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  • Thick-billed (McCown’s) Longspur Field Technician

    Amber Swicegood
    • Employer: Montana State University
      Location: Phillips and Valley Counties, northeast Montana
      Country: United States
      Last Date to Apply: 01/10/2021
      Open Until Filled: No


    Field technicians (2-4) are needed to assist a master’s student with a thick-billed longspur (formerly McCown’s longspur) study in Phillips and Valley Counties in northeastern Montana. The project will run from the beginning of May until late July/early August. Start and end dates are somewhat flexible but training will occur during the first week. Pay will be $2300 a month for 3 months. The primary focus of this study is to investigate the potential for agricultural fields to act as ecological traps for breeding thick-billed longspurs. There will also be a heavy habitat assessment component, so those with good grassland bird identification skills and/or prairie plant identification skills are encouraged to apply.

    Duties will include conducting avian point counts and line transects, using behavioral cues to find songbird nests, monitoring nests, vegetation/habitat assessments, and data entry. Daily activities will vary across the season, but early morning surveys will be conducted periodically throughout the summer. Technicians may be assigned to different primary tasks depending on the skillsets of each crew member. Capture and tagging of adult longspurs may be conducted in June. Technicians will be part of a 4 to 6-person crew and will be expected to work well alone and with others in a remote and challenging field setting. Field housing and work vehicles will be provided.

    Northern Phillips and Valley Counties contain some of the largest remaining intact prairie ecosystems in North America. Many endemic grassland bird species can be found across our field site, including Sprague’s pipit, Baird’s sparrow, and chestnut-collared longspur. Technicians will spend approximately half their time conducting work in crop fields (primarily spring wheat and summer fallow) and half their time in native prairie. Applicants should understand that while this area is beautiful, it is also extremely remote. Technicians are expected to work when weather conditions allow and days off will not follow a consistent schedule.


    Desired qualifications include excellent visual and aural prairie bird identification skills and/or prairie plant identification skills. Preferred applicants will possess a strong passion for grassland bird conservation and research. Less experienced applicants willing improve upon their bird and plant ID skills are also encouraged to apply. Applicants skilled at finding grassland bird nests (particularly through behavioral cues) are strongly encouraged to apply.

    This position will require long and irregular hours in the field. Early mornings are a necessity and technicians will consistently be in the field before sunrise. Preferred applicants will have demonstrated the ability to work well alone with minimal supervision and in a group field setting. The ability to carefully follow protocols is of utmost importance. Other necessary qualifications include experience navigating with a handheld GPS unit, the ability to walk several miles per day in uneven terrain, and data entry and management.

    Spring and summer can be very muddy in northeastern Montana after heavy rain, so preference will be given to those with experience driving field vehicles in muddy conditions and rough terrain. We will use ATVs to access remote sites and those with ATV experience are encouraged to apply. Primitive camping may be required (for short stints in a tent or longer excursions in a camper trailer).

    Applicants should be highly motivated, field savvy, well organized, and have strong interest in avian ecology and management. A valid driver’s license is required. Those interested in the position should submit a cover letter, resume/CV, and 3 professional references (with name, phone number and email) in a single Word or PDF file to amber.swicegood@student.montana.edu. Please include “Longspur Tech Position” in the subject line. Deadline for applications is January 10, 2021 but applications will be reviewed as they are received and positions will be filled as suitable applicants are found.

    Any questions regarding the position can be directed to Amber Swicegood at the email listed above or at 336-309-1245.

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