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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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Allison Shultz – History of the House Finch: Introductions, Novel Pathogens and Rapid Adaptation

April 6, 2015

Human-mediated introductions of species into new environments are common today with the ease of global travel, whether they be accidental or intentional. It is critical to understand the genetic effects these introductions have on the new populations as they adapt to their environment and face novel challenges, including diseases. The House Finch, a species native…

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David Wiley / Kevin Powers – Preliminary Results of Great Shearwater Habitat Use in and around Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

March 2, 2015

Dr. David Wiley and Kevin Powers will discuss their research on Great Shearwaters. For the past three years the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary’s science team and collaborators have placed satellite tags on Great Shearwaters to investigate patterns of habitat use, long range movements and bycatch in commercial fisheries. The team is also investigating food…

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Roni Martinez – Neotropical Raptor Research & Conservation

February 3, 2015

Roni Martinez was born in Belize and has always been submersed in nature. He worked as a natural history guide at Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize from 2004 until mid-2014. In 2009, he became Blancaneaux’s first Conservation Officer, the first such position in Belize. In this position, he worked along with many different researchers and conservation…

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Kim Peters – How Airfields in the Northeast Can Provide Benefits to Grassland Birds, Maintain Aircraft Safety and Support Broad-scale Conservation for Declining Species

January 5, 2015

Species associated with grasslands and other open spaces represent one of the most imperiled and rapidly declining groups of birds in North America.  The Northeastern U.S. is increasingly being recognized as an important source of breeding habitat.  For grasshopper sparrows, upland sandpipers, and eastern meadowlarks, airfields provide the some of the largest breeding sites in…

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Jeff Gordon – How Birding Can Save Your Life and Maybe, Just Maybe, Save the World

December 1, 2014

Alvaro Jaramillo has said that if golf is a good walk spoiled, then birding is a good walk perfected.  It’s such a simple, compelling, positive message.  But that positivity is something that birders as a community have relatively rarely managed to convey.  Why is it that with as great a “product” to sell as the…

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Shiloh Schulte – Arctic Shorebirds of Coats Island, Canada

November 3, 2014

Each year tiny Semipalmated Sandpipers and their larger relatives make a tremendously difficult trip from their South American wintering grounds to their breeding territories in the Arctic.  In recent years the eastern population of Semipalmated Sandpipers has declined sharply and  Manomet scientists set out to discover why.  Traveling to a remote field camp on Coats…

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

October 6, 2014

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…

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Andrew Vitz – Why are Songbirds so Hard to Locate in Midsummer: An Examination of the Post-fledging Period

June 2, 2014

Andrew Vitz, who is from Cincinnati, Ohio, earned a BS from the University of Wisconsin and his MS and PhD from Ohio State University, studying the post-fledging ecology of forest songbirds. Dr Vitz worked four years as an avian ecologist for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pennsylvania before being appointed Massachusetts State Ornithologist…

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Robert M. Zink – Sisyphean Evolution in Darwin’s Finches

May 5, 2014

Robert M. Zink, leading scholar in avian evolution, holds the Breckenridge Chair in Ornithology and has served as Curator of Birds at the Bell Museum of Natural History and as Professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. Dr Zink earned his BS at University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, in 1977 and his…

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Mia Revels – Natural History of the Swainson’s Warbler

April 7, 2014

Dr. Mia Revels, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, has risen to the challenge of assessing the status of Swainson’s Warbler in Oklahoma. Revels’ was an undergraduate at Northeastern State and received her degree in natural sciences and science education. She then earned a Master of Science in natural…

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Robert McCracken Peck – Audubon in the West

March 3, 2014

Robert McCracken Peck, Senior Fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, is a writer, naturalist and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He served as Special Assistant to the Academy’s President and Director of the Academy’s Natural History Museum before being named Fellow of the…

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Diego Calderón-Franco – Colombia: A Plethora of Birds New to Science

February 3, 2014

Diego Calderón-Franco was born in Medellín, Colombia and studied biology at the Universidad de Antioquia. He has been involved in exploring poorly-known, remote areas in the Neotropics with an emphasis on Colombia. He has been active in central Andes exploration and bird survey work, several audio recording projects, and research on manakin display behavior in…

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Gerrit Vyn – Chasing a Unicorn: Expeditions to Capture the First Comprehensive Media of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

January 6, 2014

Also see: supplementary video Gerrit Vyn is a Seattle-based photographer deeply committed to conservation and connecting people more intimately with the myriad creatures sharing this miraculous and fragile planet. His work often focuses on birds because they are powerful and visible indicators of environmental health and change. Gerrit’s images have been used by most major…

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Carol R. Foss, PhD – The Rusty Blackbird: Elusive Denizen of Northern Wetlands

December 2, 2013

Carol Foss, Director of Conservation at Audubon Society of New Hampshire, holds a B.A. in Biology from Colby College, a M.S. in Zoology from the University of Connecticut, and a Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Maine. Carol has served NH Audubon in a variety of capacities for more than 30 years, beginning…

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Fletcher Smith – Satellite Tracking and Full Life-cycle Ecology of the Whimbrel

November 4, 2013

Fletcher Smith, research biologist at The Center for Conservation Biology, William and Mary College , Virginia, works with a diversity of bird species throughout the western hemisphere, following migrants from their breeding to winter grounds. His current research projects include work with Whimbrels, Red Knots, marsh sparrows and neotropical migrants. In addition, he conducts breeding…

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Rick Wright – Biodiversity: A Good Thing, Apparently

October 7, 2013

A Nebraskan by birth, Rick Wright attended University of Nebraska in the late 1970s. While in college he served as assistant to Paul A. Johnsgard; Rick was given the job of reorganizing the bird skin collection at the university museum. In 1983 Rick enrolled at Harvard Law School briefly, and then embarked on a graduate…

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Marja Bakermans – Breeding Bird Response to Forest Management: Developing Guidelines for Two Imperiled Species

June 3, 2013

Marja H. Bakermans B.S. Biology: Bucknell University M.S. Natural Resources: The Ohio State University Ph. D. Natural Resources: The Ohio State University Currently: Assitant Biology Professor, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Marja writes: I possess a strong commitment to student education, and a goal of mine is to stimulate students’ critical thinking and problem solving abilities. I…

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George L. Hunt – Marine Ornithology: Some Thoughts on the Development of a Young Discipline

May 6, 2013

George L. Hunt Education: 1965 Harvard College. AB, Biology 1965-1966 University of Pennsylvania. 1971 Harvard University. Ph.D., Biology Employment: 1970-1976 University of California, Irvine: Assistant Professor 1976-1982 University of California, Irvine: Associate Professor 1979-1983 University of California, Irvine: Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 1982-2005 University of California, Irvine: Professor 2005- University of Washington,…

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Harry Vogel – The State of the Loon

April 1, 2013

Harry Vogel received his BES degree in environment and resource studies and biology from the University of Waterloo, ON, in 1990 and his MSc degree in zoology from University of Guelph, ON, in 1995. In his professional career he has been Project Biologist and Coordinator for Canadian Lakes Loon Survey for Bird Studies, Canada; Trustee,…

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George L. Armistead – pOrnithology: The Birds…and the Birds and the Bees

March 4, 2013

George Armistead, who has been birding for nearly thirty years, hails from Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife, Laura, in center city. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and completed both a B.A. and an M.A. in environmental studies. He worked for seven years in the ornithology department of the Academy of Natural Sciences…

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