After months of anticipation, the day for me to present my research to the scientific world has arrived! I am at the joint conference of the Cooper Ornithological Society, American Ornithologists' Union, and the Society of Canadian Ornithologists in San Diego California. There are over 1000 ornithologists here. I present my research on the weather impacts of migration in the migration and stopover biology session.
Speaking of weather and migration, the weather on the east coast has continued to disrupt the migration of our plenary speakers to the conference. Monday morning's speaker has not yet arrived, so a new speaker volunteered to fill the slot. While not as controversial as yesterday's talk, it did provide some fascinating information. The speaker has studied a palearctic breeding sandpiper known as the Ruff. I recently saw this species for the first time on my trip to Kenya, although they were not in breeding plumage. This species has an interesting mating system. It has the highest polyandry rate of any of the shorebirds. The males gather in leks and work together to attract females in which the dominant males get most of the copulation opportunities. Different males grow different plumage and their behavior is associated with the plumage. It has been shown that this plumage/behavior is genetically controlled and maintained via the percentage of copulations. The dominant allele represents the non-dominant behavior, leaving dominant birds to make up a small portion of the population. A few years back a new male type was discovered which makes up 1% of the population. This male is smaller and mimics the female in plumage, size, and even behavior. This makes it a sexual trimorphic species. I didn't even know that trimorphism existed! This mimic behavior and plumage is also genetically controlled. This mimic sneaks matings with the females and uses interesting behaviors to decrease the reproductive success of the dominant males. For example, he will sneak in between a male trying to mate with a female to disrupt the copulation. If a dominant male moves for a female, a mimic might also take a female mating stance to distract the other male. We saw videos of both. It was a great program into some very unique genetically controlled behaviors for a species. It speaks to just how fascinating birds can be.
The morning science sessions which I focused on were in nest selection, habitat selection, and dispersal. This included owls, woodpeckers, warbler, and eagles. There was a lot of focus on aspen species such as woodpeckers and sapsuckers as Aspen are currently decreasing in the western US. For example, the dependence of a Red-naped Sapsucker on Aspen for nesting, but Willow for foraging. Another study focused on Flammulated Owls and the dependence on a mixed forest for the right balance for food, primary nest excavators, cover, and protection. The methods of many of these studies are just as interesting as the results themselves.
On to my session on migration and stopover biology. The session chair presented the first talk on the winter distribution of Yellow-rumped Warblers. I was up next. My presentation went very well. I didn't stumble or forget any key points that I wanted to make. It won't surprise my friends to know that I finished the talk exactly when I intended to. One of the few people that left time for a few questions. Other talks in my session included climate effects on boreal migrating songbirds, shifting Burrowing Owl populations, Loon migrations, and Great Bustard migrations. The Burrowing Owl study was interesting as their population center is actually shifting south. Possible explanations: declining northern populations and more southern habitat through agriculture. They also performed stable isotope analysis which shows some mixing of populations (i.e. Canadian birds breeding in Arizona).
The late afternoon sessions were also on migration. This included some interesting analysis of Painted Bunting migration based on wind chord length differences in breeding populations. Attracting a great deal of attention was a series of three presentations on using radio transmitters to track migration on three species migrating from Alabama to the Yucatan. One Swainson's Thrush with a tailwind made the jump in 23 hours. Others were closer to 29 hours. Pretty impressive considering they can't stop, eat, or drink.
In the evening it was time for the poster sessions. There were about 100 posters. A few of the BSU students were presenting posters here. If you aren't familiar with a poster session, it is similar to a presentation will all of the content printed on a large poster. During the poster session the authors stand by their poster and talk about it with anyone who is interested. It basically results in presenting your work many times. It does provide the opportunity for deeper discussions with individuals with a deep interest in your work. There is also a photo content running in which I submitted three photos. The whole contest has 175 photos. Some very impressive work. Wow, that was a pretty big day. My brain is in overload trying to keep up with all of the great science here.