Crowdfunding piece: Why our veterans, eagles, and lead go hand in hand

Happy Veterans Day! In 1782, the Bald Eagle was adopted as the national bird of the United States of America. Today, this magnificent bird graces many of our institutions’ emblems, including the official seals for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. president, and many branches of our military. Eagles even find their way onto our currency. Once you start looking, you begin to see eagles everywhere in our national imagery.

Despite their cultural importance as a symbol of strength and glory, eagles were historically persecuted for their real, however exaggerated, propensity to kill livestock. To protect our nation’s eagles, congress enacted first enacted the Lacey Act in 1900, which prohibited taking of eagles and their eggs, parts, or nests, and heavily fined violators of this law. This was a landmark legislative act to protect a valued native species, as it would be 70 years before the Endangered Species Act would become law! The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act in 1940 went a step further, defining “take” as to “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb” members of either eagle species. Now you can only “take” a bald or golden eagle with a special permit from th Secretary of the Interior.

While bald eagle populations appear stable today, the health of golden eagles is more uncertain and both species still must navigate the dangers of the human altered landscape. For instance, every year eagles die from impacting turbines at wind energy facilities because of their habit of using these same windy hillsides when hunting their prey. Another less understood impact is lead poisoning. Eagles and other avian scavengers are poisoned by spent lead ammunition and fishing weights in their food sources. In fact, due to this and other environmental concerns, the U.S. Army began adopting lead-free ammunition in 2010. We care about the national symbol of our veterans, and the eagles’ ecological importance as apex predators and scavengers. Please contribute today to help us better understand lead poisoning in eagles across the United States so we can solve this problem together. Thank you for your help.

Please click here to donate!



Meet Cute: Science and Journalism

This past August, I was interviewed by journalist Alison Hawkees who was writing a piece for Bay Nature Magazine about the California Condor Recovery Program in Pinnacles National Park. I was incredibly nervous.

Over my time in academia, I had become  aware that there is a low-level wariness many scientists have regarding media interviews; they often feel their science is misrepresented, or that their comments on their results are misquoted to ill-effect. However, I also believe to my bones that partnerships between scientists and journalists are critical to getting important information to the public, because lets face it, only other scientists in our field ever read the scientific journal articles we throw out blood sweat and tears into. So if our hard-earned findings aren’t shared in some other, more digestible and accesible format, what’s the point of what we’re doing here anyway?

So here I was preparing for the interview excited to talk about my project for the first time with someone that might share my story in print, but also terrified that I might misrepresent the condor recovery efforts in some way. I was wound up. But Alison dealt with me expertly. She was patient with my occasional forays deep into stress physiology of birds. She was understanding of the fact that my project only has very preliminary results. She let me sum up my main points at the end of our chat. In the end, she made a lovely little paragraph in her article which accurately represented the goals of my research. I’m glad we have folks like Alison Hawkees doing this important work, and I’m glad she was my first :).

You can purchase the magazine that contains the article mentioned in the post here:




October-December 2016

A chance to support my research

There are about 10 hours left to participate in UCSC’s Giving Day. Our lab is promoting a project on lead exposure in bald and golden eagles in the United States. Lead poisoning is a known cause of death for many eagles, but we don’t know how often these birds ingest lead, or the degree to which lead exposure might be negatively impacting eagle populations in our country. We’ve learned a lot from studying lead exposure in California condors, and one of the coolest techniques (in my opinion) that our lab has pioneered uses feathers to measure the frequency of lead exposure in birds. We would be the first to apply this technique to eagle species. Click here to see our little video about our project: Leaded Eagles.

If you have the time and the funds to chip in some money for this project today please click the link below. It would be a huge help to get our project off the ground. If you don’t have the time today, please stay tuned for a future, less-time restricted funding effort taking place this summer!

Click here to donate through UCSC’s Giving Day website on May 11th

giving day post pic


Collaboration with UCSC’s Coastal Sustainability Blog

This past summer I got to take part in a new course on science and sustainability communication at UCSC. Over 5 days, about 15 other graduate students and I worked together to translate diverse research topics and crystallize our messages. We also learned from exemplary panels of scientists, lawmakers, and journalists. It was an exciting experience and I am still grateful for the personal inspiration and friendships that have come out of it. In fact, this very website/blog is a direct product of this course.

To keep the our blossoming science communication community active and provide budding scientists with an outlet for sharing their work, our instructor Kristy Kroeker as been curating a blog populated by short pieces from this group of students. My guest blog has just been published. I give an overview of lead poisoning routes in wildlife, and the questions I am aiming to answer with my graduate research. Enjoy!

Revised California condor species account is published online

At about this time 2 years ago, my advisor and I agreed to take on a 15 year update of the California condor species account for Cornell University’s Birds of North America website. It took us about a year to complete and then almost a year to go through review, so it feels great to get this out in the world. California condors have been closely studied in the last 15 years, so there was a good deal of research and field knowledge added to Noel Snyder and John Schmitt’s already detailed original account. It was a privilege for me to work off such a well-researched and well-written document, and to get to contribute to the library of bird knowledge that Cornell hosts. The Birds of North America website is a great resource for accurate bird facts if you ever have any questions of the avian variety. Questions like, “where does this warbler go in the winter?” or “how long do these little guys live?” or “what does a pigeon eat?” or “are whooping cranes still endangered?” Plus they have links to the songs, calls, and sounds each species makes. Condor grunts, hisses, and wing flaps can be found here.

condor sp acc

Remember when… I was a guest on Science Sort Of?

I’ve decided to dust this recording off for a replay this week. Last year my friend and fellow EAP Costa Rica alum, Ryan Haupt, invited me to talk with him about all things condor for his podcast. I was super nervous but once I realized I was just talking about my favorite subject to one of my favorite science buddies it quickly became just a really good time. In the immediate aftermath of the release of this episode I felt I stumbled through parts of it and definitely blanked on some easy details (e.g. California condor wingspans are about 9 ft on average, 10 ft max). However, now that I listen back I cringe less during these slip ups and what shines through is my passion for studying these beautiful and rare birds. Big huge thanks to Ryan for giving me this opportunity to hone my communication skills and get the word out about condors and lead poisoning.