Tree swallow and bluebirds fight over a cavity. Photo: Nancy Szakaly

My current research investigates the proximate and ultimate mechanisms of female aggression across a range of avian species with different life histories, including cavity-nesting and sex-role reversal. I use methods in neuroscience, endocrinology, genomics, and behavioral ecology to understand variation among individuals, sexes, and species.

This work was recently funded by an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology: Broadening Participation of Groups Under-represented in Biology. We are developing eBirdhouses to give local students a front row seat into the extraordinary breeding cycles of backyard birds.




Team Jacana 2015 with taxidermic mounts for aggression assays

My dissertation with Dr. Elizabeth Derryberry at the University of Tennessee focused on the role of female competition in a hybrid zone between polyandrous, sex-role reversed Northern and Wattled Jacanas in Panama. This involved aggression assays, population genomics, and hybrid zone analyses. The fieldwork was conducted across several years, with help from phenomenal undergraduate assistants. I received funding from an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, NSF GROW, NSF DDIG, National Geographic, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.




Nestling white-crowned sparrows!

While the Derryberry’s laboratory was at Tulane University, I investigated the role of song as a behavioral barrier between the Puget Sound and Nuttall’s subspecies of White-crowned Sparrows along the California coast. I also collaborated with members of the Derryberry Lab to study the role of urban noise on song evolution.



Olfactory training with crested auklets at Aquarium of the Pacific

As an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, I studied social olfaction in crested auklets with Dr. Julie Hagelin and Karen Anderson. These north Pacific seabirds have a citrus-like scent they use in social communication.

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