Ornithologist Susan Haig ’79 has spent more than thirty years working on avian species facing the brink of extinction and now she’s taking on one of her biggest challenges—she is leading an international team to develop recommendations for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as part of their efforts to enforce environmental laws in the Kingdom.
Her research addresses the genetic and demographic factors needed to plan appropriate recovery actions for small populations. In graduate school, she managed to get the endangered shorebird, the piping plover, listed as endangered in Canada and led recovery teams for the piping plover for over fifteen years. She continues her research on the species to this day.
As a Smithsonian postdoctoral fellow, she designed the genetic breeding program for the Guam rails and Micronesian kingfisher that had just gone extinct in the wild but were being held at the National Zoo and other institutions. “The late 1980s were the dawn of new molecular biology and I was determined that these techniques were used to provide the best and most assured strategies for captive and wild species recovery,” Haig said.
Currently, Haig is one of only three women holding the rank of senior scientist in the US Geological Survey. She is also a professor of wildlife ecology at Oregon State University and a research associate of the Smithsonian Institution. Haig and her students continue to integrate the fields of conservation genetics, climate change, wetland conservation, and understanding migratory connectivity to design conservation strategies for as many species as possible.
In 2013, Haig gave a TEDx talk, “Bringing Back the Birds of Our Dreams.”
Haig credits Northland College for helping her find her vocation. “I worked for Biology Professor Dick Verch in the greenhouse for four years, which led to my first teaching assistant position in graduate school and a lifelong love of plants and gardening,” she said. “By working for Dick in the greenhouse on Saturdays, I got to tag along on his birding adventures which resulted in my becoming an ornithologist. Among other courses, I took genetics from Dick Verch and am currently sitting across the hall from my own Genetics lab.”
Photo Credit of Phoebe: Susan Haig