Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of profiles on new, full-time faculty members.
Bill Brown is eager for spring semester and the opportunity to get his biology and ecology students outdoors, to look for salamanders under rocks, go bird-watching, and collect scores of data on “critters” in the wild.
“We’ll get outside every day possible,” said Brown, who specializes in ornithology (birds), but also has training in entomology (insects), general ecology (the environment), bio-statistics and applied statistics. A visiting professor last year, the Penn Yan resident joined the Keuka faculty full-time this year, taking over several environmental courses formerly taught by Tim Sellers, who became an associate vice-president for academic programs last year.
As an undergraduate at Cornell University, Brown worked at the Finger Lakes National Forest identifying birds. Later, he worked as a field tech studying birds literally across the country, before completing master’s and doctoral work on the wood thrush, a migratory forest songbird, at the University of Delaware.
“We put bands on them, tracked who they mated with, what tree species they nested in, how high, etc. It piqued my interest in statistics,” he said.
As such, Brown is eager to offer an ornithology course, which he will teach this coming spring. While students are snowbound indoors, he’ll get them up to speed on taxonomy, the relationships of bird groups, their biology and ecology, and by the time the snow melts, students can get outside to put that knowledge to work.
“Bird activity starts slowly. Waterfowl come back first, then blackbirds, then thrushes, then warblers. May is very busy with migration and breeding. So, rather than starting [class] in September during peak migration, we’ll start when it (the cycle) starts,” he said.
“I’ve applied for a permit for netting birds,” Brown added, “but it takes a while. Should I get it, I would add hands-on netting experiences.”
Currently, Brown has some 25 bird boxes placed by Davis Hall, near the ropes course and pond
“I’m really looking forward to getting out to do field work with students. That was a defined need here,” Brown explained. “I will offer Field Periods and independent research projects, and I also have training in entomology, and working with mammals, so I’m happy to accommodate student research interest.”
Brown notes he is also looking forward to teaching ecology, a course that has not been offered in about five years.
“I’m pretty excited about the field courses and field research. I’d like to build on that. I’d love to do field biology as well, if that could be possible,” he said.
Brown’s doctoral research examined what species of birds might inhabit and breed in small forest fragments, which are not large enough to accommodate the largest bird species. Brown said he found medium-size birds, such as cardinals or catbirds, would “pack in” to the limited forest fragments in high densities. Often, the mid-size birds would out-compete smaller species for the limited resources in the forest fragment, he said.
“I thought: ‘Gosh, there’s an awful lot of birds in there! And yes, there was.’”