Each year, the Wilson Ornithological Society offers five categories of research grants. The projects awarded funding this year span many aspects of avian biology and will involve field work throughout North America and beyond. Congratulations to all of the grant recipients for 2021!
Louis Agassiz Fuertes Grants
Veronica Dandzo-Adzagudu, Institute of Nature and Environmental Conservation, KNUST-Kumasi, Ghana
Advisor: David Amaning Kwarteng
“Population assessment and distribution of the critically endangered Ruppell’s Vulture in Mole National Park and fringe communities, Ghana”
The Ruppell’s vulture is globally classified as Critically Endangered and has been extirpated from its known ranges in Ghana. Currently, Mole National Park is the only protected area in Ghana with remnant population of the species. This research aims to determine the current population of the Ruppell’s vulture in Mole National Park, identify critical breeding and feeding sites, and local threats affecting its survival.
Silas Fischer, University of Toledo
Advisor: Henry Streby
“Drought-induced fledgling mortality as the mechanism underlying collapsing desert songbird communities”
Recent research has revealed declining desert bird communities in the Southwestern U.S. over the past century due to climate change. Yet, desert songbirds are under-studied (especially across their annual life cycles), and the mechanisms driving their declines remain unclear. Using funds from WOS, Fischer (they/them) is studying the impact of extreme drought on the condition and survival of juvenile Gray Vireos (Vireo vicinior) in New Mexico. Fischer will test the effects of experimentally hydrating juveniles to compare their hydration, stress levels, and post-fledging survival to that of control juveniles during the current, ongoing severe drought. They hope this study will provide novel information about a potential mechanism mediating long-term, arid-land bird community declines.
Elliot Lee, Bergen County Academies
Advisor: Jon T. Merwin
“Using a neural network to analyze geographic variation in Gray Catbird song repertoire ”
Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) are prolific singers with great song variation, yet their precise repertoire size and geographic variation in song-types remains relatively unknown. To combat issues with traditional song enumeration methods, Lee’s research will construct and employ an artificial neural to cluster similar song-types. He aims to better understand differences in songs throughout the gray catbird’s breeding range and create a tool to analyze large song repertoires in other bird species.
Wilson Ornithological Society Research Grants
Lezhi (Stella) Hao, Cornell University
Advisor: Sara Kaiser
“Female plumage traits as signals of mate quality, competitive ability, and stress resilience in the Black-throated Blue Warbler”
Hao’s current research exploits the long-term database at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest to examine the potential signaling functions of plumage traits in the female Black-throated Blue Warbler, one of the most sexually dichromatic North American warblers. Specifically, she will focus on the size of white wing-patch, which is a trait homologous to the males, and the color variation of whitish-yellow breast feather. She will examine if these traits signal mate quality, competitive ability, and stress resilience accordingly. Through this project, she hope that we can understand more about the plumage signaling theory and the role in sexual selection of females in sexual dichromatic species.
Karl Heide, University of Guelph
Advisor: Ryan Norris
“Drivers of Wood Thrush decline in an urbanizing landscape”
Avian species richness is known to diminish with development intensity, yet before-after studies on the impacts of urbanization on breeding birds are rare. Heide’s research addresses this by comparing current and historical (1990s) abundance and nest success of the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) in 70 forest fragments across Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada. Between the two time periods, some of the fragments have been surrounded by development while others have remained rural, providing an excellent context in which to assess the relative importance of urbanization in the landscape compared to other potential drivers of population change. Heide’s preliminary results indicate that urbanized sites have experienced steeper declines in abundance and weaker than average increases in nest success than rural control sites, a finding which should alert conservationists and urban planners to the sensitivity of Wood Thrushes to land use change at the urban fringe.
Maria Smith, Princeton University
Advisor: Christina Riehl
“Task specialization and division of workload in a cooperatively breeding bird”
Smith is studying parental care in the communally nesting Greater Ani, in which unrelated breeding pairs cooperate to raise young in a single nest. Although division of labor, when different individuals specialize on different tasks, may increase efficiency and provide a fitness benefit, it has received little attention in vertebrates. Additionally, group members often vary in their overall contributions to cooperative tasks, but this variation is not well understood. Smith has preliminary evidence that Greater Anis can show weak task specialization and that workload is distributed unequally in larger groups and is working to more fully understand these patterns and their consequences.
Brian Tsuru, The Ohio State University
Advisor: Chris Tonra
“Post-breeding ecology in the Prothonotary Warbler: Evaluating potential tradeoffs between breeding, molt and migration phenology”
One relatively understudied stage of the annual cycle of migratory birds is the post-breeding period, a transitionary stage linking the breeding season to migration. In this short period of time, many bird species must complete breeding activities and undergo a prebasic molt before fueling and ultimately departing on migration. This project will examine potential tradeoffs between a protracted breeding season and these events, such as altered molt or migratory phenology, in a breeding population of Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) in central Ohio. The results will fill a knowledge gap regarding the full annual cycle ecology of this species and that of other long-distance migrants.
Paul A. Stewart Grants
Rachel Darling, The University of Michigan
Advisor: Neil Carter
“Assessing the relationship between anthropogenic noise, light, and birds’ provisioning of ecosystem services”
Darling’s research focuses on the question, what large scale effects do anthropogenic light and noise (ANLN) have on bird mediated ecosystem services (ES)? She will combine the modeled effects of ANLN on specific species’ abundance with the most updated bird abundance data available, known avian traits, and ANLN spatial data to determine which ES and which ecoregions may be most impacted by projected increases in ANLN in the contiguous United States. This will be the first research to address the effects of ANLN on bird mediated ES at a large scale, with hundreds of species included in the models.
Matthew Fuirst, University of Guelph
Advisor: Ryan Norris
“Quantifying natal dispersal and the costs and benefits of delayed dispersal in Canada jays (Perisoreus canadensis)”
Fuirst is investigating the social and environmental mechanisms behind natal dispersal in Canada jays using a combination of radio telemetry and long-term monitoring data. He is interested in evaluating the fitness consequences of delayed dispersal and the survival of juveniles during their first year. This tracking study will be the first to quantify the movements and survival of first-year Canada jays.
Trey Hendrix, Princeton University
Advisor: Christina Riehl
“Evolution of territoriality in the Neotropics: A natural experiment”
In the Neotropics, year-round territorial defense by a monogamous pair is one of the most common – yet comparatively understudied – avian social systems. One difficulty of studying traits like territoriality is that they are not easily manipulated experimentally. However, the formation of Barro Colorado Island (BCI) during the construction of the Panama Canal has enabled Spotted Antbirds (Hylophylax naevioides) on the island to expand their niche such that substantial variation in territorial behavior occurs within a single population, with territorial and non-territorial individuals seemingly having equal fitness. Hendrix proposes to leverage this unique natural experiment to investigate the costs and benefits of territoriality within the antbird system. [NOTE: Although this is the project for which Hendrix was originally awarded funding, due to COVID travel restrictions he changed his project to “Understanding year-round territoriality in Carolina Wrens.”]
Hannah Toutonghi, University of Minnesota Duluth
Advisor: Matthew Etterson
“Using high-resolution telemetry to describe daily and seasonal activity and movements of Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula) in winter”
Northern Hawk Owls (Surnia ulula) are one of the least-studied birds in North America. Little is known about the annual cycle of this species, especially during the winter months. The primary objective of this project is to use cutting-edge telemetry methods to track individual hawk owls to determine their activity budgets, movement, irruptive behavior, and habitat use in the winter. The results from this study will provide novel information on hawk owls and expand our current knowledge of how nomadic species use wintering habitats.