Migratory birds experience rapidly changing
ecological factors during the migratory phases of their
When migrants interrupt their journey seeking suitable
habitats to replenish depleted energy stores after a long-distance
flight, they encounter unfamiliar environments where quick
and accurate decision-making is crucial to satisfy heightened
energetic demands while they rely solely on information
gathered after arrival. The underlying behavioral mechanisms
of information acquisition and ‘problem solving’ that
help migratory birds overcome these difficulties during
stopover are largely unknown.
How do migrants gain knowledge of the surrounding
novel environment (e.g., resource quality and quantity,
risk)? Does acquisition of information cost the migrant
in relation to foraging time and/or risk of predation?
How does an individual’s current informational state
influence its ability to acquire food resources?
Flocks of foraging migrants are commonly
observed during spring and fall, even among species that
are solitary and
territorial during the breeding and wintering season. Maybe
migrants assess their environment more quickly and accurately
by supplementing their own sampling information with socially
acquired information. However, social foraging has its
own costs (e.g. a migrant has to alter its foraging behavior
to keep up with the flock; it may experience increased
competition for resources, etc.). Hence, newly arrived
(naïve) individuals may benefit from joining to other
migrants until they reach an informational state where
the benefits of sociality are outweighed by the costs.
Aside from decision-making during migration, I am interested
in identifying and describing ecological factors (e.g.
resource distribution, competitor density, energetic condition,
etc.) that may promote social foraging and shape social
behavior of passerine migrants during stopover.
My field research takes place within forested wetland
(chenier) habitats along the northern coast of the Gulf
of Mexico near Johnson Bayou, LA and Bay St. Louis, MS.
The hard work of dedicated field assistants makes this
research possible for which I am very thankful (click here for crew photos).
Department of Biological Sciences
The University of Southern
118 College Drive # 5018