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Fowl-minded professor talks songbird migration

EvoS Seminar Series brings first visiting speaker to campus

Songbird migration expert Eli Bridge came to campus Monday to talk about how technology has revolutionized the way small birds are studied.

Daniel O'Connor/Staff Photographer Eli Bridge, assistant professor in the Oklahoma Biological Survey at the University of Oklahoma, discusses songbird migration as part of the Evolutionary Studies seminar series on Monday. The discussion was part of a set of talks by guest speakers that will take place throughout the semester.

According to Bridge, the technology to track songbirds that weigh less than 15 grams is fairly new.

“We’ve never been able to see what happens to small birds before,” said Bridge, an assistant professor in the Oklahoma Biology Survey at the University of Oklahoma. “We’ve only had [archival tags] for a few years now, but we’ve already learned so much.”

Archival tags, also known as geolocation dataloggers, or ‘geologgers’, are small tags for songbirds used to estimate latitude and longitude.

“If you want to track a small bird, you need a small tag,” Bridge said.

Bridge is researching migratory paths of the Painted Bunting, a member of the cardinal family. According to Bridge, even after two years of research there are still questions that need to be answered.

“We’re still working on the research system,” he said. “We have a long way to go, really.”

Anne Clark, an associate professor in the Binghamton University biology department, said she finds the nature of Bridge’s work fascinating.

“I learned of his work with stress and nutrition in scrub jays, as well as with tracking technology, from a colleague last spring,” Clark wrote in an email. “I thought his work might be of interest to a range of fellow biologists at Binghamton as well as to my graduate students and I.”

The Binghamton University Evolutionary Studies program (EvoS) and the department of biological sciences co-sponsored the event as part of the Evolutionary Studies seminar series.

The series will feature guest speakers throughout the semester covering various evolutionary topics.

Bridge spoke during professor David Sloan Wilson’s class, “BIOL 480S: Current Topics in Evolutionary Studies.” According to Wilson, the talks are intrinsic to the course.

“The current topics course is built around the seminar series,” Wilson said.

More than 70 people attended the seminar, including students in Wilson’s class and various professors.

David Radwaner, a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience, said the seminar showed him the type of research being pursued by graduate students.

“It was very interesting in terms of an evolutionary perspective,” Radwaner said. “It gave insight into what graduate students are doing.”

The next talk in the Evolutionary Studies seminar series will feature Barry X. Kuhle, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Scranton. The talk will focus on jealousy and will take place Oct. 15.