Meet Claire Johnson, a graduate student in the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences department at the University of Illinois. Johnson was inspired by her high school biology teacher to pursue her love for fieldwork, and wants more people to know we have cuckoos in Illinois!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
As you might guess from my baby picture*, my parents really hoped I would grow up to be a sailor. I did love the water, but the first thing I said I wanted to be was a marine biologist. As central Illinois is not near an ocean, five-year-old me settled for catching toads and crayfish. (*Not a real tattoo)
What drew you to study birds?
My high school biology teacher was an entomologist in a past life and offered an excellent field biology course. Hearing them talk about fieldwork experiences it finally dawned on me that I could make a career of playing outside. After finishing my biology degree at the U of I, I got a field job doing bird surveys in the Sierras and was hooked.
What do you love about your work at PRI?
I really love the collaborative and supportive environment at PRI. So many people at the survey have gone out of their way to give me information or advice, helped me in the field at a moment's notice, and acted as a sounding board while I figured out my project on Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoo ecology. It feels like we are all working towards the same goals and has made for a fun and much less stressful graduate experience.
How will your work impact future generations?
Hopefully, more people know we have cuckoos in Illinois! On a more serious note, I hope my work adds another reason to appreciate and fund management of shrublands, which tend to be undervalued by the general public. Black-billed Cuckoos are state threatened in Illinois and seem to be shrubland dependent in this region, but they're not the only species using this habitat type. Shrublands are ephemeral and hugely productive, supporting a diversity of plants and animals. By managing for the state listed Black-billed Cuckoo, many other species could benefit from the creation or maintenance of shrublands.