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Calgary Heralds probes professor and bird detective about her daily routine

Calgary Heralds probes professor and bird detective about her daily routine

Professor Bridget Stutchbury is back in the media talking about her book, The Bird Detective: Investigating the Secret Lives of Birds. The Calgary Herald interviewed her April 30 about her research, daily routine and thoughts on climate change:

Figuring out bird habits are all in a day's work for Stutchbury. Montreal-born, Toronto-raised, she is an internationally renowned researcher and author. Her previous book, The Silence of Songbirds, was a finalist for the 2007 Governor General's Award. Among her achievements, she and colleagues were the first to figure out how to track songbirds as they migrate, by fitting them with tiny backpacks containing sensors weighing less than a dime.

With her husband, fellow ornithologist Gene Morton, Stutchbury adventures around the world tracking birds. She's hacked her way through a tropical forest with a machete. Attacks by killer bees are part of her job description.

"There are many events in my life that, I have to confess, are a bit unusual," she says.

We tracked her down at her university office in Toronto to find out more about life as a bird detective.

Her Daily Routine

She wakes up at dawn, a childhood habit and a very good trait in an ornithologist. During the winter, she teaches at the university and keeps a routine typical of many working mothers. But the summer is anything but typical. The family relocates to their farm/laboratory in Pennsylvania where she spends her days stalking birds through the forest for hours at a time, carrying a long net and wearing a radio attached to her belt.

Her Kids' Reaction To Her Work

"They've been hearing (about birds' sex lives) since they were born. Even before they could walk, they've been dragged along on various expeditions. . . . As they become teenagers, they are probably a little embarrassed about it, but they understand the tongue-in-cheek aspects. My kids know from hearing me talk to my husband that when we get talking in scientific terms, it can be deadly dull."

Advice For Would-Be Ornithologists

Invite birds into your yard, small as it may be. The key? Pay attention to the little things.

"I'm always looking and listening," she says.

Her Thoughts On Climate Change

Climate change, overuse of pesticides and increasing urbanization are hurting birds and they are changing their habits to survive. For instance, warmer temperatures are throwing migration patterns out of whack, threatening the survival of some species.

She cites one study that found a 2.8 C increase in surface temperature would result in 500 land bird extinctions by 2100, with two thousand species at risk of extinction.

But she takes an optimistic view about the future:

"I do believe that a green revolution is underway and that the tide has turned in the last five to 10 years," she says. "I think we've hit and passed the tipping point when it comes to people's attitudes on environmental sustainability."

Her Conservation Tips

"Reduce, reuse, recycle. Use paper products from post-consumer recycled material. Ensure that your papers and wood products have FSC certification (a labelling system that indicates products come from responsibly managed forests and verified recycled sources). I'm a big fan of consumers taking action because you can see the results of your efforts right away."

On Coffee

She recommends buying organic, fair-trade coffee from traditional small coffee farms. These farms refrain from pesticides and support preservation of tropical trees. In future, as researchers learn more about bird migration, we might be able to buy our coffee from South American farms that are known to be the winter homes of Canadian songbirds.

The complete article is available on the Herald's Web site.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.