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How Grace's love of aninals led to her career researching the humble magpie

19/10/2023 |
2 minutes

Meet Grace (she/her) – queen of finding free parking and self-confessed animal lover. She’s taken the animal obsession to new heights with her PhD studies, learning all about the humble magpie.

Having loved animals ever since childhood, it was only natural that she ended up working with them too.

You might question how someone can spend their days researching swooping birds, but Grace says they’re incredibly smart.

“They can recognise faces and continue to swoop the same individuals, but they can also recognise human voices and distinguish between the voices of people they know and the voices of those they don’t.”

“They can also mimic the calls of other birds such as seagulls and kookaburras and do a very convincing impression of a barking dog or car alarm. We even have a few birds in our population that mimic human speech!”

It was the concept of animal cognition and how it helps animals cope with changing urban environments that first sparked Grace’s interest in this field.

“From construction to traffic to airplanes, magpies hear it all and when exposed to man-made noise, they spend less time foraging, and are less efficient at finding food. They also vocalise less and spend more time looking for predators.”

“These behavioural changes can have negative effects. For instance, if birds are unable to find enough food, they may lose weight and body condition, or may feed their offspring less.”

While kicking butt in her field, Grace has still felt the need to overcome imposter syndrome.

I’m surrounded by incredibly intelligent and impressive people, and when I first started, I definitely didn’t feel like I belonged but the more opportunities I get to talk about my research I realise that I know more than I thought I did.

And if you ask Grace what her favourite place on campus is, she answers like a true researcher – “my office.”

“I am lucky enough to share my office with amazing researchers and colleagues who I now get to call friends as well. A PhD is truly a rollercoaster and without these people I would not have made it this far on the ride.”

If you’d like to hear more from Grace about her research and what her experience has been like studying at UWA, listen to her podcast episode of Research on the Record.

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