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NVU Assistant Professor Studies Impact of Climate on Bird Nesting Habits

Lisa Zinn, visiting assistant professor at NVU-Johnson, is researching how climate change influences bird nesting using her bird banding skills to track bird populations on campus.Blue-headed vireo - Zinn

Zinn is a licensed Master Bird Bander with 17 years of experience, first in Indiana and now in Vermont. In that time, she has banded well over 5,000 birds, including 79 on the NVU-Johnson campus so far.

Researchers use animal marking data to estimate the populations of different species and track their life cycles. With bird banding, birds are caught with large nets and then banded by attaching an individually numbered aluminum tag to the bird’s leg. The data collected, including the tag number attached, is sent to a National Bird Banding Lab that researchers can access. Since birds nest in the same location over and over, researchers may catch birds that have been banded before, allowing them to track the bird’s movements and its life history.

Zinn didn’t band birds this summer due to Covid-19. But her Intro to Biology: Ecology and Evolution class caught two juvenile Common Yellowthroats  during their bird banding lab on September 1st and two American Goldfinches on September 9th. 

One of the Common Yellowthroats was quite young, having just fledged, Zinn said. “Which is curious,” she added. While these birds commonly nest twice each season, it is late for the second brood to be fledging. Zinn has found birds are beginning to nest earlier in the spring. “But does this young bird, in September, mean birds are nesting later in the season as well,” she wonders. “Or was this bird the product of a third nesting? Or was it an anomaly?”

Zinn collects data as part of a nationwide bird banding research project conducted by the Institute for Bird Populations in California. But she is also using the data for her own research on climate change and nesting habits. “I hope to publish articles along with some of my NVU student research assistants about what we’re learning,” she said.