Upcoming Programs

David Lank – Competition, cooperation, and deceit among three male morphs of ruffs and the females that choose to mate with them: is this the most complex avian mating system?

January 6, 2020


University Research Associate
Simon Fraser University

Ruffs (Philomachus [or Calidris, if you prefer] pugnax) have the most complex mating system of any bird in the world.  Three genetically distinct types of males, with different morphologies and mating strategies, attempt to mate at leks with as many females as possible.  Most highly ornamented males fight, but others are somewhat cooperative, and small unornamented males mimic female morphology and behaviour.  Nearly all ornamented males carry individually distinctive plumage coloration and patterns.  How and why did this hyperdiversity in behaviour and morphology evolve, and how does it persist?  A chance chromosomal mutation 4 million ago started this unique situation, but it persists through complex social interactions.  Uneasy alliances occur between certain males despite their fundamental competition for mates.  Although there is strong sexual selection, with many females choosing to mate with particular males and most males mating with none each year, all three morphs and the extensive plumage variation persists.  What has thwarted directional selection for one type of male in this case?  My talk will cover genetics, development, identity signals, mate choice, and the social behavior that maintains these complex polymorphisms.

David Lank started studying shorebirds during the summer of 1972, when he demonstrated the use of star compasses by migrant semipalmated sandpipers for his undergraduate thesis research at Marlboro College, Vermont.  Following a MSc at the University of Minnesota and PhD at Cornell on the behavioral ecology of sandpipers at migratory stopover sites, he joined Lew Oring to study polyandry in spotted sandpipers.  In 1984 he began fieldwork on the complex mating system of ruffs, which continues to this day, including work with a captive breeding flock since 1985.  Following a decade as a researcher at Queens University, Ontario, he is now at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver BC, Canada, where he has supervised research on the breeding biology of western sandpipers and phalaropes, migration and non-breeding season biology of shorebirds in British Columbia, Mexico and northern South America.  His more recent research has emphasized the role of the change in ‘danger landscapes’ brought about by resurgent raptor populations on the migratory and non-breeding biology of shorebirds.

Sarah Hird – Birds and Bacteria: The Avian Microbiome

February 3, 2020


Assistant Professor, Molecular and Cell Biology
University of Connecticut

Microorganisms have existed on this planet for billions of years. They have shaped our world in countless important ways. How have microorganisms affected animal evolution? Birds are a globally important clade of animals that are essential components to nearly all terrestrial and many aquatic ecosystems. Their morphological, ecological and phylogenetic diversity are immense. All birds have microbiomes - the communities of microorganisms that exist on and in birds. Microbiomes performs various functions for their hosts but can also have little or negative effects on host biology. The microbes within the microbiome benefit from their association with a host, but can also be negatively affected. The Hird Lab uses the genomic information of the microbiome and computational methods to address this question: What can the microbiome tell us about birds - and specifically, bird evolution?

Sarah Hird is an assistant professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology department at the University of Connecticut. She is an evolutionary biologist interested in how the microbes that live on and in birds (collectively, the “microbiome”) have affected bird biology and evolution. She received a Master’s degree from the University of Idaho, a PhD from Louisiana State University and was a UC Davis Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Davis. Outside the lab, she is devoted to diversifying Academia and supporting women in science. Outside Academia, she enjoys playing Legos with her kids.

Jennie Duberstein – Working across borders to conserve birds and habitats in the southwest US and northwest Mexico

April 6, 2020

Sonoran Joint Venture Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The southwest United States and northwest Mexico is a region of incredible biological diversity, as well as human diversity. Birds and habitats don't recognize international boundaries, and neither can our efforts to conserve then. Successful conservation requires cross-border collaboration that takes into account not just the biological needs, but also the social needs of the region. The Sonoran Joint Venture is a binational partnership the works to conserve the unique birds and habitats of the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. Join Dr. Jennie Duberstein, Sonoran Joint Venture Coordinator, to learn how the SJV brings together partners from both sides of the border to develop and implement innovative mechanisms to address the biggest conservation priorities of the region and ensure a healthy landscape for birds, other wildlife, and people.

Dr. Jennie Duberstein is a wildlife biologist and conservation social scientist who has spent her professional career working to build partnerships for bird and habitat conservation across the United States and northwest Mexico. She has directed environmental education programs, developed community-based conservation projects in the U.S.-Mexico border region, developed and taught courses and workshops on bird identification, ecotourism, and bird monitoring, and has studied species including Double-crested Cormorant and wading birds in Sonora and Yellow-billed Cuckoos in Arizona. Jennie has also worked with young birders for many years, directing field courses, summer camps, and conferences, and generally helping to connect young people with opportunities and each other. Jennie received her B.S. in Wildlife Biology from Virginia Tech and her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Gabrielle Nevitt – Following the Scent of Avian Olfaction

May 4, 2020

Professor, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior
University of California, Davis

When John James Audubon proclaimed that birds lacked a sense of smell, the study of avian olfaction was doomed to suffer ridicule by ornithology text books for years to come. In recent years, ornithologists have renewed their interest into the sense of smell in birds leading to a new appreciation of their chemical ecology. The tubenosed seabirds (petrels and albatrosses) of the order Procellariiformes have among the most impressive olfactory abilities of any animal on earth. Species within this order spend most of their lives flying over the world’s oceans, returning to land each year or every other year, to breed and rear a single offspring. They tend to partner for life and show strong nest-site fidelity between breeding seasons. Much of my research career has focused on elucidating how procellariform species use olfaction to perform behaviors ranging from foraging and navigation to mate choice and individual recognition. My presentation will touch on some of our recent findings and hopefully convince you that olfaction is a rich field of study, and that questions related to sensory ecology are both important and applicable to scientific inquiry into the biology and conservation.

Gabrielle Nevitt is a leader in the field of vertebrate Chemical Ecology and has conducted pioneering research in the sense of smell in birds, focussing on procellariform seabirds. She graduated from Stanford University, received her PhD in Zoology from the University of Washington, and did postdoctoral training in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. She has been a professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior at UC Davis for 24 years. She lives with her family on a rural property with various birds including emus.

Gail Patricelli – Robots, Telemetry, & the Sex Lives of Wild Birds Using technology to study & protect an enigmatic bird

June 1, 2020

Professor, Department of Evolution and Ecology
University of California, Davis

Animals use a dizzying array of sounds, smells, colors, dances, electrical fields and seismic vibrations to convince each other to mate. These elaborate courtship signals were a mystery until Darwin’s time—after proposing his theory of natural selection, Darwin was left with the question of how the flamboyant peacock could be shaped by the same process that makes the peahen so perfectly camouflaged. There is now strong support for Darwin’s answer to this question, the process he termed sexual selection, proposing that the courting sex must be elaborate because the courted sex demands it. But how can we study the conversations males and females in non-human animals have about mating? One way to do this is to participate, controlling one side of the conversation with a robot. Gail Patricelli will talk about using robotic females and other technology to study courtship behaviors in the greater sage-grouse, and how such research informs conservation of this iconic North American bird and its habitat.

Gail Patricelli is a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis. Professor Patricelli and members of her lab study bioacoustics, the evolution of breeding behaviors, and the impacts of noise pollution on birds.

Past Programs

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Dr. Gustavo Bravo – The Natural History and Diversification of Neotropical Suboscine Birds

December 9, 2019

Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University The suboscines passerines represent almost 15% of the world’s avifauna. One in three Neotropical bird species is a suboscine, making this the perfect group to examine the origins of tropical biodiversity. Many species are widely distributed and can occur in various habitats, whereas others are geographically restricted and exhibit…

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Dr. David M. Bird – Can Drones Help Our Bird Populations?

November 4, 2019

Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology McGill University Small unmanned vehicle systems (UVS), sometimes referred to as “drones” and formerly exclusive to militaries, are rapidly advancing in sophistication and availability to civilians. Ranging from hand-launched autonomous airplanes to terrestrial robots to underwater machines, they are increasingly being employed in such areas as agriculture, emergency services, meteorology,…

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Craig Benkman – Diversification and speciation in crossbills: the importance of a “charmed life”

October 7, 2019

Professor and Robert B. Berry Distinguished Chair in Ecology University of Wyoming After providing an overview of the patterns and processes driving crossbill diversification, this talk will focus on the premating reproductive isolating barriers contributing to speciation in crossbills. Crossbill are interesting in this regard because many crossbill taxa have diverged recently (<11,000 years ago)…

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Dr. John Marzluff – Gifts of the Crow

June 3, 2019

Crows are mischievous, playful, social, and passionate. They have brains that are huge for their body size and exhibit an avian kind of eloquence. They mate for life and associate with relatives and neighbors for years. And because they often live near people—in our gardens, parks, and cities—they are also keenly aware of our peculiarities, staying away…

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Dr. Pamela Loring – Tracking Offshore Movements of Shorebirds and Seabirds

May 6, 2019

Recent advances in wildlife tracking technologies now make it possible to track movements of small-bodied birds at unprecedented scales. Since 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners have deployed miniaturized transmitters on hundreds of seabirds (Common and Roseate Terns) and shorebirds (Piping Plovers and Red Knots) in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. This…

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Emily DuVal – Dancing Birds, Sexual Selection, and the Evolution of Cooperation in a Tropical Forest

April 1, 2019

Males of many species engage in fierce competition for mates.  That competition can take the form of intense battles with rivals or flashy displays that attract females, but in just a few species, males do something truly unusual:  instead of competing, they cooperate.  Male lance-tailed manakins form long-terms two-male partnerships and display together for females,…

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Richard Prum – Mate Choice, Sexual Conflict, and Sexual Autonomy: Everything you ever wanted to know about duck sex, but were afraid to ask

March 4, 2019

Mate choice is well appreciated mechanism in the evolution of avian ornaments.  However, sexual coercion and sexual violence can also influence avian breeding systems, leading to sexual conflict. This talk will explore sexual conflict in waterfowl, bowerbirds, and lek evolution. The conclusion is that freedom of choice matters to birds. Sexual autonomy actively evolves in…

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Matthew Kamm – Avian Real Estate in a Buyer’s Market: What Nest Box Programs Can Tell Us About American Kestrels

February 4, 2019

American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) are North America’s smallest raptor species. Once regarded as the most common raptor in America, kestrels have been declining across many parts of their large range over the past decades. Nest box programs aimed at addressing the limited breeding habitat for this species have popped up all across the continent, yet…

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Dr. Katharine Parsons – Piping Plover Protection in Massachusetts: Recovering Populations and Facing Climate Change

January 7, 2019

Begun in 1987, Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbird Program (CWP) annually monitors Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) nesting activity and protects habitat at 195 beach sites along 260 km of Massachusetts’ coastline.  Nesting at these locations are approximately 220 pairs of plovers—a third of the Massachusetts population listed as “threatened” under state and federal endangered species laws. …

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Dr. Edward O. Wilson – Half Earth: A plea to save 50% of our lands and oceans for humans and biodiversity

December 3, 2018

Dr. Wilson will be flanked by Peter Alden who will introduce him and guide a lively Q&A from Nuttall and audience members.  Dr. Robert Ridgely will end with a short, illustrated presentation on the history of the Cordillera Azul Antbird recently named for Dr. Wilson. Edward O. Wilson is recognized as one of the creators…

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Dr. David Mizrahi – Connecting the Dots: Understanding Dramatic Declines in a Widespread Migratory Shorebird

November 5, 2018

Dr. Mizrahi will review 20 years of research to unravel connectivity in Semipalmated Sandpipers populations throughout the annual cycle and determine what factors during the winter, migration and breeding periods underlie significant declines in populations, especially those migrating through the Western Atlantic region. He will also discuss conservation efforts that address several of the major…

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Dr. Nils Warnock – Wings over borders – migration and conservation of shorebirds around the Pacific Basin

October 1, 2018

Nils will talk about the migration and conservation of shorebirds around the Pacific Basin, focusing on studies he and collaborators have done over the past 30 years.  His initial research focused on the migration of small shorebirds like the Western Sandpiper and the Dunlin through western North America. More recent work looked at large-scale movements…

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Dr. Geoffrey Hill – Speciation and Sexual Selection as processes to maintain Mitronuclear Coadaptation

June 4, 2018

Eukaryoic performance hinges on the coordinated function of the products of the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes in achieving oxidative phosphorylation.  Because two genomes are involved, function is maintained only through perpetual selection for mitonuclear coadaptation.  He will discuss how these fundamental features of the genomic architecture of eukaryotes results in both pre-and post-zygotic sorting for…

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Charles van Rees – Marshbirds in Paradise: The Ecology and Conservation of the Hawaiian Gallinule

May 7, 2018

The Hawaiian Islands have experienced waves of avian extinctions during Polynesian and European colonization, becoming a hotspot for the loss of bird species. Although the plight of Hawaiian forest birds is well known, conservation issues surrounding Hawaiian waterbirds and the wetlands that support them are less well understood. This presentation integrates the full research of…

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David Brinker – Rise and Fall of Northern Goshawks in the Central Appalachian Mountains

April 2, 2018

Persecuted for years as a robber of game, as attitudes have slowly changed and over the past 50 years, Northern Goshawks have expanded their breeding range and increased their population size in the Northeastern U. S., including the Central Appalachians. Since 1977 Dave Brinker has studied goshawks in both Northeastern Wisconsin and the Central Appalachian…

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Dr. Daniel Mennill – Wild birds learn to sing from experimental vocal tutors

March 5, 2018

In eight groups of animals, including humans and songbirds, young animals learn to vocalize by listening to adults. Experimental evidence from laboratory studies supports this hypothesis for vocal learning, however there is no experimental evidence of vocal learning in wild animals. Dr. Mennill developed an innovative playback technology to simulate vocal tutors in the wild.…

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Dr. Richard (Rob) Bierregaard – Tracking Ospreys in the Age of Silicon: Migration, Ecology, and Conservation

February 5, 2018

When, in the mid 1990s, technological advances permitted us to build radio transmitters capable of sending signals to satellites orbiting the earth and small enough to place on an Osprey, windows into their lives away from the nest were thrown wide open. Thanks to bird band recoveries, we already knew that most North American Ospreys…

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Dr. Jonathan Regosin – Thirty Years of Piping Plover Conservation and Management in Massachusetts: Long-term Trends and Recent Developments

January 8, 2018

The Piping Plover is a state and federally threatened shorebird, with about 10,000 adults remaining, worldwide.  Massachusetts has an important role to play in Piping Plover conservation, accounting for approximately 40% of the Piping Plovers breeding on the Atlantic Coast.  The speaker will review 30 years of progress in Piping Plover conservation and research, challenges…

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Dr. Amanda Rodewald – A Bird’s Eye View of Nature in the City

December 4, 2017

With urban land expected to triple between 2000-2030, understanding the ecology of cities is sorely needed to safeguard ecosystem services, biodiversity, and our own well-being. One common target of urban conservation is birds, owing to both their charisma and sensitivity to environmental change. Though urban development is a real threat to birds across all ecosystem…

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Dr. James van Remsen – The cavalcade of discovery of new species and genera of South American bird … and how long will it continue?

November 6, 2017

In the 1950s, Ernst Mayr said that the age of discovery of new species of birds had largely ended. Since then, at least 125 new species of birds have been discovered in South America alone, including more than 40 by the LSU Museum of Natural Science. This represents an increase in species richness of about…

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