Many young birders may be wondering how to pursue a career in Ornithology. Graduate research assistant Lauren D. Pharr shares her experience in this eBird story. Lauren shares how she came to study the effects of noise and light pollution on nesting birds using community science data. From quails to urban birds, Lauren’s story also illustrates the many ways that scientists look at birds to better understand our connection with – and impacts on – the natural world.
My Birding Story by Lauren Pharr
It wasn’t until my sophomore year of Undergrad that I would soon realize how birds would shape the rest of life. I grew up wanting to work with animals, however, I never would have imagined that my work would involve studying wildlife.
My name is Lauren Pharr and I am currently a Graduate Research Assistant at North Carolina State University pursuing my Masters in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. I am an Ornithologist who loves to share my passion for birds, not only through my research but also through Science Communication. I graduated with my B.S. degree in Environmental Biology from Wingate University in 2019. Here, I got to dip my feet into what research involved, working with not only sheep out in Dubois, Idaho, but also with Blue-breasted Quail (Synoicus chinensis). I began taking courses in Wildlife Management and Animal Ecology and became intrigued learning about human wildlife interactions. I began working with my undergraduate research advisor during my junior year studying animal behavior in birds, researching whether the vocal harmonics of the Blue-breasted Quail changed as they physically matured. I also got many opportunities to present my research at professional science conferences.
Now as a Graduate Research Assistant, I am researching the Effects of Urban Noise and Light Pollution on Avian Survival using data from the Citizen Science project “Neighborhood Nestwatch.” With urbanization factors continuing to increase as people continue to settle in suburban and urban areas, many studies have continued to research the effects of urbanization on inhabiting wildlife. Birds in particular are great models due to the fact that they are one of many indicator species when it comes to environmental change. Urbanization has been linked to many changes in bird behavior, morphology, and physiology. Some of these include changes in avian migration patterns, beak shape, and reproductive cycles. My research focuses on observing survival patterns of seven different species: American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis), Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), and House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), residing in urban areas and analyzing their responses to different levels of urban noise and light pollution.
Aside from my research, I am also heavily involved in Science Communication. This allows me to share my expertise and give advice on a wide range of topics involving birds as well as other wildlife.
I absolutely love getting the question “What does Birding mean to me?” Birding, and nature in general, brings a sense of peace and joy. As a researcher, I get to have a more up close and personal birding experience. I currently obtain a sub-permit bird banding license to mist net and occasionally band songbirds. Now, what exactly is mist netting? This is a process that ornithologists and researchers use in order to capture, handle, and band various species of birds for conservation efforts. A special net made of either polyester or nylon is secured upright in an area camouflaged by vegetation. This makes it hard for the birds to see. The birds fly into the net and get entangled instantly. Once extracted from the net, researchers will take various body and health measurements of the birds and record these on a banding sheet. Then, each bird is given a specific USGS Steel or Aluminum band with a special number on it. All of this information will be entered into a specific online database. If a bird is ever recaptured, this information can be searched within this database and information on this bird will be known.
So how can one begin “Birding?” There is no right way to “Bird.” In fact, this is where my joy of using eBird comes in. When wanting to begin IDing birds by sight or sound, I recommend using any sort of field guides relevant to your area. There are also mobile apps that you can use to keep track of the species that you find. eBird Mobile is one of my absolute favorites. This app allows you to record all the species of birds that you see on an outing in a single checklist. A cool thing about this checklist is that once you record your species, this list can be submitted in order to help with other conservation efforts. So, not only can you begin to learn birds efficiently, but you are also contributing to science!
As for my future, I plan on continuing to work and research birds for as long as I can. My goal is to one day obtain a research position with either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission.
I hope my story will help to inspire yet another curious mind who might one day love to enter this field.
Lauren D. Pharr