Greg Davies: AFO’s 2019 Skutch Research Award recipient

This year’s Pamela and Alexander F. Skutch Research Award goes to Greg Davies for research on Sungrebes in Costa Rica.

Greg Davies is a naturalist and ornithologist hailing from South Africa and currently a Research Associate of the Ornithology Department of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California. Previous ornithological work in Africa included studies on the breeding biology of termitaria-nesting kingfishers (Davies et al. 2012), the taxonomy of Afrotropical pipits (Davies & Peacock 2014), the status and biology of a Critically Endangered rallid (Davies et al. 2014) and the occurrence of fossil ibises in the Pliocene of Africa (Pavia, Davies et al. 2017). Greg is also the co-author of the 2nd edition of the popular Roberts Bird Guide to southern African birds (Chittenden, Davies & Weiersbye 2016).

The Sungrebe (Heliornis fulica) is an elusive, poorly known aquatic bird inhabiting the Neotropics. The only New World member of the Heliornithidae (finfoots), it is thought that Sungrebe has one of the shortest incubation periods of any non-passerine (10.5–11 days), is the only species in the Gruiformes to hatch altricial young and is the only bird in the world to have ‘pockets’ (marsupia) underneath the wings to carry the newly-hatched young. These conclusions, though, are based on an incomplete field study of a single nest from 50 years ago. It is the intention to use the Skutch Award to confirm these extraordinary details and extend those pioneering observations by comprehensively studying the breeding biology and spatial deployment of the Sungrebe at lowland forest site in Costa Rica. The eventual aim of the project is to determine the ecological factors that drove the evolution of these life history attributes.

Fieldwork is intended to cover two seasons beginning in 2020 in the Tortuguero region of Costa Rica. A reconnaissance visit to Tortuguero in March 2019, and based out of the Caño Palma Field Station, located a suitable population of Sungrebes for study along the Rio Penitencia, Caño Palma and La Suerte rivers.

Greg Davies, Costa Rica 2019. Photo by Aisling Farrell.

Sungrebe. Photo by Aisling Farrell.

The Pamela and Alexander F. Skutch Research Award supports minimally invasive research into the life histories, especially social relations and reproduction, of little known birds of the continental Neotropics, including Trinidad and Tobago. This award is supported by a fund that was established by Dr. and Mrs. Skutch following the joint meeting of the Association of Field Ornithologists, Asociacion Ornitologica de Costa Rica, and the American Birding Association in San Jose, Costa Rica, in 1997. For more information and a list of past award recipients, click HERE.