Announcing the 2020 WOS Research Grant Awards Recipients

The Wilson Ornithological Society (WOS) is proud to announce the recipients of the 2020 Research Grant Awards.
Congratulations to each of the recipients listed below!

Louis Agassiz Fuertes Grants

Graham Montgomery holding a Lined Forest Falcon.

Graham Montgomery holding a Lined Forest Falcon.

Graham Montgomery, University of California, Los Angeles (Advisor: Morgan Tingley). “Insect declines and their consequences for insectivorous birds: 70 years of change in the Appalachian Mountains”.
Almost 70 years ago, researchers surveyed bird and insect communities in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, collecting data on abundances, distributions, and diversity for both groups of taxa. This paired dataset provides an opportunity to better understand the scope of insect declines, their effects on insectivorous birds, and the effects of anthropogenic change more broadly. By conducting resurveys at the same sites and using the same methods, but with the help of analytical advances since then, I hope to contribute to our understanding of these important topics in avian ecology and conservation.

Jessie Williamson measuring a Giant Hummingbird.

Jessie Williamson measuring a Giant Hummingbird.

Jessie Williamson, University of New Mexico & Museum of Southwestern Biology (Advisor: Christopher Witt). “The roles of migration and metabolic flexibility in diversification history and genomic connectivity of a cryptic species complex: The Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas)”.
Low-oxygen environments exert strong selective pressure on physiology, yet we do not know how adaptation to high altitude and phenotypic plasticity interact to shape species boundaries. My work focuses on three populations of an exceptional case study: The Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas) complex. Using tracking devices and whole genome re-sequencing, I will characterize the extent of population spatial and temporal overlap across migratory divides in the Andes of South America, and the extent of gene flow and range-wide genomic structure between elevational migrant and high-elevation resident populations. This project will elucidate the roles of latitudinally-varying migratory behaviors and seasonal phenotypic flexibility on diversification history and genomic connectivity.

Wilson Ornithological Society Research Grants

Alexander Di Giovanni holding a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Alexander Di Giovanni holding a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Alexander Di Giovanni, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Advisor: Michael Ward). “Examining avian embryonic heart trate: how brood parasitism affects incubation strategies and the embryo”.
Alex is using embryonic heart rate and incubation patterns to study development of embryos in the eggs of several songbird species. He is investigating how Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism affects development of host eggs and how development of parasitic cowbird eggs themselves varies with different host species.


Erica Geldart with a common eiders on Mitivik Island, Nunavut, Canada.

Erica Geldart with a common eiders on Mitivik Island, Nunavut, Canada.

Erica Geldart, University of Windsor, Ontario (Advisor: Christina Semeniuk). “Assessing the adaptive capacity of an Arctic seabird to increased predation risk from polar bears using non-invasive behavioural and physiological metrics”.
I study a colony of nesting common eiders on Mitivik Island, Nunavut, Canada, that in only recent years has become increasingly exposed to polar bear nest predation. What is unknown is the degree to which eider hens perceive the risk posed by unfamiliar predators such as polar bears, and their concomitant predator-avoidance responses. Before hens began incubation, we simulated a stress-induced response (i.e., human capture and handling) to determine if changes to a stress hormonal marker (i.e., circulating corticosterone in the bloodstream) correlates with a vital response (i.e., heart rate). Further, using trail camera videography and heart rate monitors on eider nests, I am quantifying antipredator behaviour and heart rate responses to evolved (foxes) and functionally novel (bears) predators.

Rachael Di Sciullo with audio recording equipment outside.

Rachael Di Sciullo with audio recording equipment outside.

Rachael Di Sciullo, Illinois State University (Advisor: Charles Thompson). “Multivariate sexual selection on male song in House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon)”.
My dissertation research is focused on determining how, simultaneously or sequentially, male-male competition and female mate choice shape male house wren (Troglodytes aedon) song. To address this, I will test the hypotheses that (1) male fitness (i.e., number of offspring sired from both within- and extra-pair matings) is influenced by different song components, and (2) males and females respond differently to synthesized songs varying in putative quality of components. I will test these hypotheses by employing multivariate selection analysis followed by experiments conducted in situ. Altogether, this will result in a uniquely integrated and robust study quantifying sexual selection on male song that will offer insight into the little understood question of how multiple components of song simultaneously play a role in male-male competition and female mate choice.

Sarah Wolf

Sarah Wolf

Sarah Wolf, Indiana University, Bloomington (Advisor: Kimberly Rosvall). “How latitudinal patterns of telomere dynamics mediate life history evolution”.
Sarah is a PhD student at Indiana University who explores the mechanisms animals use to protect themselves against biological ageing following periods of stress, using telomeres – the dynamic chromosome caps that shorten with age and stress – as estimates of biological age. Sarah investigates the bidirectional links between telomeres and stress, i.e. how telomeres are influenced by stress exposure, and how variation in telomere dynamics plays a role in resolving life-history trade-offs. Using the free-living tree swallow, Sarah explores the mechanisms that may prevent and/or reverse telomere shortening across levels of biological organization: among tissues, individuals, and populations. This work will enhance our understanding of telomeres and their repair mechanisms as potentially causative agents in health and longevity and important players in evolutionary ecology across the tree of life.

Paul A. Stewart Grants


Susanna Campbell

Susanna Campbell

Susanna Campbell, The University of Michigan (Advisor: Ben Winger). “Seasonal migration and the adaptive immune response”.
Migratory birds encounter pathogens from diverse geographic locales, from their breeding to wintering ranges. By contrast, non-migrants are primarily exposed to local pathogens. The impact of differential pathogen exposure from breeding and wintering ranges on selection for healthy immune system function in migratory animals remains poorly described. My proposed study will assess genetic diversity in an adaptive immune system gene complex, major histocompatibility complex (MHC), in closely related bird species with sympatric breeding ranges in northern Michigan, but variable wintering latitudes, and more broadly considers how migratory life history shapes and is shaped by fundamental immune functions.

Eric Gulson birding in the mountains. Photo by Teresa M Peagan

Eric Gulson birding in the mountains. Photo by Teresa M Peagan

Eric Gulson-Castillo, The University of Michigan (Advisor: Ben Winger). “Comparative evolution of magnetoreception across passerine birds”.
Magnetoreception is a critical component of bird migration, yet there is little comparative study of how different bird families detect magnetic fields. I plan on altering the magnetic field around control and treatment birds of different species to detect brain regions stimulated by magnetic fields. This will give me an insight into the evolution of this mysterious sensory system in North American passerines.

Meredith Heather holding a Florida Scrub-Jay.

Meredith Heather holding a Florida Scrub-Jay.

Meredith Heather, Florida Gulf Coast University (Advisor: Reed Bowman). “Influence of post-fire structural heterogeneity on resource abundance and foraging behavior of the Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens)”.
My project will examine how post-fire structural heterogeneity varies with territory size and how variation in structure influences resource availability, foraging behavior and success, and ultimately fitness of the Florida Scrub-Jay. I will tag breeding adults with Cellular Tracking Technologies LifeTags™ to track their movements within their territories to define habitat use relative to availability of different structural patches. Coupled with focal foraging watches and arthropod surveys, I will be able to estimate habitat use versus availability, resource abundance, and habitat-specific foraging success rates. Understanding the mechanisms linking habitat structure, resource abundance, and habitat use will improve habitat management for the Florida Scrub-Jay and other species that utilize the declining scrub habitat.

Young Ha Suh holding a Florida Scrub-Jay.

Young Ha Suh holding a Florida Scrub-Jay.

Young Ha Suh, Cornell University (Advisor: John Fitzpatrick). “Investigating pre-dispersal prospecting and its effect on dispersal outcomes”.
My research focuses on variation in dispersal decisions in the Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens), a habitat specialist and cooperative breeding species. Using a newly developed, automated tracking technology, I have been collecting data on prospecting movement of nonbreeding Florida scrub-jays to quantify spatiotemporal patterns, habitat use, and social interactions. My goal is to understand how variation in individual movement affects dispersal decisions, which have significant fitness effects, and ultimately understand the evolution of delayed dispersal in social species.

George A. Hall/Harold F. Mayfield

No recipient for 2020.

The Committee received 113 applications for 2020 Grant Awards.

Previous year recipients

Free WOS Memberships for Black Ornithologists

As part of Wilson Ornithological Society’s (WOS) pledge to make ornithology, birding, science, and nature more inclusive, and inspired by our friends at the Association of Field Ornithologists, we are offering free 2-year* memberships in our Society to Black ornithologists.

Included in the WOS’s mission is mentorship for professional and amateaur ornithologists across career stages, and as such we are dedicated to making ornithology a field where all colleagues feel welcome, included, and valued.

The recent incident in the Central Park Ramble has called the Wilson Ornithological Society to action, to intentionally support and invite additional, diverse people to join us in the study of birds.

Offering these free memberships to Black professional and amateur ornithologists is a small first step towards increasing our work to dismantle barriers to science careers and the outdoors so everyone, anywhere, can study and enjoy birds. We pledge to continually examine the WOS’s work to understand how we can better support and promote racial justice in science.

Membership in the WOS gives each person access to the Wilson Journal of Ornithology online, discounted publication page charges for accepted contributions to the WJO, eligibility for our research awards and grants, and mentorship through our community of ornithologists. Members are welcome to serve on WOS committees and share their needs with WOS leadership, so WOS can advocate on their behalf, and so we can all shape WOS into the organization needed to support ornithologists.


Are you a current or aspiring Black ornithologist? Please complete this online form to be signed up for a free 2-year* membership to WOS.

This form may be submitted by an applicant directly, or by advisors and mentors of student applicants on behalf of a student.

Questions or additional assistance requests can be emailed to Patience with reply time is appreciated. We will strive to get complete answers within two weeks of the email received date.


*All memberships are based on calendar year durations. For more information on membership benefits and levels, see the WOS Membership webpage.

WOS Supports #BlackBirdersWeek

The Wilson Ornithological Society unequivocally condemns explicit actions and systemic norms that can transform the healing solace of nature into another source of anxiety and danger for our Black members and friends. We see you and we support you #BlackBirdersWeek.

The Wilson Ornithological Society unequivocally condemns explicit actions and systemic norms that can transform the healing solace of nature into another source of anxiety and danger for our Black members and friends.
We see you and we support you #BlackBirdersWeek.

In memoriam: Mary Bomberger Brown

Dear WOS family,

It is with a heavy heart that I write to tell you that our friend, colleague and mentor, Mary Bomberger Brown, passed away this weekend. Despite battling cancer for many years, Mary remained an integral leader in the Wilson Ornithological Society serving as our Editor twice and most recently serving as the Second Vice President. Mary was wholly dedicated to the WOS, her professional home. She viewed her role as editor as one of mentor. She was quite proud of that fact that many budding ornithologists submitted their first manuscript to the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Mary insisted that all manuscripts be sent out for review so that authors would receive constructive feedback regardless of the decision to publish. She was a caring, thoughtful editor who helped raise the quality and stature of the Wilson Journal of Ornithology while at the same time preserved our dedication to encouraging young ornithologists. The ornithological community has lost a truly wonderful role model who demonstrated scientific rigor, the importance of service to the community, and humility and graciousness.

Mary was a mentor and friend to me. I worked closely with her during the editorial transitions for the WJO over the last several years. Mary taught me many valuable lessons about leadership and the society. She made me a better President to the WOS. I cannot thank her enough, and I will dearly miss her friendship, advice and collegiality.

I know it will be difficult this fall at Cape May to have our first annual meeting without Mary’s presence, enthusiasm, and infectious smile and personality. She will be missed by so many of us. I had looked forward to Mary’s next steps in the WOS – her Presidency would have undoubtedly been amazing, a time for her mentorship to reach so many more ornithologists. I hope we can honor Mary with continued stories about her. I hope we can teach young ornithologists about Mary by sharing those stories with them, and embodying Mary’s attitudes toward mentorship in our own lives. I know she touched the lives of many of us, and I welcome your stories, anecdotes and thoughts about Mary.

Tomorrow, I start another semester of teaching ornithology to undergraduates. I often start by sharing a few stories about ornithologists and how they came to study birds. I plan to share this video of Mary with them; it captures her so well and what better way to introduce students to ornithology than to share with them the story of Mary Bomberger Brown. 

More about Mary can be read here.  We also plan to honor Mary by publishing a professional obituary in WJO later this year.


Mark E. Deutschlander

President, Wilson Ornithological Society

New edition: Recording & analysis of bird vocalizations

WOS thanks Sylvia Halkin and Walter Berry for producing a major update to the chapter in the Manual of Field and Laboratory Exercises for Ornithology regarding bird vocalizations. This chapter outlines exercises that provide hands-on experience with the recording and analysis techniques that are used to explore the diversity and functions of sounds made by birds.

As with all chapters in the Manual, the contribution by Halkin and Berry is available free of charge for instructors and students of ornithology. WOS hopes that this resource will be of value for its members—and future members—and to ornithology at large.