The Rollinson Lab 

Evolutionary ecology, long-term data, environmental change

Birding in Canada & Nicaragua


Shade coffee is an important agroforestry ecosystem in Central America, as the shade provides habitat for many tropical bird species. However, patches of shade coffee and forest are frequently located in a matrix of open agriculture and pasture. Birds living in these patches may be subject to increased predation and nest parasitism, as a consequence of living near habitat edges. Dr. Melissa Mark's PhD examined whether fragmentation negatively impacts birds breeding in shade coffee, focusing mainly on rates of brood parasitism by the striped cuckoo (Tapera naevia) and rates predation on nests of the rufous-and-white wren (Throythorus rufalbus) in forest and shade coffee patches. I was a research assistant on this project, and I spent four months scouring the Nicaraguan mountainside looking for tropical birds, netting birds and performing habitat work.


Biology aside, one of the most interesting aspects of this research was the opportunity to live with a local Nicaraguan family in the mountains of Miraflor Nature Reserve. There was no electricity, very little English, and plenty of lizards, scorpions, snakes, and chickens in my bedroom. At one point, the primary investigator on the project mysteriously disappeared, prompting much speculation in the local community over what had happened to her. If you're interested in finding out what happened to her, you'll have to read my account of her disappearance.


Living in Nicaragua was quite an adventure, and I made friendships with other research associates and with my host family that last to this day. Miraflor is beautiful, as are the people who live there, and it's worth a visit if you’re headed through Nicaragua. If you are interested in staying with a local family for a night, a week, or even a month, get in touch with the UCA Miraflor, and they can arrange your visit.

I've also participated in avian research on my home turf. The Terrestrial Wildlife Assessement Program (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) was developed to monitor representative species in Ontario forests, as to obtain baseline data on the presence and abundance of birds and other groups in various forest ecotypes. The intent was to use these data to better manage timber practices and monitor their impact in local forests. I participated in bird surveys with this MNRF unit. My work took place in various forest ecotypes in northern Ontario, and it involved moving across transect points and identifying birds by their calls.

Read more about Dr. Mark's research

Mark, M. M. (2013). Host‐specific parasitism in the Central American striped cuckoo, Tapera naevia. Journal of Avian Biology, 44: 445-450.


Mark M.M., Rubenstein D.R. (2013) Physiological costs and carry-over effects of avian interspecific brood parasitism influence reproductive tradeoffs. Hormones and Behaviour 63:717-722

Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus momota)
Me & Dr. Melissa Mark at work in the field

Rufous & White Wren (Thryothorus rufalbus)