Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Spotlight: UMSL Scientist Wins Medal for Work with Galapagos Birds

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Spotlight: UMSL Scientist Wins Medal for Work with Galapagos Birds

Article excerpt

Science can be dull, with droning professors doling out stats with the passion of meter cops writing tickets.

But if your teacher is ornithologist Patty Parker who earned her doctorate by dragging animal carcasses into farmers' fields and then watching vultures pick them apart dull isn't part of the plan.

Parker is the Des Lee professor of zoological studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a senior scientist at the St. Louis Zoo.

And she flat loves to explain things.

Ask her a question, then watch the gears mesh. Eyes widen, hands move in storytelling pantomime, and her mouth smiles or frowns as the story dictates. Sitting behind a desk, she seems about a half- second away from standing up to put more power in her point.

"I was that curious kid who would bring home dead things, frogs and birds, and cut them apart just to see what was inside," Parker said.

The curiosity and cutting paid off this month, when Parker was awarded the William Brewster Memorial Award from the American Ornithologists' Union.

This is a big deal in the bird world. The organization, founded in 1883, is the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and was key in the formation of both the National Audubon Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The award honors scientists for their publications. In Parker's case, the organization cited both Parker's earlier works on the social behavior of vultures and, more recently, her study of avian malaria in the Galapagos Islands. She has been published more than 180 times and also has written 15 chapters for a book on the Galapagos that she hopes will be published next year.

A bigger hope for Parker is that her malaria studies will prevent the extinction of certain bird species that are unique to the Galapagos.

"In Hawaii, about half of the 50 species called honeycreepers became extinct because of avian malaria," Parker said. "So far, none of the Galapagos birds have gone extinct."

But Parker sees her work as carrying far more importance than winning medals, earning degrees, or even saving birds. …

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