Ornithologists Back From Field

Early this summer ornithologists Jason Weckstein, PhD, and Nate Rice, PhD, spent a month traveling along the banks of the Purus River in the southwestern Amazon to study the biodiversity of Amazonian birds and their parasites.

Supported by Weckstein’s generous grant from the National Science Foundation, they were documenting local birds and their parasites to discover how they may play a role in parasitic diseases such as malaria. The researchers returned to the Academy to add 400 specimens representing 137 species to the Academy’s Ornithology CollectionScientists with dirt-covered truck

For the first time in more than 80 years, a second ornithology expedition was added to the summer roster. While Weckstein and Rice were in Brazil, ornithology co-op and Drexel student Emily Ostrow and Academy post-doctoral fellow Therese Catanach, PhD, were studying birds and their parasites in the mountains of Nicaragua.

Not since the 1930s have we had adequate funds and researchers for two Academy ornithology collecting expeditions such as these to occur concurrently. Specimens collected on both expeditions will allow our team to describe new parasite species, understand diversity of birds and parasites in these two biodiverse locations, and gain new insights into the biology of bird communities in these unstudied tropical regions.

Orange bird

Upon returning from their fieldwork, Academy ornithologists have submitted grant proposals and multiple papers for peer review. Ornithology Department members concluded their summer at the North American Ornithological Conference, the largest Ornithological conference ever held, where they gave four presentations on bird parasites, Lyme disease, and breeding biology.

Brown and Orange bird

Back in the United States, students were keeping busy. BEES doctoral student Matt Halley has been conducting ornithology research in the Poconos and working on his dissertation research; undergraduate student Kaya Gentile completed a project surveying Saw-whet Owls for parasites as part of the Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) Scholars Summer program and presented a poster on this research at the STAR Scholars Summer Showcase at Drexel University.

yellow bird

These accomplishments are a direct result of the generous support of our Campaign for Ornithology. Our contributors have helped us to raise significant funds to support active ornithological research. We are grateful for their support and how it has allowed the department to grow over the past two years. Above and below, we share a few images from our ornithologists’ fieldwork.

bird skinning at night

collected bird specimens

scientist with bird specimens

One comment

  1. Hey Nate,

    What is the story with that T shirt?

    Great to see the Ornithology Department back to operating on such an intense and diverse scientific level again. Kudos to a great group of scientists!

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