Position: PhD student Field: Ornithology Organisation: Ecology Group, Massey University

Jesse Conklin spends his time researching things about birds that interest him.

The main parts to his work are:

  • brainstorming – figuring out which research questions are interesting and can be answered
  • birdwatching – doing fieldwork to collect data that will answer the questions
  • writing – analysing the data to find out what the answers are and how they can be communicated to people around the world who are interested in the same questions.

He finds all of these jobs challenging, fascinating and gratifying. His particular interest is long-distance migration, particularly the factors leading to differences in behaviour and appearance of individual birds.

While growing up in California, Jesse was always drawing and originally went to university to study commercial art and illustration. After graduating, he worked as a graphic designer and toy designer near San Francisco for 10 years, including running his own small graphic design company with a friend from university.

The best thing about being a biologist is constantly learning about the world and how it really works.

Jesse had always been interested in animals but never seriously considered being a scientist until he started birdwatching and became fascinated by the many types of birds around him and their interesting behaviours. He began travelling all over the United States to see different birds and soon realised that this part of his life was a much greater passion than his career as a designer. So he saved up some money, quit his job and went back to university in 2001 to become a wildlife biologist.

For his master’s degree, Jesse studied a small migratory shorebird called the dunlin, which travels between California and Alaska every year. This connected him with biologists working in Alaska, and soon he was spending every summer out on the Arctic tundra in Alaska, studying birds that came there from all over the world to nest. In 2005, he met several people who had come to Alaska from New Zealand to see bar-tailed godwits on their breeding grounds. After talking with them about godwits and New Zealand, Jesse decided that he wanted to study godwits at both ends of their incredible migration, so he came to New Zealand in 2007 and has been studying godwits ever since, including short trips to see them in China and Korea as well. He is now close to finishing a PhD and is currently thinking about where migratory birds will take him next.

Things that are all around us – birds, bugs, trees, water and even rocks – are doing astounding and beautiful things every day, if we just stop and look at them.

He also enjoys camping, hiking, cooking, photography, art, music, language and particularly fiction in its many forms (literature, movies and live theatre).

This article is based on information current in 2011.

    Published 13 September 2011