My research interests center on the ecology and conservation of migrant birds. I am fascinated by the way these animals’ life histories depend on environments at continental and hemispheric scales. The unique combination of their relatively small size (10 to 20g) and long distance movements also make these migrants fantastic sensors of the environment and potentially very valuable real-time indicators of our impact on the environment at large spatial scales. My current research is summarized on my websiteAnimalMigration.org.
We have come a long way in our understanding of migration since it was believed that swallows wintered at the bottoms of lakes and that robins wintered in tree stumps. Yet, we are still a long ways from the kind of understanding of songbird migration that will let us develop effective conservation plans that can be used forecast and mitigate the impacts of human induced land cover and climate change on the distribution and abundance of migrants. The central limitation to our understanding of the population ecology of migrant birds is our inability to track them through their annual cycle.
There has been impressive advancement of tracking technology, however it is still not possible to track the movements of and averaged size bird for an entire annual cycle with very good accuracy and precision. Most of my work centers on advancing our technological capability to understand the seasonal movements so that we can better understand the connections among the phases of the annual cycle for songbirds. I think that quantitative understanding of these connections will be fundamental to improving our ability to conserve species of long distance migrants. To obtain this understanding we use intrinsic markers of geography (i.e., marker birds carry with them (genetics, and stable isotopes), extrinsic markers (i.e., tags we put on birds such as bands and light-level geolocators), as well as passive tracking methods like radar. While each of these technologies is advancing at different paces a major challenge is integrating information across these methods to improve our understanding of the annual cycle of migrants.