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The Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit

The University of Montana


  • Target-Netter Supervisor

  • Target-Netters

  • Nest Searchers

  • Nestling Measurer

Field assistants are sought for an ongoing, long-term study of the behavioral, demographic, and life history ecology of a high elevation avian community and riparian ecosystem. The field site is located in high elevation (7800') forest in North Central Arizona, where we have extensively studied 32 species of breeding birds for nearly 20 years. The project has 3 foci: studies of life history evolution for all bird species (see spp list and typical life history traits), effects of climate change on birds and the riparian ecosystem, and a large herbivore (elk/deer) exclusion experiment to examine effects of herbivores on the ecosystem. Field assistants will have the opportunity to gain experience in many of the field techniques used in avian research including: nest-searching, mist-netting, target-netting, territory mapping, re-sighting, and video-taping nests, measuring nestlings/eggs, and radio telemetry. Additionally, field assistants will be given the opportunity to work and interact with graduate students conducting innovative science at this site. The field camp is remote, primitive, and requires tent-living (you must provide your own tent). The project runs from ~ 1 May and ends ~ 25 July.  Pay is  $1288 - $1400/mo for Research Assistants, depending on experience, and $1600/mo for Supervisory positions.  We are looking for people who are willing to learn new techniques, have a solid work ethic, and who can function well independently, yet are comfortable working/living in large groups. Prior experience with birds is desirable but not required; self-motivation, a strong work ethic, enthusiasm for science, and ability to tackle the rigors of field work are a must. Those applying for the supervisor positions must have at least three months of relevant experience. Reviews of applications and filling of positions is occurring now and will continue until positions are filled (no later than Feb 28, 2015).

To apply, please submit the following to

  • a cover letter stating your interest in the project as well as your desired position and relevant experience
  • a resume
  • the names, email addresses, and telephone numbers of three references

We prefer email submissions, but if you must surface mail application materials you may send them to:

Arizona Hiring c/o Julia Brandauer
University of Montana
Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit
Natural Sciences Building Room 205
Missoula, MT 59812

Enthusiasm and a strong work ethic are more important than experience
Hiring papers - Getting Started
General Work Schedule
Getting to the Field Camp
Things to Remember and Bring
Techniques and Job Descriptions

Bird Songs - Audio Tracks

Techniques and Jobs
The work conducted in Arizona has 6 major foci. 1) Nest-finding and monitoring - The main study that has been ongoing for the last 20 years is one that focuses on finding and monitoring success of nests of a diversity of species (see list). 2) Target Netting - we have a crew of 8 netters dedicated to our field metabloic experiment using doubly-labeled water.  3) Video-taping - we use video cameras to record nesting behaviors of focal species. 5) Resighting - all nest searchers spend time looking for banded birds on our study plots to enhance our knowledge about breeding pairs and adult survivorship. 6) Vegetation Sampling - a plant specialist leads the crew in random and nest site vegetation sampling in an effort to look at the effects of climate change and herbivory.
Nest finding and monitoring (See Nest-monitoring plots, Get a Behavioral Clue, Nest card protocol)
One of the primary goals of the research being conducted in Arizona is to determine the demographic and life-history parameters of the breeding bird community. One particularly useful way to determine many of these parameters is to find nests. Once we find a nest we can determine: reproductive success, parental care strategies (e.g. incubation behaviors, nestling feeding rates), clutch size, egg mass, nestling growth rates, paternity, and many other traits.

Nest searchers are assigned study plots on which they focus their nest-finding attention for the summer. All study plots are snowmelt drainages marked along the center with stakes every 25 meters. Stakes are numbered to identify stations within drainages. When nests are found, nest searchers take a compass reading and pace the distance to the nest from the closest stake. These directions are critical because we use them for mapping locations of nests and also so others can find the nests.
Each nest that is found is checked every 2 to 4 days to determine if it is still active (with eggs or young) or if it failed. As transition periods (i.e. hatching) approach nests are checked every day to determine exact nesting period lengths. Careful attention to nest checking is critical for providing the necessary information. In addition, detailed notes of nest status at each check are vital. Previous studies suggest that humans have little influence on predation probability, but we always want to guard against adding biases, so great care is to be taken near nests.

Territory maps and abundance data
Population density is often a good indicator of habitat suitability; however, habitats are not static and changes in habitats (e.g. global warming) can have adverse effects on populations. One way to address this concern is to census populations. For the past 20 years we have censused the breeding bird populations at the Arizona field site by mapping the territories of breeding males.
Each day a nest searcher is on plot they record singing males (breeding pairs) relative to location on the plots (station number) to determine the general location of all breeding pairs on the sites and the total number of pairs of every species on each site.

Video monitoring (See video monitoring protocol)
Parental care is a very important component of the reproductive effort of passerine birds. Parental care behaviors such as mate-feeding (males bring food to incubating females), nest attentiveness (percentage of time the female sits on the nest), and nestling feeding are costly behaviors with important implications to reproductive success. A particularly useful technique we use to determine the importance of these behaviors to different species is to videotape nests.
Nests are taped for six hours starting at dawn using a Hi8 video camera setup on a tripod. Generally nest searchers tape at least one nest per day. Information about the nesting period, date, and species are recorded and the tapes are sent back to Montana to be watched.

Non-MAPS Netting (See banding protocol)
Another important demographic component of any population is adult survival probability. Because of the importance of adult survival in many demographic studies a standardize protocol called MAPS was developed by the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP) We no longer follow the MAPS protocol, but our protocol is fairly similar. We call it constant effort banding. The main difference is that we do not use predetermined locations for our net lanes. Instead the banders choose their own net locations each day in an attempt to capture as many members of the bird community as they can. In Arizona we have four people to do constant effort banding. These birds are aluminum banded, color banded, their breeding status determined, and a myriad of measurements taken.

Target Netting (See target-netting protocol)
Although the constant effort banding protocol is an effective method for determining the average survival probability of a population, it is not very effective at targeting specific birds. In particular we are often interested in the demographics and behaviors of birds for which we have found nests. In an attempt to ascertain this information we use another netting technique we refer to as target netting.
The target netting crews work closely with nest searchers to determine which nests have individuals that are unbanded. The nest searchers often help the banders find the nests on their plot, and show the netters where territorial males usually sing. Target-netters then capture these birds using a variety of techniques including: male playback, alarm calls, flushing incubating females, or setting nets in known flight paths. We target net several different species, including ground and shrub nesters, as well as cavity nesting species.

Although netting is an effective technique for measuring survival of birds it does have its limitations. Particularly birds are very adept at avoiding being captured in nets, especially if they have been captured before. The effect of this is that we may underestimate survival simply because birds are smart enough not to be recaptured. To avoid this bias we employ an additional technique, resighting.

Because all birds that are captured are give a unique combination of three color bands and one aluminum band we can identify each banded bird by sight. Now although all members of the field crew actively attempt to resight color banded birds, because it is often difficult and time consuming we have some members of the crew that specifically resight. Resighters work closely with nest searchers to determine which birds are banded, and determine the exact color combination of color-banded birds. Resighters also search off-plot for birds that have dispersed since their banding. mammals 8)Egg metabolism assistant will be in charge of measuring the metabolism of bird eggs in the field.

We conduct detailed measurements of the vegetation at nest sites and at systematic sites to allow documentation of nest habitat selection and to monitor changes in both nest site selection and ecosystem vegetation across years. In particular, we are examining the potential effects of climate change and large herbivore browsing on the vegetation of this ecosystem and the resulting impacts on birds. We have recently erected 3 large-scale elk/deer exclosures to separate the effects of climate change and herbivory ( herbivore (elk/deer) exclusion experiment ).

General Work Schedule

We use federal and state vehicles to get to field sites. These vehicles are also used for supply trips to town and for getting to Flagstaff for our breaks.
The general schedule of the field camp begins around first light (which may be as early as 4am). From dawn until around noon is spent searching for nests, netting, or resighting.

This schedule is often modified over the course of the season as nesting activity changes, and the small mammal trapping crew follows a slightly different schedule (see protocol). For the first four weeks or so, we spend most of our time nest searching, filming, and resighting because this is the period of most nesting activity at the study site. By mid-June, bird activity slows later in the morning, so nest searching stops earlier and more time is spent on vegetation measurements. Banders and target netters will generally stick to the same schedule until the very end of the season when they will be asked to help with vegetation surveys. 

The remainder of the day after fieldwork is your own to do as you please. In addition to required work some individuals conduct independent research projects or volunteer to help graduate students with their research.


Because of the large size of the field crew, the circumstances we live under, and the location of the field site there are many logistical problems that we have to deal with. While none of these problems are particularly difficult, it is important that everyone adhere to regulations and be aware the potential problem so as to maintain the moral of the camp.

Cooking, camp fires, and smoking - Because we work in a National Forest we must be aware of the potential for forest fires. Although the danger is relatively minor there are a few rules we have to further limit the threat. First all cooking is done in a designated cook tent. Under no circumstances may anyone cook outside of the cook tent. Under some occasions we do have camp fires in camp, but these fires are carefully monitored and may only be lit in the designated fire ring. Finally, smoking is not allowed in any of the camp facilities (including tent and vehicles). If you wish to smoke we ask that you smoke outside of camp or in your personal vehicle. Also, be aware that all of the regulations are ultimately preceded by the regulations of the U.S. Forest Service, which are determined by the relative threat of wild fires. So depending on the year these regulations may become strickter.

Camping - The campsite is permanent for the entire field season, so try to make yourself comfortable; this is going to be your home for 3 months. We suggest bring a large tent if available. Also make sure you bring a warm sleeping bag and some sort of sleeping pad (the thicker the better) because it can get quite cold at night, especially early in the season (5°F).   In camp we have a generator to supply electricity to camp for charging video camera and computer batteries. The generator is on for only a limited time every day, and its use is meant primarily for project business, so please do not bring electronic equipment to camp. In addition to your personal tent there are two large canvas tents in camp. One is designated for doing paper work and data entry and the other for cooking and entertaining. In each of these tents we have a number of tables set up and some chairs for general use. In the cook tent there are also propane stoves for everyone's use, but you will need to supply your own food, cookware and utensils. In addition, ALL FOOD is kept in closed containers in the cook tent so as to reduce human/wildlife interactions. Be aware there is NO RUNNING WATER in camp. We have a 500 gallon water tank that we use for water obtained from town or the ranger station. This means that getting water is both time consuming and costly, so we try to conserve water as much as possible. This especially pertains to bathing. We bath one of 3 ways: 1) take a "bird bath" in one of the creeks or lakes near camp; 2) use of personal sun showers that are placed in the sun to heat up (please do this minimally because it uses a great deal of water); or 3) drive to the Happy Jack campground (an hour away) and use their facilities.   Toiletries in camp are limited; we have four Porta-Potties set up near camp for general use.
Food - The nearest location to get food is located in Clint's Well nearly an hour away from camp and the nearest complete grocery is nearly two hours away in Flagstaff or Payson. Because of the great distance to the grocery store we normally only go into town every other week for break and to get groceries. Of course anyone can go to town at anytime in their personal vehicle. There is no refrigeration at camp. This means that perishable food items have a limited shelf life in camp, so be aware of this when buying food for two weeks. In addition, field days can often be quite long and tiring, so it is often nice to purchase foods that are easy and quick to prepare.

Trash and Recycling - In camp we have several large trash cans to store garbage and recycling. When these cans fill we transfer the trash to a localized dump area on the edge of camp and then once a week we transfer this material to the dump at Clint's Well.

Alcohol - No alcohol or other drugs are allowed at the campsite.

Pets - No pets of any kind are allowed at the field camp.

Mail - We have a single post office box. Everyone will share the same box so that anyone going to town can pick up all mail. The mailing address is as follows: P.O. Box 19592, Happy Jack, AZ 86024. Phone There is limited cellular service near the field site, yet many field assistant find cell phones to be the most convenient method for staying in touch. Most cell phones get service along the rim of the plateau (about a 15 minute drive from camp). We have a camp cell phone, but this phone is only for official business, or in the case of emergencies. Messages are checked on the camp cell phone everyday. The nearest pay phone is one hour away in the town of Clint's Well. Many assistants bring their own vehicles and drive to the phone to make calls and those without vehicles can catch rides with others most days of the week if needed.

Emergencies - In case of a family emergency, your family can call our cell phone and leave a message (we check messages daily). This telephone number is ABSOLUTELY for EMERGENCIES ONLY. The nearest hospital is in Payson (1 hour, 30 minutes away). We have basic first aid kits and experience. We have not had any serious emergencies in our 20 years of work on this site.

Paychecks - All pay checks are sent out bi-weekly to the P.O. Box in Happy Jack, but be aware the first paycheck does not arrive until 3 to 4 weeks after you start, so you need to bring enough money for one month to cover food, travel and hotels on days off, etc. You will also have the option of having your checks direct deposited with the first check being mailed out. Hiring paperwork will provide additional information.    For Greyhound you'll need to take a taxi or city bus from the Phoenix airport to the Greyhound station. Reservations are not required, but tickets should be purchased at least 30 prior to departure time. Tickets are $28.00 and can be purchased at the transportation desk on the lower level of the airport near the baggage claim and car rental offices. (1-800-229-9424)

Getting to the Field Camp
  • Flying to field camp If you wish to fly to field camp, you can fly into either the Flagstaff or Phoenix airport. If you fly into Flagstaff we will pick you up at the airport, however, because Phoenix is considerably further than Flagstaff we ask you to take a bus to Flagstaff. If this is the case and you are flying into Phoenix you can take an Open Road Tours shuttle or the Greyhound Bus to Flagstaff, Arizona. The Open Road Tours shuttle leaves the Phoenix Airport for Flagstaff everyday of the week and reservations are required Tickets are $42 one-way. (1-877-226-8060).
Driving directions:
If you are driving please note that we suggest driving slowly (less than 30 mph) once you are on the dirt road and keep an eye out for elk crossing the road. Also, be aware, elk are more difficult to see at night and directions are more easily followed during the day.
There are three ways to approach the camp. For the people arriving from Flagstaff or Phoenix, the directions are the same from Clint's Well. For those arriving from Winslow, the directions will be the same, except that you won't go as far as Clint's Well (you'll turn left onto Road 95, which will be before you reach the Blue Ridge Ranger Station).
a. If you are coming in from Flagstaff, take the Lake Mary road off I-40 and head east to Clint's Well (a small "town" that consists of a gas station/café and a post office).
b. If you are driving from Phoenix, head north on Highway 87 to Clint's Well.
c. If you are driving from Winslow, head south on Highway 87 to Road 95.
Proceed ten miles north of Clint's Well on Highway 87 to the U.S. Forest Service's Blue Ridge Ranger Station; about 300 meters north of the Ranger Station is gravel road number 95; turn right on this road (if you're approaching from Winslow, turn left on this road).
Drive several miles on this road, to the bottom of a very deep canyon. After crossing the bridge at the canyon bottom, go left onto Road 96.
Road 96 ends in a ‘T' intersection; turn right onto Road 137 (toward Buck Springs).
Stay on Road 137 until you get to Hospital Ridge road. There will be a sign on the left side of the road, with an arrow for the campground. Follow this road no more than 2 miles and there will be another sign indicating where camp is.
Please note that there will also be maps at the Blue Ridge ranger station with the campsite marked on them. In addition if throughout the course of the field season the forest is restricted because of high fire danger, personal vehicles will need to pass exhaust inspections to be driven into the Coconino National Forest.
If you are driving, I encourage you to start driving up to the field site from Highway 87 no later than 4:00 p.m. It takes 2 hours to get to the field site from Flagstaff, and an hour and a half to get to the field site from Payson. The sun starts to go down around 8:00 p.m. and it is extremely difficult to find the field site and set up camp in the dark.
Before you turn onto Road 95, it is a good idea to stop at the Mustang Gas Station on Hwy 87 in Clint's Well to fill up your gas tank, and to let a little air out of your tires (increasing elevation leads to increasing air pressure in your car's tires and they are more likely to pop on the gravel roads). Also, remember to watch out for deer and elk.

Things to Remember and Bring
We live and work in a HIGH ELEVATION sites - Temperatures will be below freezing at night the first few weeks. In fact, there is often snow on the ground when we first arrive. Our work often requires standing stationary for periods of time and feet can get very cold. So be sure to bring cold weather clothing. Extra blankets and a sleeping pad to put on the ground under your sleeping bag are useful because they provide greater insulation and sleeping on the ground gets quite cold when temps are below freezing. It will rain some, and the dew causes wet vegetation in the morning. This can cause cold feet - try to bring waterproof boots and/or gaiters if possible, also rain gear. Usually it is great weather, but ten years ago was the wettest on record (in other words, you never know...), and some years are extremely dry. We will see elk and deer almost every day and you may also have the opportunity to see black bears and porcupines. Please bring a cooler or plan on purchasing one in Flagstaff. Bring a lantern or a flashlight. You should bring your own chairs, silverware, plates, and a pan or two for cooking.Below is a list of items we suggest that you bring to field camp; although not all are necessary most are meant to make your stay on the Rim more enjoyable. All of these items can be purchased in Flagstaff, and if you are flying this may be the best way to obtain many of these items.
  • Binoculars
  • Large cooler and/or storage bin (can be purchased in Flagstaff if you're traveling by air or bus) **wait to buy in Flagstaff as we have a lot of leftovers from previous techs; first come, first served!
  • Water bottles
  • Alarm Clock (battery powered) **your cell phone will not work as it will die due to our lack of electricity!
  • Wrist Watch
  • Silverware, bowl, plate, pots, pans, drinking mug
  • Tent with rain-fly (2-4 person tents are better than 1-person tents - we do not move)
  • Tarps - one for below, and one for above (the UV will eat your tent quickly)
  • Ropes and extra stakes for rigging up tent and tarps
  • Warm sleeping bag (temps get down below freezing)
  • Sleeping pad (extra blankets under the sleeping pad are helpful)
  • Warm gloves and hat
  • Sweaters and/or fleece
  • Warm jacket or shell
  • Rain jacket and pants
  • Field clothes
  • Pens
  • Warm boots (multiple pairs of boots are nice when 1 pair gets wet)
  • Wool socks
  • Long johns
  • Reading material/Frisbee, camera, musical instrument, or other entertainment
  • Sunscreen and a hat to shade face (this is extremely important)
  • Biodegradable soap and shampoo  **only if you wish to bath more frequently in local waters.  Regular shampoo is fine for town.
  • Bucket to wash with  **again, only if you are worried about the 1-2 week gap in-between town showers
  • Pillow
  • Swimming suit
  • Towels, washcloths
  • Day pack (fanny pack, too, if you have one)  **large enough to fit field gear
  • Lighters
  • Lantern  (battery/or solar suggested)   **only if you would like extra light at your tent
  • Tupperware
  • Bird book   **suggested
  • Telephone calling card
  • Movies (DVDs) we occasionally have movie nights using a camp laptop
  • Food - you can cook almost anything you usually cook in the kitchen out in the field.  Please do not think you need to live off can food or dehydrated food.  Purchase what you usually purchase.  By the end of two weeks, you will be craving fruit and salad, trust me.

Natural Sciences Room 205

Missoula, MT 59812