Natural history of birds

 

I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.                    -  Henry David Thoreau
 
 

Observations of the natural world give us a sense of place, an intimate knowledge of our surroundings, and the foundation for scientific inquiry. Below are a few examples of natural history accounts I published while working in amazing places in central and south America.

 
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Subtropical montane birds

South temperate birds comprise a large percentage of the world's avian diversity, but their breeding biology is poorly described. We provided the first detailed examination of the reproductive strategies of 18 forest songbirds of subtropical, northwestern Argentina. The resulting publication is one of my favorites because it has been cited so widely, signifying the importance of descriptive natural history.

 
 Nest of the Black-bellied Wren.

Nest of the Black-bellied Wren.

amidst the vine tangles of a panamanian forest

Black-bellied wrens are beautiful singers, but they're hard to catch a glimpse of as they move about the dense vine tangles they call home. While working in Panama, I was lucky to find a few of their nests and to describe a bit of their otherwise unknown breeding biology. Nests were dome shaped, with a circular side entrance, and hidden amidst leaf litter and debris that had accumulated at the convergence of several vines suspended a short distance above the ground (as pictured). Eggs numbered three in a clutch and were a creamy color with brown speckles.

 
 Nestling of the Great Antpitta.

Nestling of the Great Antpitta.

cloud forest denizens

Antpittas (Formicariidae) are a diverse group of terrestrial antbirds inhabiting the
Neotropics, yet the breeding biology of many species is unknown due to their secretive habits and preference for dense understory. The Great Antpitta is a large, rare species that lives in the dark cloud forests of the Andes. Its nest and breeding behavior were previously unknown until a colleague and I were lucky to observe several pairs in different phases of the nesting cycle. Nests were large, bulky, open cup structures composed of a dense amalgamation of live and dead mosses, thin dark-colored rhizomorphs, and dead leaves. Eggs numbered two and both parents incubated the eggs and fed the nestlings (pictured here).