Birds have played a central role in developing and testing the life history tradeoffs between reproduction and survival. Yet studies of avian life histories have seldom considered the importance of molt and feather quality as drivers of avian life history evolution. Instead, the period of molt in the annual cycle is generally ignored or unstudied with respect to molt constraining avian reproduction and evolution.
Fortunately, modern collections inspire and help test new ideas. In the mid 1980s Burke staff pioneered the collection of extended wings. Started as a service to artists, this collection quickly became so indispensible to researchers that it has grown to be the largest and most comprehensive collection of avian wings in the world.
Extensive salvage programs from fishing and oil spills have generated uniquely valuable series of wings, and this new resource has revealed much about the rules of flight feather replacement and how these rules affect avian reproduction and life history evolution. My class will focus on how we determine these rules and how large birds can or cannot accommodate their need to regularly renew their flight feathers.
In a similar vein modern Burke collecting has led to the discovery of the remarkable molt migration system that characterizes many western Neotropical migrants. I will discuss the potential conservation implications of this migration system.