Josh Osborn joined the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) in September 2019 as a waterbird ecologist.
Josh served 6 years in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear propulsion plant operator. He majored in wildlife science at Mississippi State University, during which he worked with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks and Delta Waterfowl. Josh earned his master's degree at the University of Tennessee examining the habitat selection and food availability for black ducks in west Tennessee.
He is a returner to INHS, working from 2013–2017 as a waterfowl ecologist at the Forbes Biological Station in Havana, IL. During that time, Josh studied intrinsic and extrinsic factors impacting lesser scaup and canvasbacks migrating through the Midwest United States as well as the food selection and habitat use of spring-migrating American green-winged teal. Most recently, he worked on a project evaluating the impacts of disturbance on habitat use of waterfowl in north Alabama.
Josh is currently working on a project aimed at monitoring vegetation and waterbird response in a restored floodplain wetland at the Emiquon Preserve as well as examining the habitat use and movements of post-breeding wood ducks in central Illinois.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
As early as I can remember. I grew up on a small farm in Mississippi and was lucky enough to have that space to explore all things wild. Hunting and fishing the family farm gave me time to explore the natural world and develop a curiosity for why things are the way they are. I’m so thankful for that experience.
Who or what drew you to study waterbirds?
I am a hunter. As such, I developed an interest in answering questions that many hunters ponder on slow days in the cold, damp marsh. After working in wetlands for a couple of years, I also developed an interest in the non-game species that rely on those areas. The two groups offer unique and, at times, different challenges. And I love a good challenge.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at INHS?
Lots of things. Primarily, working with great people to answer questions that benefit natural resources throughout Illinois. I think every scientist hopes their research influences positive change for the resource and for the people who enjoy that resource. I’ve seen that in action with INHS before and I look forward to seeing it again.
What are some common misconceptions about your career?
The most common misconception of the wildlife field from the general public is that we are all game warden/conservation officers. That’s usually the career most associated with a career in wildlife and, while it is a great career, I wish more young people were aware that being a wildlife scientist is a possibility.
Friends usually think I just wade around in wetlands and catch and band birds. Most of my time is spent in front of a computer planning for projects, getting permits, or working up data.
What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
No one can know everything about a particular subject. Years spent on formal education as well as time spent gaining experience usually only lead a person to realize just how much it is that we do not know. That, to me, is the interesting part of science. The questions are endless.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
Be flexible, build a network of mentors, and surround yourself with people who are just as passionate about your field as you are. Be the hardest worker in the room, but find yourself in the company of those that will push you intellectually.