Why are the nighthawks where they are now?

I toyed with different versions of this awkward blog entry title, but really it ties into my previous post, “Where are the nighthawks now?”

As we saw in that post, birds can cover a lot of ground in a year.  Each of these places has to be habitat-friendly for a migrating bird.  Here in South Dakota, birds encounter a number of biome types, called ecoregions.

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I study Common Nighthawks in 47d, 46n, 42f and 47a.

 

47d – Missouri Alluvial Plain – Elevation 1100 – 1200 ft.

The human development of the Missouri Alluvial Plain over the last two centuries has separated the Missouri River from its floodplain.  A system of dams, levees, and stream channelization has largely controlled the flood cycles to allow intensive agriculture in the river bottomland.  Much of the northern floodplain forest has been cut, and oxbow lakes and wetlands have been drained to reclaim additional agricultural land.

46n – James River Lowland – Elevation 1200 – 1850 ft.

The boundary between the James River Lowland and the Drift Plains (46i) to the north represents a broad phenological and climatic transition zone.  This ecoregion is characterized by mesic soils, warmer temperatures, and a longer growing season than the Drift Plains (46i).  These differences are reflected in the crop types of the region.  Winter wheat, corn, and soybeans are more prevalent in this ecoregion’s milder climate.

42f – Southern Missouri Coteau Slope – Elevation 1400 – 2200 ft.

The Southern Missouri Coteau Slope differs from the Missouri Coteau Slope (42c) to the north; it has mesic soils rather than frigid soils and a substantial cap of rock-free loess.  To the south, the coteau areas east of the Coteau Slope ecoregions (42c, 42f) become progressively narrower and more eroded.  The level to rolling uplands of the Southern Missouri Coteau Slope are planted in sunflowers, wheat, millet, and barley.  Corn is a marginal crop that does well in wet years.  The stream drainages tend to be grazed.  Willows, green ash, and elm grow in the riparian areas.

47a – Loess Prairies – Elevation 1200 – 1700 ft.

The Loess Prairies of Iowa and South Dakota surround the perimeter of the Des Moines lobe of the Late Wisconsinan glaciation.  Of the two areas in South Dakota, the northern one is distinguished from neighboring regions by its rock-free soil and a paucity of wetlands.  The southern area is more highly dissected, with deciduous woodland and brush on the steeper slopes and in the draws.

(Source: sdakotabirds.com, EPA)

These four ecoregions even within southeastern South Dakota vary quite a bit, and so do Common Nighthawk abundances. The change in landscape and nighthawk abundance are even more marked when you move further west into the Badlands, western grasslands, and the Black Hills where row crop dominance drops away.

Common Nighthawks need gravel rooftops or gravelly parts of grassland and rangelands with shortgrass prairie or heavily grazed tallgrass.  Or, they can thrive in open forests, like those of the Black Hills. Below is a map for all years, all months for the ebird Common Nighthawks sightings in South Dakota.  You can see a concentration of nighthawks in the west in the Black Hills and Badlands and in urban areas like Vermillion and Sioux Falls.  Of course, these sightings have some bias as to where observers tend to be.

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Common Nighthawk sightings in South Dakota (source: ebird)

Migrating flocks can show up anywhere because they don’t need gravel areas for camouflaging eggs.  My first sighting of nighthawks in South Dakota was in September, 2011, the year before I moved here.  It was an unlikely spot to see them.  There was a a group of 100 flying over row crop along I-90.  Of course, migrating nighthawks have the benefit of covering a lot of ground in a day and can forage while flying.  Their needs are more simple than a migrant seed eater that needs a forest, as my lab mate Dr. Ming Liu found.

It’s also important for researchers to understand habitat use in the other areas of a bird’s yearly migration.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Golondrinas de las Americas foundation and other organizations supply grants to researchers in South America and Central America.  Last year’s North America Ornithological Conference featured symposia of South America and Central America research.

Newer technologies are helping researchers  throughout an organism’s range with more expansive data.  Satellite tags, like those developed for the Argos system,  are becoming smaller and lighter which enables research of larger array of species.  These data can be downloaded without recapturing the bird, which is crucial for wily birds like Common Nighthawks.

Behold, the future!

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Source: Futurama

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Sdakotabirds.com source:

Ecoregion summaries from “Ecoregions of North and South Dakota”, U.S. EPA published map. Primary authors: Sandra A. Bryce (Dynamac Corporation), James M. Omernik (USEPA), David E. Pater (Dynamac Corporation), Michael Ulmer (USDA), Jerome Schaar (NRCS), Jerry Freeouf (USFS), Rex Johnson (SDSU), Pat Kuck (DENR/NRCS Liason), and Sandra Azevedo (OAO Corporation).

Where are the nighthawks now?

The short answer?  They are on their way back to North America.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s ebird web site has interactive maps where you can enter your birding data and view others’. You can enter queries for any year since 1900 (they’ve plugged old data into the system) for any species anywhere in the world.  Very cool, huh?

When there are few observations, you can see individual blue markers.  When there are many, the observations show up as pixels of varying degrees of purple. Below are the nighthawk maps for all years, by month.

Here are the nighthawks now in March.  They are coming!

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Common Nighthawk observations in March (Source: ebird)

By May, they are well into the U.S.

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By July, they are well into Canada. Some stay and breed in Central and South America.

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In October, they are making their way back to their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

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By January, they have settled into their wintering grounds in Central and South America and Florida.  But in a couple months, they will start making their way back.  No rest for the wicked.

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Common Nighthawk observations in January (Source: ebird)

Halloween Outreach

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My nighthawk wings

There is something deeply nerdy about dressing up as your research subject for Halloween.  Last fall, I made the nighthawk wings pictured here.  I had a lot of card stock from my landscape art and thought I would make some wings.  I bought some black angel wings from Walmart, and pulled the feathers off all but the central harness so that I could glue on longer cardboard pieces using Gorilla wood glue.  I then consulted a diagram of a bird wing for the feather types.  For the primary/secondary feathers (which come together when the wing is folded like this), seen here at the bottom of the wing, I cut long strips of black construction paper and made tiny cuts along the edges to give them the feathery texture and glued strips of white to each feather.  I then glued the primaries/secondary feathers down.  Then I cut out identical pieces of black and brown for the primary/secondary coverts, seen here in the middle, and glued those down.  I repeated the primary/secondary coverts for the wing coverts, seen here at the top.

It’s a simplified version of a wing with fewer feathers than nighthawks actually have.  But, it can be made very quickly if you make three templates: 1) the primary/secondary feather, 2) white wing bar, and the 3) covert. 

I wore it to the Vermillion Area Farmers Market Halloween celebration where kids came to trick or treat.  I sold my shadow boxes to benefit nighthawk research and handed out candy.  In case folks were wondering what a nighthawk was, I thought this would be fun.  The kids seemed to like the wings.

 

Pronghorn Phylogeny

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The Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is my favorite North American ungulate.  Not only is it the fastest land mammal in North America, and the second fastest land mammal worldwide, but it possibly evolved to outrun a North American cheetah-like cat 10,000 years go in the late Pleistocene.

More interestingly, recent genetic research nominates a surprising candidate as the closest living relative of the pronghorn.

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Pronghorn male (Source: Tom Bean/NPS.gov)

Was it  a deer?

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Mule Deer (Source: NPS.gov)

Some deer share  similar markings with the Pronghorn, but that’s pretty superficial. Not only that, Pronghorn have a bony permanent plate within their horns unlike deer which shed their entire antlers every year. Deer comprise the Cervidae family.

Plus, Pronghorn ancestors diverged from their closest relative in  the early Miocene (23.03 to 5.3 million years ago) before the continents drifted and Africa and North America were still attached. I think we can expand our search.

What about Old World antelopes?  That’s what we call them, right?  Pronghorn antelopes?  In fact, if we do a google search of “antelope family”, the first result is the Pronghorn. The internet is always right. Right?

Old World antelopes are part of the Bovidae family which include cattle, buffaloes, bison, goats, gazelles, goats, yaks and sheep.

Here’s an antelope that looks like a Pronghorn, the Springbok.

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Springbok (Source: eol.org)

Yeah, but this is also a member of the Bovidae family:

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Himalyan (Source: eol.org)

So much for markings.  Ah, the perils of gross morphology in building phylogenies.  Basically, we can attribute many false assumptions about relatedness between organisms just on coat markings and other superficial observations.

Besides, Bovidae have hollow horns.  This isn’t quite what Pronghorns have.

Hey, here’s a crazy idea.  What about Giraffes?  They also have a bony protuberance beneath their horns.

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Pronghorn skull (Source: University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History)

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Giraffe skull (Source: University of Edinburgh)

Skull formation as a method of differentiating relatedness between organisms seems superior to coat markings, but it’s still gross morphology.  Ultimately, DNA evidence shows the Pronghorn family Antilocapridae are most closely related to the Giraffe family, Giraffidae, which also includes Okapi and Zebra Giraffe.

That means Pronghorns and Giraffes shared a relative back when the continents were conjoined.  Then, when the continents drifted, they became separate lineages. That’s very cool.

 

A Few Days at the Refuge

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Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, South Dakota

Recently, I volunteered for a few days at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge here in South Dakota.  I arrived early every day for some sunrise birding at the lake.  Double-crested Cormorants, Franklin’s Gulls, Pied-billed Grebes, Western Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, and Northern Shovelers graced the shoreline. All were in their winter non-breeding plumage:

That was just preamble, though.  I spent most of my days collecting forbs at the easements managed by the wildlife refuge.  The forbs will then be used to re-seed other easements.  These are acquired by US Fish and Wildlife for Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) with money from Federal Duck Stamp purchases.

Wetlands and grasslands have been converted to cropland in the past 10 years for biofuel production.  Between Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, the area of grasslands converted would cover the state of Kansas. The protected lands managed by National Wildlife Refuges is crucial for migrating and resident species.

Some of the species at these grassland easements I encountered included Woolly Bear caterpillars, Blazing Star, Northern Harriers, Pin Cushion Cacti, Blue Grama, crickets and Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels.

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Woolly Bear Caterpillar and Blazing Star

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Pin Cushion Cactus

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” — William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Recently, I noticed that a nearby high school, Tripp-Delmont/Armour, has a nighthawk as its mascot.

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Tripp-Armour Nighthawk mascot

This, of course, doesn’t look anything like a Common Nighthawk. Nighthawks don’t have talons or a sharp beak characteristic of raptors.  Nighthawks are noisy birds that eat insects. That’s all they have for defense.  Noisiness. They have no need for a sharp beak or claws.

I was curious how they came to have a nighthawk as their mascot.  Armour is in a rural area dominated by row crop agriculture.  Nighthawks don’t use row-crop areas.  However, Armour was once covered in grasslands.  How old is their mascot?  Did they adopt the mascot in a time when many nighthawks were plentiful in the area?  Did the grasslands then get converted to row crop over time, and the nighthawks disappear? Then did they forget what a nighthawk looks like?

These were my questions when I contacted the school secretary for Tripp-Delmont/Armour, Karen Nusbaum, who wrote:

“The Nighthawk mascot came about when we co-oped with Armour.  Armour was the Packers and we were the Wildcats (  Nighthawk??—-just something that was different enough between the two mascots)   2005 was the first year in football & full sports in 2007-08.   My husband grew up in this area  & he doesn’t remember seeing any (unless he didn’t know what they were)     Sorry, I don’t have more info.”

Very interesting.  So there’s no meaning in the mascot choice.  Just a cool sounding bird.

Tripp-Delmont/Armour is not alone, however.  A quick google search yielded a few other schools in the U.S. with the nighthawk as their mascot.

There’s the Newtown Nighthawks:

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And the University of Maryland University College Nighthawks:

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More raptors with a cool sounding name.

The nighthawk could do worse than this reputation. It was once synonymous with late night drinkers like the Nighthawks Tap in Lacrosse, Wisconsin (which has since closed), the many breweries and restaurants nationwide and the Edward Hopper painting below.

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Nighthawks represented for Hopper a particular feeling: “unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”

This is ironic given the declining status of urban nighthawks.  Perhaps as urban gravel rooftop nesting habitat is replaced by more high-tech materials, so goes the way of the grittier hangouts for urban folks as gentrification sweeps through a city.

Support Bat Research!

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Silver Haired Bat

Support Silver Haired Bat Research! Bat research dovetails with nighthawk research because both are aerial insectivores, and bats are facing many of the same struggles that nighthawks are: climate change, habitat loss, among others. 

My Canadian colleagues have a video, and the more clicks they receive by 2/28/17, the more likely they are to win a grant for their Silver Haired Bat research.

 

Mutualism

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Missouri River species: False Map Turtle, Piping Plover, Belted Kingfisher, Cedar Waxwing, Orchard Oriole, Least Tern, Bald Eagles

It’s permit time for wildlife biologists.  This means we are renewing our state and federal permits to work with wildlife in the summer.  It’s a crucial part of the work we do.  Local and national authorities have a vested interest in ensuring ethical science.  In addition, it’s a crucial part of understanding the science and organisms under each of their jurisdictions to see a periodic review of our work.

My permit application each year includes the following information:

Project Title: Habitat associations, nest microclimate, and heat stress of Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) in urban and natural sites

Justification: Common Nighthawk grassland nesting sites are in decline (Tallman et al. 2002), and this trend has accelerated with high prices for corn and soybeans. The study area is currently dominated by row-crop agriculture (Tallman et al. 2002). Nighthawk nesting ecology studies have been conducted in large continuous grasslands (Lohnes 2010, Ng 2009), but not in smaller, patchy grasslands characteristic of agriculturally dominated landscapes.

Natural nest sites typically occur in grasslands with limited disturbance (Brigham 1989, Wedgewood 1991). In contrast, urban nests are typically located on flat, graveled rooftops (Brigham 1989, Brigham et al. 2011). Because Common Nighthawks appear to choose nest sites that enable effective nestling thermoregulation (i.e., nest sites that allow for more air movement to facilitate heat loss [Fisher et al. 2004]), a preference for rooftop nesting habitat with higher temperatures has the potential to become an ecological trap, especially if climate change produces even higher temperatures (Fletcher et al. 2012), leaving Common Nighthawks with few alternatives to the fragmented natural grassland habitat.

Objectives: Determine 1) the local distribution of Common Nighthawks, 2) the effect of changing patterns of land use, and 3) whether microclimate affects nesting success in rooftop sites.

That’s the thumbnail of what I do.  This process helps me clarify my objectives.  It also keeps my research relevant when I consider how my research might be of use to South Dakota Game Fish and Parks.  What benefit can I provide to regulators and managers?  What questions can I answer?

In turn for providing us with permits, many states ask that we track heritage species, species designated as threatened in our state.  In 2016, here was the list South Dakota gave me:

Mudpuppy

Northern Cricket Frog

Cope’s Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Plains Leopard Frog

Wood Frog

Common Loon

Horned Grebe

Red-Necked Grebe

Clark’s Grebe

American White Pelican

Least Bittern

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Snowy Egret

Little Blue Heron

Tricolored Heron

Green-Backed Heron

Black-Crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron

White-Faced Ibis

Trumpeter Swan

Bufflehead

Hooded Merganser

Common Merganser

Osprey

Bald Eagle

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Northern Goshawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

Golden Eagle

Merlin

Peregrine Falcon

Prairie Falcon

Yellow Rail

King Rail

Whooping Crane

Piping Plover

Mountain Plover

Black-Necked Stilt

Eskimo Curlew

Long-Billed Curlew

American Woodcock

California Gull

Caspian Tern

Common Tern

Interior Least Tern

Black Tern

Barn Owl

Burrowing Owl

Long-Eared Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Flammulated Owl

Common Poorwill

Chuck-will’s-widow

Eastern Whip-Poor-will

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Lewis’ Woodpecker

Three-Toed Woodpecker

Black-Backed Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Olive-Sided Flycatcher

Cassin’s Kingbird

Clark’s Nutcracker

Pygmy Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

American Dipper

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Veery

Wood Thrush

Northern Mockingbird

Sage Thrasher

Sprague’s Pipit

Yellow-Throated Vireo

Black-And-White Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

Virginia’s Warbler

Scarlet Tanager

Brewer’s Sparrow

Baird’s Sparrow

Henslow’s Sparrow

Le Conte’s Sparrow

Sharp-Tailed Sparrow

Mccown’s Longspur

Eastern Meadowlark

Cassin’s Finch

Silver Lamprey

Lake Sturgeon

Pallid Sturgeon

Shovelnose sturgeon

Longnose Gar

American Eel

Skipjack Herring

Mooneye

Central Mudminnow

Lake Chub

Hornyhead Chub

River Shiner

Blacknose Shiner

Rosyface Shiner

Silverband Shiner

Topeka Shiner

Suckermouth Minnow

Northern Redbelly Dace

Finescale Dace

Southern Redbelly Dace

Sturgeon Chub

Sicklefin Chub

Silver Chub

Pearl Dace

Quillback

Longnose Sucker

Mountain Sucker

Blue Sucker

Northern Hog Sucker

Black Buffalo

Golden Redhorse

Trout-Perch

Banded Killifish

Plains Topminnow

Logperch

Blackside Darter

Slenderhead Darter

Dwarf Shrew

Water Shrew

Arctic Shrew

Merriam’s Shrew

Pygmy Shrew

Least Shrew

Long-Eared Myotis

Fringe-Tailed Myotis

Northern Myotis

Silver-Haired Bat

Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat

Evening Bat

Eastern Chipmunk

Spotted Ground Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Northern Flying Squirrel

Sagebrush Vole

Southern Bog Lemming

Gray Wolf

Kit Or Swift Fox

Black Bear

Black-Footed Ferret

Plains Spotted Skunk

Northern River Otter

Lynx

Mountain Lion

Meadow Jumping Mouse

Blanding’s Turtle

False Map Turtle

Western Box Turtle

Smooth Softshell

Spiny Softshell

Lesser Earless Lizard

Short-Horned Lizard

Sagebrush Lizard

Northern Prairie Lizard

Many-Lined Skink

Six-Lined Racerunner

Ringneck Snake

Fox Snake

Eastern Hognose Snake

Northern Water Snake

Brown Snake

Redbelly Snake

Black Hills Redbelly Snake

Lined Snake

Smooth Green Snake

A Cave Obligate Springtail

Little White Tiger Beetle

High Plains Tiger Beetle

American Burying Beetle

Belfragi’s Chlorochroan Bug

Powesheik Skipperling

Ottoe Skipper

Dakota Skipper

Iowa Skipper

Mulberry Wing

Broad-Winged Skipper

Regal Fritillary

Tawny Crescent

Elktoe

Threeridge

Flat Floater

Rock Pocketbook

Purple Wartyback

Spike

Wabash Pigtoe

Higgins Eye

Yellow Sandshell

Plain Pocketbook

Creek Heelsplitter

Scaleshell

Black Sandshell

Pondmussel

Threehorn Wartyback

Hickorynut

Round Pigtoe

Pink Heelsplitter

Winged Mapleleaf

Pimpleback

Mapleleaf

Creeper

Lilliput

Pistolgrip

Fawnsfoot

Deertoe

Pondhorn

Stout Floater

Paper Pondshell

Dakota Vertigo

Mystery Vertigo

Striate Disc

Catinella gelida

Cooper’s Rocky Mountainsnail

I have to be honest.  I keep my eyes on the nighthawks much of the time.  But, I’ve seen Bald Eagles, Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and False Map Turtles (and included them in my Missouri River shadow box above). In addition, I’ve seen migrating osprey on the Missouri River, Great Blue Herons while kayaking the Vermillion River (a tributary), Ruby-throated hummingbirds at my feeders, an American Dipper in Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills, and a Cooper’s Hawk tear through a hedge chasing after House Sparrows here in Vermillion. The Eastern Whip-Poor-wills and Cricket Frogs were my buddies the many nights I spent looking for nighthawks on back roads.  Sometimes the Whip-poor-wills came when I played a nighthawk call.  Not that you should do that.  Playing bird calls is considered harassment of wildlife.  I was doing it for science, and I had a permit to do so.

Anyways, it makes sense, right?  Set the biologists on track to find where these rare and endangered species live in exchange for a permit.

Wildlife biology is filled with mutually beneficial relationships:  Regulators and scientists working together (hopefully), and mutualism between animals in a community.  Here’s an example:

Nighthawks and killdeer both nest on rooftops.  Each makes an alarm call when an intruder (e.g. a graduate student like me) comes.  Each species benefits from each other’s presence.

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Nighthawks and Killdeer on a rooftop

Creativity in Science

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Illustration by Eleanor Lutz

Science is a creative endeavor.  There I said it.

It had to be said because people seem surprised when I tell them I am a biologist and part-time artist. Someone once asked, “What, so you took an art class, and now you make these?”  I replied, “No, I’ve just always made art.”

I cannot do science 24 hours a day.  I can’t do any one thing all the time.  I find that answers to a question I didn’t know I had come to me in a dream, or when I switch up the scenery, or when I put my hands to work on something else.  That is a creative process.

The other day I walked into my advisor’s office.  He was hand painting beautifully carved Horned Lark wooden models.  The plan was to put them into the field to lure these wily birds into his nets.  We had a short discussion of the various ways that creativity plays a part in science.

Problem solving is one.  You have to open your mind and think of a way to find a solution, especially when resources are limited.  I’ve been trying to capture nighthawks in my nets for years.  But, their eyesight is very keen, and they were able to stop short of falling into my nets.  Then I consulted with some nighthawk researcher buddies in Canada.  The answer was Maurice, a cardboard cutout of a nighthawk they placed in their net.  Nighthawks could still see the net, but their desire to rid their territory of an invading male superseded their caution.  And voila!  They fell into the nets.

Empathy is another.  This requires some creativity.  Opening your mind to what drives an animal to live like it does can help you understand it.  You have to think like a nighthawk to out-think a nighthawk.  It required some creativity and empathy for my northern colleagues to come up with Maurice.

Empathy and creativity also play a part in generating hypotheses. It helps to expand your thoughts to understand a process.  If you cannot do this, you encounter the pitfalls of scientific bias. See this excellent blog on the nine types of scientific bias.

Lastly, there is the ability to communicate.  Finding ways to convey what you do and why it’s important is crucial to reaching your audience.  Eleanor Lutz, with her blog and illustrations (including the one above), are an excellent example of creative communication.  Her illustrations explain in an economy of action and visuals what an onerous PowerPoint in a classroom cannot do.  Trust me, I know.

Diversity isn’t just a buzzword.

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Rosalind Franklin (Source: rejectedprincesses.com)

I’m a female graduate student in wildlife biology.  There have been many women in science over the years I count as my heroes.

Jane Goodall was my first hero.  Dr. Goodall was part of a cohort of women (that included Dian Fossey who studied mountain gorillas and Birute Galdikas Brindamour who studied orangutans) hired by famed anthropologist Louis Leakey to study wild apes.  He felt that women would have the patience to approach wild apes.  No doubt, the field of wildlife biology was probably filled with hunters and men who would want to bend these sensitive animals to their will.  But, approaching a wild ape requires a subtle approach.  Mere eye contact can change the interaction.  Sometimes, what is sometimes considered a weakness, empathy, can be a strength.

Ellen Swallow Richards is important, too.  A brilliant chemist who co-founded the Women’s Laboratory to support women in science, she was one of the first people to use the term “ecology”.  She used it in context of home economics in the 1800s when conservation of materials was not only frugal for the household but sustainable to the environment, no doubt in a time when foraging and farming required some thought as to not overworking the land.  This perspective has been lost in modern times for many people as we have separated ourselves from the land.

“The quality of life depends upon the ability of society to teach its members how to live in harmony with their environment–defined first as family, then the community, then the world and its resources.” – Ellen Swallow Richards (1842-1911)

Rosalind Franklin is another hero. Rosalind played a major role in the discovery of DNA.  Rosalind was overlooked in the days of chummy macho scientists when collaboration meant sharing a pint at the pub with the dude in the next lab.  Rosalind didn’t suffer fools gladly and eschewed the glad handing, and yet had the chops as a chemist and radiographer to help Watson and Crick take detailed images of the double helix structure.There’s an excellent hour-long documentary by PBS’ Nova posted on YouTube about her contribution and subsequent snubbing by the Nobel committee.  It seems like required viewing for any budding scientist.  In fact, we show this documentary in the introductory biology lab class here at University of South Dakota.

Each of these women had a unique perspective that enriched their respective fields.

Knowledge doesn’t stop sexism, of course.  I’ve encountered the attitude by students that women can’t teach science.  I’ve been told by my family that I should give up graduate school, hurry up, get married, and have children because family wouldn’t be around forever “to take care of me” even though I have been financially independent since the age of 15.

The tide is turning.  Women outnumber men in many undergraduate and graduate biology programs.  However, physical sciences and some biological sciences lag, and thus, women have formed Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) organizations on campuses to support them. The Wildlife Society, at a recent meeting, held a symposium on promoting diversity (for women and minorities) in this field.

Diversity isn’t just a buzzword.  Having multiple points of view in any discipline is vital to staying relevant and innovative.  Years ago, I worked for Portland Parks & Recreation in Oregon when Charles Jordan was the director.  He was Portland’s first African American City Commissioner and was known for his innovative approach to government.  When he retired, he set out to make conservation more inclusive of minorities.

“What people don’t understand, they won’t value; what they don’t value, they won’t protect; and what they don’t protect, they will lose.” – Charles Jordan (1937-2014).