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Cliff Swallows: A Scientific Look at Colonies and Evolution
Article By: by Austin College
Posted: 8/26/2013 Views: 2496  Impressions: 11769
Categories: Education, Home Life: Environmental

SHERMAN, TEXAS-During the summer months, highway overpasses throughout the western United States are swarming with cliff swallows. The small birds build mud nests in colonies on cliff ledges or under bridges, mostly living in large groups. The diversity of those groups and how the birds select their colonies is something Dr. Charles Brown, professor of biology at University of Tulsa and a 1981 graduate of Austin College, has been studying for nearly 30 years.

Making their homes on the highway overpasses puts the birds in close proximity to fast-moving traffic-and increases the chance that the birds will die in collisions with that traffic. Rather than move to new locations, scientists like Brown have found that the birds have developed shorter wingspans that allow them to more speed and maneuverability. The numbers of these birds dying on the roadways has dropped substantially in recent years.

Brown will share these and other findings from his studies at a lecture at Austin College on Thursday, September 5, at noon in IDEA Center Room 127, presenting "Evolution in action: Changes in road-killed cliff swallows over 30 years." The lecture is free and open to the public.

Brown, who earned a Ph.D. in biology at Princeton University, has been recognized nationally for his research and study in ornithology, behavioral ecology, and disease ecology. He spent several years teaching at Yale University and was a visiting associate professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln before beginning his work at University of Tulsa. From 1986 to 1993, he also served as curator of ornithology at Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University.

Brown's long-term project at a field site in western Nebraska is one of the longest running continuous field studies on birds in North America. More than 187,000 swallows have been studied there, in the largest mark-recapture study of birds in the world.

The professor also will speak to biology students in another session during his campus visit.

Austin College is a leading national independent liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas. Founded in 1849, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original charter and name, the College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recognized nationally for academic excellence in the areas of international education, pre-professional training, and leadership studies, Austin College is one of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope's influential book Colleges That Change Lives.

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