Tony Del Vallé, MSc Student

Grassland bird community response to management in tallgrass prairie

My broad research interests lie in the fields of wildlife conservation, ornithology, and restoration ecology. My childhood was split between growing up in Chicago, IL and Sheboygan, WI. Living in urbanized settings was not conducive to learning about nature at a young age. Fortunately, I was able to establish curiosity in nature through frequent family trips to our cabin in northern Wisconsin. Activities such as hiking and hunting laid the groundwork for my fascination with wildlife and nature. In 2015 I received a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and a Certificate in Environmental Sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduating I spent the next few years working for a number of state agencies, NGOs, and university research projects. Through these technician positions I have gained experience working in a wide variety of habitats ranging from Appalachian forests in Pennsylvania to grasslands and shallow lakes in Minnesota. These positions have involved working with many different taxa as well, but avian ecology research has remained the most intriguing topic for me. Through my education and work experiences, I have focused on pursuing a career in wildlife management and conservation. My graduate position at Northern Illinois University will help improve my skills in applied wildlife research and prepare me for a career in wildlife ecology.


My graduate research focuses on studying grassland bird communities in restored and remnant tallgrass prairies in the prairie panhandle region (prairies east of the Mississippi river). Specifically, I will be looking at how bird communities are impacted by bison and prescribed fire disturbances. My two study sites: Nachusa Grasslands (IL) and Kankakee Sands (IN), are two high-quality tallgrass prairie preserves that are managed by The Nature Conservancy. Notably these two preserves have recently reintroduced bison to the landscape and offer great field sites to conduct research in this region. I plan to survey grassland bird species and vegetation structure via point count and transect surveys in plots of land with different management histories (e.g., bison vs no bison, recently burned vs not recently burned). Comparing data between study sites and plots with different management histories will provide a snapshot on grassland bird communities in this region and give insight into species-specific site selection. Concurrently, this research project strives to provide restoration managers with data that can aid in the continuing conservation of grassland bird species at these preserves.