I am an Assistant Professor in the Oklahoma Biological Survey at the University of Oklahoma. I am trained as an ornithologist and biologist, but I also build electronic gadgets to help us understand and conserve birds. My interests revolve around the evolution of avian life histories—how birds negotiate tradeoffs among demanding activities such as breeding, feather molt, and migration. Here are some of the avenues I'm currently exploring:
Migration Strategies - Bird migration is an amazing natural phenomenon. How does a 15 gram songbird make its way from a temperate breeding site to a tropical wintering area thousands of kilometers away while finding the food needed to fuel the journey and dodging predators along the way? For centuries, naturalists have been asking such questions, but because most birds are too small to carry traditional tracking devices, our understanding of songbird migration has been severely limited. Then, a few years ago, researchers found a way to track migratory songbirds throughout their annual cycle. Thanks to cell phone technology we can now make tiny devices known as geolocation dataloggers (I call them geologgers) that allow us to determine the approximate migration routes of individual songbirds. I'm currently involved in a number of projects that involve tracking species such as Painted Buntings, White Fronted Eleanias, and Northern Wheatears in the Americas and in Asia.
Parental Programming - Parental programing occurs when adult behavioral phenotypes (i.e. personalities) are determined early in life based on how parents behave toward their offspring. As past of my post doctoral work with Steve Schoech at the University of Memphis, I found some evidence that providing supplemental food to breeding Florida Scrub-Jays resulted in measureable effects on the survival, recruitment, reproductive success, and boldness of the birds' offspring. More recently, my colleagues and I have developed a sophisticated birdfeeder that uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to identify individual birds and dispense food to specific family members. With this tool we can control food availability for males, females, and helpers at the nest and infer how birds in these different roles affect the development of the next generation.
Gadgets - I design and build RFID readers and geolocation dataloggers for animal monitoring and tracking and many of my collaborations are based on sharing this technology with other researchers. My goal is always to make things as cheaply as possible so that we in the scientific community can get the most from our limited research budgets. Details about the devices I use can be found at the Animal Migration Website.