The University of Nebraska at Omaha biology department first began research on migratory sandpipers and plovers in 2004.
Joel Jorgensen studied the birds for his master’s project. Dr. John McCarty and Dr. L LaReesa Wolfenbarger continued to monitor the sites after he graduated. Now, UNO student Lindsay Brown is monitoring the birds for her biology master’s project.
Brown explained that the birds occupy agricultural fields in the rainwater basin of central Nebraska. It is hard to monitor their population trends because the birds migrate. Migration is energetically demanding, so it is important to determine if it is risky for them to stop in agricultural fields.
Brown’s preliminary analysis has shown her that the birds are choosing sites based on the topography of the landscape. Each bird behaves differently and is drawn to different landscape features. Some occupy flat land while others occupy land with a variety of slopes.
The buff breasted sandpiper and upland sandpiper typically choose sites higher in elevation in the rainwater basin.
“It’s interesting that the two that are showing more courtship behavior choose the same landscape feature,” Brown said. “It could be so that they are a little more visible.”
The American golden plovers are choosing sites with many different slope degrees. They are a resting bird and are molting into breeding plumage. Brown believes the variety in slopes may provide them with more protection.
Brown visits each site regularly. She does point counts to determine what fields the birds are occupying. Then, she watches the birds to understand flock behavior. Finally, she picks an individual bird to watch for three minutes to understand how the individual is using the site.
Brown said she hopes her research will explain why the birds display certain characteristics, what makes them choose certain sites and if the fields are safe habitats for them.
After Brown graduates, she hopes to work for an organization that conducts research, and then uses the research to implement management practices. She believes her research experience at UNO will help her in her future career.
“Both UNO and the biology department really try to support their graduate students,” Brown said. “The biology department provides chances for students to apply for money for their projects, and provides opportunities to share their results.”