Biology department hires new ornithology professor

David Hollie with a bird on his head. (Photo courtesy of: David Hollie)
David Hollie with a bird on his head. (Photo courtesy of: David Hollie)

Southern’s Biology Department has hired David Hollie, a Southern alum, to teach ornithology this semester. Since graduating from Southern in 2014, Hollie has conducted ornithological research in various countries. He also obtained a master’s degree in biology from Pittsburg State University in May 2019.

Hollie said he has loved nature and animals since he was a child. When he was 10 years old, he became especially interested in birds after his mom gave him bird song CDs.

“That kind of focused my attention [on] birds, specifically, and I just really fell in love with them,” Hollie said. “And so, ever since then, for the past roughly two decades, I’ve been really, really into birds and spent a lot of time outside watching them and just spending time with them. …You can just kind of put yourself into a completely different world.”

Hollie said his favorite bird, which he explained is different from his favorite bird to study, is the nightingale wren found in Central America. He said he loves their songs.  

“Some people prefer, you know, the bright colors and stuff. But for me, it’s all about that song,” Hollie said. “And so, the nightingale wren, they are non-descriptive. They’re just kind of brown; they’re very small, but their song is just really, really cool because it just sounds like they’re making up their own thing as they go, like there’s no [real] pattern to it.” 

Hollie’s favorite bird to study is the fairywren, which he was able to observe while conducting research and living in Australia. 

Hollie has been conducting research for the past five to six years in various parts of the world, including South America. For fun, he said, he bird-watches in different countries. 

Hollie said Southern did a good job teaching him the sciences and critical thinking.   

“I think Southern set me up quite well to succeed in field biology,” Hollie said. “There were faculty, specifically Dr. Snyder and Dr. Norskov, [who] really helped focus my intent to go into research with field biology.”  

Hollie’s return to Southern was guided by Ben Thornton, who is a professor in the Biology Department. When Hollie moved back to the local area after being away for five to six years, Thornton spoke with Hollie’s mom about Hollie teaching at Southern. 

“…When I heard that I might be able to teach as an adjunct professor, that got me really excited because anytime, any opportunity I have to teach about birds, like, I want to take it,” Hollie said.

While this will be Hollie’s first time teaching at Southern, this will not be his first experience teaching.  

 “I taught the lab section of ornithology [at Pittsburg State University], which was pretty extensive,” Hollie said. “That is not quite the same as teaching the entire class, but I think it has prepared me pretty well for that.” 

Hollie said the aspect of teaching he is most excited about is opening up the world of birds to students who may not know much about it. 

“To be able to pass on this appreciation for birds, it can really change people’s lives [and] just the way they experience the world,” Hollie said.

Hollie’s ornithology class description reads, “A study of the birds and their natural history with an emphasis on bird identification. Major topics covered in lectures are morphology, anatomy, taxonomy and an introduction to behavior.” 

The course description also states that students will participate in lab sessions, which will feature bird-watching hikes. There is also a required field trip to Dauphin Island.  

Hollie said the trip, scheduled for April 11 to 14, is tentative, but he hopes it will happen. According to Hollie, Dauphin Island is on the southern coast of Alabama near Pensacola, Florida, and attracts a lot of migrating birds during the spring. 

“So it’s roughly 500 miles,” Hollie said. “[The migrating birds] go up to the Yucatan Peninsula, and then they fly across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop. … Once they hit land, they’re really, really exhausted. And so, Dauphin Island is right there on the coast. Depending on the season, depending on the weather, there can be what’s called a fallout, which is when you have thousands and thousands of birds hitting all at once.” 

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