Research Opportunities


I am always looking to work with bright, motivated students. Students can conduct research in my lab for class credit or for a modest stipend or can volunteer. I expect students to help develop their projects, and these projects can be carried out individually or collaboratively. Regardless of project, I encourage students to assist with field work (bird banding and surveys) and to learn the basic principles of statistical analysis. My goal is to develop projects that lead to poster or oral presentations at national conferences and, ultimately, to publications in peer-reviewed journals.

If you are interested in joining the lab and are eager to work and learn, contact me to discuss research opportunities. Some ongoing projects with student researchers (see People) are highlighted below. I am also open to other questions and study systems.

Radar technology and avian migration

Maggie Klusman (’14), Jared Swenson (’12), Melissa Welch (’13), a collaborator with USGS, and I are using radar data to understand patterns of avian migration along the Mississippi River. We use radar images (the same radar data that shows storm activity on the local news) to quantify the intensity of bird migration and to identify habitat patches that are used by migrating birds to refuel. We also aim to assess how migration differs across years and between seasons (spring vs. fall) and to compare radar-based patterns to field surveys. This project involves examination of radar images and the use of existing computer code to quantify bird migration. These data are then fed into GIS (geographic information system) and statistical packages for analysis.

Blood parasitology

John Menz (’14) and Jordan Robinson (’13) and I are looking at the prevalence of blood parasites in birds. Preliminary work aims to identify how blood parasite loads vary across seasons and across species and to assess whether parasite loads vary across an urban landscape gradient. This work entails banding and collecting blood samples from birds (with me). In collaboration with Dr. Luque de Johnson, we use blood smears and genetic techniques (e.g., PCR) in the lab to document the prevalence of parasites.

Bird introductions

Logan Benoist (’12) and Ryan Conley (’13) have created a database of bird introductions. From this database, we aim to test the hypothesis that the presence of congeneric species (closely related species in the same genus) affects the probability of an introduced bird species successfully establishing a population. Competition theory suggests that the presence of a congeneric species might lower the probability of establishment. However, the presence of a congeneric species might also indicate that the local biotic and abiotic conditions are favorable for the introduced species. We aim to understand how the presence of congeneric species affects the probability of successful establishment and whether these data support the competition or climatic matching hypothesis. This project requires an eye for detail and the ability to pore through the literature to obtain records of species introductions and of local bird communities. These data are analyzed statistically to control for other factors that are known or are likely to influence the invasion success (e.g., number of individuals released and species-specific traits such as niche breadth).

Use of an invasive plant by birds

Morgan Slevin (’12) and I investigated how winter bird communities differ between areas with high and low densities of Chinese privet, Ligustrum sinense. Morgan’s work could be expanded by increasing the number of sites studied, examining how patterns vary across seasons, or studying activity budgets. This work requires the ability to identify birds by sight and sound, to supervise other students and coordinate field work.

Vocalizations of Columbiforms in urban environments

Recent research has shown that passerines (Passeriformes; songbirds) exhibit predictable shifts in their songs as a consequence or urban noise (mostly low-frequency noise caused by vehicular traffic). I am looking for a student to continue work initiated by Brad Hensley (’12) and to assess whether the vocalizations of pigeon and dove species (Columbiformes) that inhabit urban environments differ from those of pigeons and doves that do not survive in human-dominated landscapes. This project entails quantifying the vocalizations of several hundred species of pigeon and dove and using statistics to tease apart confounding variables (e.g., body size) and to determine whether vocalization differences exist between species that survive in urban environments and those that do not.