University of Vermont

James M. Jeffords Center for Policy Research

Biography of Michael Lester

UVM Major: Wildlife and Fisheries Biology

Michael LesterMichael Lester is a senior in the Honors College and Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, double majoring in Wildlife Biology and Natural Resources. Lester grew up in northern New Jersey where his biggest passion, birds, took off.  He has attended several birding ecology programs in such places as southeastern Arizona, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and has held various bird-related jobs as well.  He has worked with such organizations as US Fish and Wildlife Service and Mono Lake Committee (an environmental non profit in California), monitoring Piping Plovers and leading birding and natural history tours.  Lester plans to one day receive his doctorate and conduct his own research so as to increase conservation efforts for birds and other wildlife.

Project Description

The negative population trend of Whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferous) across North America, combined with the difficulty of studying nocturnal birds, leaves critical gaps in our scientific knowledge base for this species.  Many species in the Caprimulgidae family (Goatsuckers) are known to increase their singing during brighter moon phases.  In Common Poorwills (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii), for example, this drop in vocalization is attributed to defensive actions to decrease the risk of predation.   The reason for this behavior in Whip-poor-wills, however, is undocumented.

The overall goal of Lester’s project is to examine Whip-poor-will singing behavior in relation to moon phase and predation.  This will be accomplished by quantifying Whip-poor-will vocalizations across various lunar phases, with and without the implied presence of a predator.  Data was collected this summer by monitoring 10 areas of known Whip-poor-will populations once per moon phase for one lunar cycle.  One of two playback treatments was randomly applied to each location.  ANOVA and correlation tests will be used to analyze the singing intensity (number of calls) after each treatment compared to moon phase and light intensity, and the results will be used to improve Whip-poor-will surveying methods.

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