Bruce Lyon

bruce and a sparrowDr. Bruce Lyon views a naturalist as someone who is paying attention to the details of what organisms do and getting to know about personal lives of organisms. Dr. Bruce Lyon is a professor at UC Santa Cruz and first got into natural history because of his interest in birds, which spans back over 50 years.

A memorable example occurred during the first two weeks of his PhD field work on American coots in British Columbia, Canada. Coots are water birds that nest in freshwater marshes and he had planned to work on parental care—the strategies that parent coots use to raise their families. Earlier work with other coot species that suggested that coots generally have interesting family lives. To start the project, he searched for nests and when he found nests, he numbered the eggs with a permanent Sharpie marker. He was interested in the effect of an egg's position in the laying order (which egg was laid first, second, third, etc.) on parental feeding rates and chick survival. He soon discovered that at many nests, more than one female was laying eggs. Female birds can only lay one egg per day and he checked nests daily and often found nests with two or three new eggs since the previous day. It turned out that these extra eggs were laid by brood parasitic coots that lay eggs in each other’s nests. He then realized that this question was more interesting than what he had planned to study so, based on this natural history discovery, he completely switched the focus on my PhD research after only two weeks in the field.