Danner Lab members

Danner Research and Teaching Lab

Engaged evolutionary ecology and conservation of birds

We use a variety of approaches to understand how animals interact with their environment and each other, and how they evolve. Current foci include thermal ecology of birds, the population biology of coastal birds of conservation concern, bird song evolution, and morphological adaptation. Current field research takes place 15 minutes from the Danner Lab in the beautiful salt marshes and beaches of North Carolina! We supplement information from the field with data collected in behavior, physiology, and genetics labs, the museum, and through computer modeling. We integrate this research into a variety of learning experiences.

Dr. Danner describes research and teaching in the lab and the Department of Biology and Marine Biology from UNCW Ofc of Univ Relations.

Graduate students Evan and Marae describe marsh sparrow research in a Micro Documentary for FST 398 from Dylan Bradshaw.

Follow danner_lab on Instagram!

The Danner Lab combats racism and discrimination of any kind. We welcome all students who are eager to learn and share scientific knowledge. We believe that science is for everyone and we are currently taking concrete steps to promote these ideals. Many of us come from privileged backgrounds and we believe it is important to speak out against the institution of white supremacy as we encounter it in its many forms, and to amplify the voices of the often silenced and underrepresented among us.

Our university faculty and student populations are predominantly white; thus, we must ask ourselves: What action can we take, starting within our own lab, to combat racism and discrimination? What action can we take, as we reach out into the university and beyond? We must demand better. While we do not all share the same experiences of bigotry, bias, and racism, it is our shared duty to listen and respect those experiences of our fellow students, faculty, staff, and humans. Our students bring with them a broad range of experiences, knowledge, and thoughts because of their diversity. It is through these diverse perspectives that our understanding of the natural world, and indeed our society, is deepened and improved.

Our first course of action is to make removing barriers to learning the focus of our daily intentions. To ask ourselves, how does this—work, activity, reading, or program—incorporate diverse people and ideas? We are incorporating work from scientists of varying backgrounds into our lab and class readings and discussions. To reach a broader coalition of people, steps we have taken thus far have been to reach out to local high schools and bird clubs with student-developed curricula about local bird species. In the future, we are looking to take those programs into schools and clubs in lower socioeconomic areas of our community and to translate the curricula into Spanish. Our student-led discussions about diversity and inclusion have also led to several planned actions to open our lab to the student body of UNCW, as well as interested members of the public, in a variety of ways. We consider ourselves a small, dedicated group of young scientists, but we hope to use our strengths to have a much greater impact on the department, university, and community we live and work within.


Feb: New paper from the lab: Birds exhibit reduced behavioral performance at high temperatures. 

Jan: Marae and Evan are beginning the third field season studying the winter biology of saltmarsh and seaside sparrows, this year using Cellular Tracking Technology (CTT).

        Alex Smith joined the lab!


Dec: Evan Buckland successfully defended her MS thesis entitled "Overwinter survival, site fidelity, and abundance of Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows in Southeastern North Carolina." Congratulations Evan!

Nov: Juan and Marae gave invited labs for Ornithology on heat stress and sea level rise, respectively.

        Marae presented her Prospectus Seminar at the UNCW Biology Seminar Series.    

Sep: Marae presented a Little Lunch Lecture for the NC Coastal Land Trust.

Aug: Dr. Danner started teaching Ornithology and Animal Migration asynchronously online.  Students continue to develop methods to safely continue research in the ongoing pandemic.

        Evan and Marae presented research at the North American Ornithological Conference.   

Jul: New paper from the lab: Thermal imaging analysis can provide a measure of bird activity and metabolic rates. 

        Marae and fellow lab members led new day-long active learning experiences about coastal bird conservation online with high school students through UNCW's MarineQuest.     

        The lab began discussing racism and discrimination, and drafted a statement on diversity and inclusion to serve as our roadmap.

May: Juan, Sofia, Sammy, and Cassidy graduated! 

        Marae Lindquist (PhD Student) was awarded the Margaret A. Davidson Graduate Fellowship!

        Evan Buckland was awarded a grant from Cape Fear Audubon Society to buy cutting-edge radio telemetry equipment! 

        Juan was awarded the best honors undergraduate poster award!   

April: Juan Zuluaga was awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship! 

        Ryan Walsh was awarded the Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship! 

        Juan Zuluaga successfully defended his Honors Undergraduate Thesis titled “Uncovering the migratory behavior of seaside sparrows: a three-pronged approach.”

        New paper from the lab: Thermal Imaging of beach-nesting bird habitat with unmanned aerial vehicles

Jan–Mar: Danner Lab welcomed 4 new lab members: Sofia Campuzano, Samantha Calderon, and Cassidy Mason (undergraduate students), and Erin Gallager (MS graduate student)

        Evan and Marae conducted their second field season studying the winter biology of seaside and saltmarsh sparrows!  

        Samantha Calderon and Juan Zuluaga (undergraduates) were awarded the CSURF Research Supplies Grant.  


Dec: Lauren (MS) and Rebekkah (BS, honors) graduated!!  

Nov: Evan, Marae, Rebekkah, and Ray attended the North Carolina Coastal Conference held in Wilmington, NC. Evan and Rebekkah gave brilliant oral presentations and Marae presented a poster. 

         Evan was awarded the Dr. James F. and Frances B. Parnell Fellowship!  

Oct: Evan, Marae, Juan, Rebekkah, and Ray attended the 2019 joint meeting of the Wilson Ornithological Society and the Association of Field Ornithologist in Cape May, NJ. Marae and Rebekkah gave oral presentations and Evan and Juan presented posters. Congratulations to Rebekkah for receiving the Nancy Klamm Undergraduate Presentation Award for her wonderful oral presentation on her undergraduate honors research!  

Sep: Ray is humbled to receive the College of Arts and Sciences Innovation in Teaching Award for his use of small-group active learning in Ornithology!

Aug: Marae Lindquist (PhD student) was awarded the competitive NC Sentinel Site Sea Grant Fellowship!

         We are thrilled to welcome new lab member Miles Buddy (freshman)!

Jul: Lauren Schaale gave an oral presentation and Marae Lindquist presented a poster at the American Ornithological Society meeting in Anchorage, Alaska!

Jun: Lauren Schaale sucessfully defended her MS thesis entitled "Viewing habitat through another lens: Bird nest site selection and productivity across the beach thermal landscape" and was hired as a Coastal Scientist at Bald Head Island Conservancy! Congratulations Lauren!

         Sara Evans (undergraduate) started a new project using SongEvo!

May: Juan Zuluaga (undergraduate student) was awarded a prestigous UNCW SURCA fellowship to study the migratory behaviors of seaside sparrows that breed in North Carolina! Congratulations Juan! Then we started the fieldwork!

         Rebekkah LaBlue successfully defended her honors thesis entitled "Sweating the speckles: Darker least tern eggshells become hotter under direct solar radiation." Congratulations Rebekkah!

Mar: New software package: SongEvo version 1.0.0 is now available on CRAN!

         Lauren, Evan, and Marae presented their research at the North Carolina Waterbirds Conservation Planning Meeting!

Jan–Apr: First field season studying the winter biology of seaside and saltmarsh sparrows!

Jan: Lauren (MS student) presented a poster about her research on the thermal landscape at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) meeting in Tampa, FL!

         We are thrilled to welcome 2 new lab members: Tara Clancy and Ryan Walsh (undergraduate researchers).


Dec: We started a new project on the winter biology of seaside and saltmarsh sparrows! This project involves 2 graduate students (Marae and Evan), several undergraduate students, and a partnership with NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

         New paper from the lab: Heat stress reduces female bird discrimination of song.

Nov: Rebekkah (honors student) presented a poster about her research on egg coloration at the UNCW SURCA session!

         You can now download SongEvo, our new software package that simulates bird song evolution!

Oct: New paper from the lab: Ambient noise can drive cultural evolution of bird song.

Sep: Rebekkah LaBlue (honors student) described her research in a blog post for Audubon NC.

         Juan Zuluaga (undergrad) launched the Seahawk Migration Station!

Aug: We are thrilled to welcome 4 new lab members: Marae Lindquist (MS student), and Jose Francisco, Madeline Miller, and Juan Zuluaga (undergraduate researchers).

Jul: Lauren Schaale (MS student) described her research in a blog post for Audubon NC.

         New paper from the lab: Tropical birds molt more slowly than arctic birds.

May: Rebekkah LaBlue received a SURCA Fellowship and CSURF award for her research on the evolution of eggshell coloration in least terns!

         Robert Snowden defended an excellent MS thesis on the thermal biology of incubating least terns!

         New paper from the lab: Methods for sparrow husbandry.

Feb: New paper from the lab: Darwin's finch bills aid in heat balance.


Jul:  Two new papers from the lab: Urban birds are flexible in vocal signalling, but rural birds are not. Some signals are not flexible.

Jun: New paper from the lab  : Bird diversity in actively and naturally restored tropical forests.

Apr: Began studying nesting behavior of least terns!

         New paper from the lab: Birds response depends on signal attributes.

Mar: New paper from the lab: Culture and geography influence bird population genetics in an equatorial sparrow.

Feb: Ray and Dr. Carolina Priester started using anatomical imaging in their classes! See the coverage from UNC.

Jan: Robert Snowden was named the 2017 Seagrant/NERR Research Fellow!


Nov: New paper from the lab: Habitat-specific divergence of air conditioning structures in bird bills. Be sure to check out the video!

Sep: New paper from the lab: Males with larger bills sing at higher rates in a hot and dry environment.

Aug: Ray and colleagues presented a symposium on heat stress in birds at the North American Ornithogical Conference in Washington, DC.

Jun: New paper the lab: The winter biology of the Atlantic song sparrow.

Apr: New paper from the lab : Bird songs across the soundscape.

Jan: Danner Lab established.

1. Thermal ecology of birds: How do birds survive and breed at high temperatures?

Least tern panting on a hot summer day at Wrightsville Beach. Photo by Robert Snowden.

2. Population biology of coastal birds of conservations concern: How many birds are there, what are their needs, and what threats do they face?

Swamp sparrow.

3. Bird song evolution: How does bird song evolve?

    Download SongEvo, our new software package that simulates bird song evolution!

Spectrogram of rufous collared sparrow song.

4. Anatomical description through 3d modeling.

    This research focuses on birds and a variety of other species, including humans!

Dr. Danner's courses at UNCW:

    Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy (Biology 315, most spring semesters)

    Ornithology (Biology 456, most fall semesters)

    Animal Migration (Biology 495, most semesters)

Active learning with high school students:

    Surviving the Heat: Beach bird thermal biology. A full-day active learning experience with UNCW MarineQuest's Ocean's 17 summer camp.

    Surviving the Heat: Beach bird thermal biology, with Ashley High School.

    Impact of sea level rise on coastal marsh species in NC. A full-day active learning experience with UNCW MarineQuest's Ocean's 17 summer camp.

    A bird’s eye view of the thermal landscape, a half-day learning experience for UNCW’s OCEANS summer camp for high school students.


    High school students, Lauren Schaale (MS student), and Dr. Danner develop hypotheses before heading into the field to collect data.

    Contact Dr. Danner to adapt a learning experience for your class!

Evangelyn "Evan" Buckland, MS (Research technician): Evan loves birds. Evan has expertise in bird population and conservation biology. Her MS thesis focused on the overwinter survival and abundance of Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows in southeastern North Carolina.

Miles Buddy (Research assistant): Projects: A little bit of everything, from net repair to Python.

Ray Danner, PhD. Curriculum vitae (pdf). Google Scholar profile. GitHub.

Jose Francisco (Undergraduate honors student): Thesis: Activity patterns of wintering sparrows based on radio telemetry.

Erin Gallagher (MS student): Erin’s thesis research evaluates human and non-human impacts on nest and chick survival of least terns, a species of beach nesting bird.

Marae Lindquist (PhD student; personal website): Marae’s dissertation research focuses on estimating density and investigating the overwinter intertidal movements and of saltmarsh and seaside sparrows in southeastern North Carolina and predicting the effects of sea level rise on vulnerable marsh birds.

Madeline Miller (Undergraduate honors student): Thesis: Exploration of the human brain with anatomical imaging.

Alex Smith (MS student): Alex has experience living and working in diverse places throughout the country, and he is now studying the effects of human disturbance on least terns in Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Ryan Walsh (Directed Independent Study student): Project: The effects of sand color and grain size on the beach thermal landscape.

Hunter Wells (Directed Independent Study student): Project: Least terns nesting on rooftops.

Juan Zuluaga (PhD student): Juan’s research focuses on least tern thermoregulation. He is investigating the costs of thermoregulatory behaviors in terms of energy expenditure and dehydration, and how these costs affect least terns at the population level.

Samantha Calderon (BS, May 2020): Direct Independent Study project: A study of animal migration, with a focus on birds Seahawk Migration Station.

Sara Evans (BS, May 2020): Project: Modeling song evolution with SongEvo.

Rebekkah LaBlue (BS, Dec 2020): Honors Thesis: Sweating the speckles: Darker least tern eggshells become hotter under direct solar radiation.

Lauren Schaale (MS, Jun 2019): MS Thesis: Viewing habitat through another lens: Bird nest site selection and productivity across the beach thermal landscape. Current position: Coastal Scientist at Bald Head Island Conservancy.

Robert Snowden (MS, May 2018): MS Thesis: Least tern thermoregulation in response to environmental temperature and human disturbance. Current position: Seasonal Ornithologist at Audubon Starr Ranch

Tara Clancy (Directed Independent Study student): Project: Marsh sparrow winter biology.

Daniel Hertzberg (BS, May 2017): Undergraduate Honor's Thesis: The effects of food availability on bird feather melanin concentration.

Tyler Dodson (BS, May 2017): Directed Independent Study project: A study of the human brain ventricles using anatomical images (pdf).

Johnathan DeBetta (BS, May 2016): Directed Independent Study project: Applied learning of vertebrate anatomy using CT-scans and MRIs.

Prospective graduate students: Dr. Danner accepts MS and PhD students when space and funding are available. If you are interested in conducting a MS thesis or PhD dissertation with Dr. Danner, please email a cover letter, resume, and GRE scores, and see the graduate program webpage.

Prospective undergraduate students: Dr. Danner accepts honors thesis and DIS students when space is available in the lab. If you are interested, please send Dr. Danner an email with your interests and rationale for the DIS.

Donate a bird nest: If you would like to donate a bird nest for Dr. Danner's Ornithology students to study, please email Dr. Danner!

Donate financially: If you would like to support our students, research, and outreach financially, please donate to the Ornithology Fund online. If you'd like to discuss specific donations, please call or email Dr. Danner (910-962-7895, dannerR@uncw.edu). This money goes directly to student activities. Even a little money can go a long way!

Email: dannerR@uncw.edu

Phone (office): +1 (910) 962 - 7895

Address: UNC Wilmington, Wilmington, NC, USA

Miles Buddy:

Ray Danner:

Erin Gallagher:

Marae Lindquist:

Alex Smith:

Ryan Walsh:

Juan Zuluaga: