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Carolina Backyard Naturalist (11/4/20)

All Things Birds: The Basics of Their Biology, Identification, Conservation, and Migration Research 

There are two features about birds that for many of us generate curiosity, wonder, and awe – and those things are feathers and flight. Of course, other things fly but they do not have feathers. In this session, we will explore “what makes a bird a bird?” We will cover the basics of a birds’ body, inside and out. I will also describe results of studies of bird movements, both small and large, and the technologies we use to acquire such data. We will consider challenges to bird conservation and finally, resources for the public to use to go out and find and enjoy watching birds, including how to buy binoculars. A recent report notes that ~20% of bird species in the U.S. can be found in urban settings, some for a significant part of the annual life cycle. Thus, we will have to say a few words about “birds in the ‘burbs.”

Presenter: John Gerwin

Research Curator and Educator – Ornithology, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

John GerwinJohn began watching birds at a very early age (~4 years old). At age 7, his older sister taught him how to identify 10 birds in the neighborhood. At age 11 he was most fortunate to join the Junior Zoologists Club at the Cincinnati Zoo and stayed until he was 14. He attended the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis-St. Paul and earned his B.S. in 1985. He earned a Masters in Zoology at Louisiana State University, studying the genetic relationships of hummingbirds. He came to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in late 1987, as the Bird Collections Manager. He became a research curator in 2005.

John currently conducts research on the full life cycles of migratory birds, with a focus on breeding biology. He currently works on projects at two sites in the Piedmont of North Carolina, one in the mountains of North Carolina, and in Nicaragua. He primarily uses radio telemetry to study how these birds use the habitats they live in, and their nesting chronologies and reproductive success.

John enthusiastically conducts outreach events to groups of all ages throughout the State of North Carolina, and occasionally elsewhere. John works with two youth groups in Wake County, for kids ages 11-18: these are the Museum’s Junior Curators, and Wake Audubon’s Young Naturalists. He is fluent in Spanish. He enjoys gardening, especially with native plants, and attracting butterflies and other pollinators. He does programs and blogs on butterflies as well and leads butterfly walks in the Raleigh area.

NC Museum of Natural Sciences logo

Additional Resources

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Merlin Bird ID App (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Managing Backyards and Other Urban Habitats for Birds (NC State Extension)

Nearly 3 Billion Birds Gone (study on bird population declines)

National Audubon Society (North Carolina)

Survival by Degree: 389 Bird Species on the Brink (Audubon)

Carolina Bird Club

Roads End Naturalist (Mike Dunn’s Blog)

Written By

Matt Jones, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionMatt JonesExtension Agent, Agriculture - Commercial Ornamental and Consumer Horticulture Call Matt E-mail Matt N.C. Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center
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