Steve Nowicki is Dean of Natural Sciences at Duke University and a long-time student of bird song. His laboratory studies the ecology and evolution of animal behavior, especially questions about the evolution of diversity and complexity in animal communication signals.
One of his early experiments explored how the size and shape of a bird’s throat influenced the sound it makes. A prior theory held that the character of a bird’s vocalization was determined completely by its syrinx. By having birds sing in an atmosphere of helium and oxygen, Dr. Nowicki proved that the length of a bird’s trachea determines the pitch that it sings.