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  • Field Assistants – Samsonvale Bird Project, Queensland, Australia

    James Kennerley
    • Employer: University of Cambridge/Cornell Lab of Ornithology
      Location: near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
      Country: Australia
      Last Date to Apply: No value
      Open Until Filled: Yes

    Project Title: Brood Parasite–Host Interactions between Australian Cuckoos and their Hosts

    Location: near Brisbane, QLD, Australia

    Duration: Approx. 5 months (late July 2020 – mid December 2020); subject to change depending on COVID-19 restrictions, see below.

    Job Type: Volunteer

    Number of Openings: 5-6


    COVID-19 could have implications for the running of our field season. We are planning to proceed as usual but will adapt to changes where needed. If you are interested in the position but have any queries or concerns regarding how COVID-19 could affect the field season, please drop us an email.

    Field assistants required from late July to mid December 2020 for behavioural / evolutionary ecology research in Queensland, Australia.

    We are seeking volunteers to join us for our sixth season on a long-term project investigating brood parasite–host interactions between cuckoos and their passerine hosts at a field site on the shores of Lake Samsonvale just outside Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. This year we will continue to collect long-term monitoring data on several species of host (Red-backed, Variegated and Superb Fairywrens) and cuckoos (principally Horsfield’s Bronze and Brush Cuckoos), run behavioural experiments, colour-band individuals and collect genetic samples.

    This collaborative study is led by James Kennerley, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, Dr William Feeney at Griffith University and Prof Mike Webster at Cornell University/Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

    The primary responsibility of these positions are to search for and monitor nests of Red-backed, Variegated and Superb Fairywrens. Additional responsibilities include conducting behavioural observations, territory mapping, habitat surveys as well as data entry. There will also be ample opportunity to participate in mist-netting and the colour-banding of birds, as well as collection of blood samples. Furthermore, we encourage volunteers to become involved in the research wherever possible; see Feeney et al. (2018)Kennerley et al (2019)Poje et al. (2019)Richardson et al. (2019), for examples of studies which were led by and/or heavily involved previous volunteers on the project.

    A typical day in the field will begin at dawn and continue into the early afternoon. This is followed by data entry in the afternoon and an opportunity to relax (or explore!).

    By the middle of the season, temperatures average in the mid-30’s Celsius (mid-90’s Fahrenheit) and can exceed 40°C (104°F) under an intense sun. Venomous snakes and ticks are also in abundance. Thus, suitable applicants will enjoy long, often hot and challenging days hiking across rugged terrain and crawling through dense vegetation closely following and observing birds, whilst keeping neat and organised field notes.

    The site boasts a fantastic range of birds (eBird lists the field site in the top ten for bird diversity in Australia, https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L692632) amazing herpetofauna, and iconic species such as Koala and Short-beaked Echidna. Furthermore, the site is in close proximity to rainforests, beaches and the city of Brisbane, all of which can be explored on rest days – typically one day per week, but sometimes we venture farther afield and camp for a couple of nights (see the Instagram for photos of what we get up to, @samsonvalebirdproject). We also work closely with the local banding group so there are opportunities to join in with their activities as well.

    Accommodation is provided in a large house and the cost of food and transportation are paid for by the project, but we are not able to cover flights to and from Brisbane. These positions are an excellent opportunity for students or recent graduates to gain valuable experience in the field and be a part of some cool cutting-edge research. It’s also a great chance to mix with like-minded scientists and ornithologists from several nationalities, and to develop the skills needed to take your career to the next level. Past seasons have been great fun, and we hope this one will be the same!

    Applicants will be interviewed and places offered as applications are received. Unsuccessful applicants will be notified after positions are filled.

    Qualifications:  It is essential that applicants have a strong interest in birds and/or biology, are self-motivated, are meticulous at keeping detailed and legible notes and are comfortable living closely and cooperatively with others, with a positive attitude, flexibility and a good sense of humour.

    Applicants with previous experience nest searching are highly desired, and experience birding, conducting bird surveys or banding are a plus.

    To apply, please send a covering letter detailing your interests and any previous experience as well as dates of availability, CV, and contact details for two referees to James Kennerley and William Feeney (email: samsonvalebirdproject [at] gmail.com). Applicants are also encouraged to include a link to their eBird profile and/or examples of field notes in their application.

    Please feel free to enquire with any questions pertinent to the application process or regarding the project in general.


    Above are the nine species of cuckoo that can be found at the Samsonvale study site. From top left to bottom right: Channel-billed Cuckoo, Pacific Koel, Oriental Cuckoo, Pallid Cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Brush Cuckoo, Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo, Shining Bronze Cuckoo and Little Bronze Cuckoo.


    Edited by James Kennerley

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