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Division of Natural Sciences & MathematicsDepartment of Biological Sciences

Faculty & Staff Background

Senior Lecturer

Hugh McIssac

Hugh McIsaac

Office:  Boettcher West 214

Office Phone: (303) 871-2229






  • 1990 Ph.D., Biology - University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh, PA
  • 1980 B.A., Biology - Cornell University - Ithaca, NY

Research Interests

My principal research interests concern behavioral ecology and animal behavior. The focus of my research concerns vertebrate navigation and migration, particularly as these relate to the wondrous capacities of birds. Avian navigation remains one of biology's great mysteries even after five decades of rigorous research. I seek to determine the behavioral and sensory mechanisms that drive such navigational capacities. Much of my work involves the homing pigeon; I prefer pigeons because they can be experimentally manipulated under field conditions. Most of my behavioral studies are conducted in the field. I am particularly interested in the mechanisms that birds use to determine their positions, such as the map-and-compass systems that many scientists postulate guide birds along their journeys. Even though we have learned a good deal about compass mechanisms, map-and-compass systems remain largely hypothetical, and the position-finding, or map, component of these systems has proved particularly difficult to demonstrate. In earlier work I have demonstrated that the orientations of pigeons vary from individual to individual. Models of navigational mechanisms, such as the map-and-compass systems, make specific predictions concerning how the orientations of different individuals will vary over time and space. Analyses of such orientation patterns will allow me to test the validity of a variety of navigational models. I hope that this kind of analysis will reveal the position-finding mechanism(s) used by birds. I also have interests in sensory physiology. Navigation requires sensory input of environmental information, and, thus, how birds perceive and process environmental information is important to my work. Much of my laboratory-based work concerns the visual capacities of birds. While extensive studies of vision have been conducted on domesticated laboratory animals little is known about the visual capacities of non-domesticated species. I attempt to extend our knowledge beyond standard laboratory species. To date my studies have focused on birds of prey and pigeons.

Recent Publications

  • McIsaac, H. P. 2001. Raptor acuity and wind turbine blade conspicuity. Proceedings of the National Avian-Wind Power Planning Meeting IV, <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 />Carmel, CA, May 2000. Prepared for the Avian Subcommittee of the National Wind Coordinating Committee, by RESOLVE, Inc., Washington, D.C., Susan Savitt Schwartz, ed., pp. 59-87.
  • McIsaac, H. P. and G. Chastain. 2000. Human-Assessed Conspicuity of Wind-Turbine Blade Patterns: Final Report to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, DOE. 14 pp. Presented to NREL 19 July 2000.
  • McIsaac, H. P. and M. R. Fuller. 1999. Wind-Turbine Blade Pattern Summary Report to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, DOE. 84 pp. Presented to NREL 30 September 1999.
  • McIsaac, H. P. & D. McDonald 1998. Visual Acuity of a Red-Tailed Hawk: Final Report to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, DOE. 31 pp. Presented to NREL 31 January 1998.
  • McIsaac, H. P. and D. McDonald. 1998. A Method to Assess Animal Perception of Stimulus Conspicuity with Application to Patterned Wind-Turbine Blades Using an American Kestrel: Final Report to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, DOE. 30 pp. Presented to NREL 10 July 1998.
  • McIsaac, H. P. 1998. Categorical Discrimination in American Kestrels: Final Report to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, DOE. 13 pp. Presented to NREL 23 June 1998.