Location: Bowdoin / Nathaniel T. Wheelwright


Nathaniel Thoreau Wheelwright

Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Natural Sciences
Chair of Biology Department

Contact Information


Druckenmiller Hall - 230D

Teaching this semester

BIOL 2558 / ENVS 2558. Ornithology

Nathaniel Thoreau Wheelwright
Advanced study of the biology of birds, including anatomy, physiology, distribution, and systematics, with an emphasis on avian ecology and evolution. Through integrated laboratory sessions, field trips, and discussion of the primary literature, students learn identification of birds, functional morphology, and research techniques such as experimental design, behavioral observation, and field methods. Optional weekend field trip to Monhegan Island or the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island.

Nathaniel T. Wheelwright Portrait


Savannah sparrow ecology
Savannah Sparrow Ecology and Evolution
Tropical ecology and conservation
Tropical Ecology and Conservation
Plant-Animal Interactions
Plant-Animal Interactions
Boreal Island Biology
Temperate and Boreal Island Biology


Wheelwright, N.T., and B. Heinrich. 2017. The Naturalist's Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-year Calendar-Journal for Learning about the Natural World. Storey Publishing, North Adams, Mass.​

Wheelwright, N.T., and N.M. Nadkarni (editors). 2014. Monteverde: ecología y conservación de un bosque nuboso tropical. Bowdoin Scholars' Bookshelf. Book 3. 862 pp. 

Nadkarni, N.M., and N.T. Wheelwright (editors). 2000. Monteverde: Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest. Oxford University Press. 573pp. (also: Bowdoin Scholars' Bookshelf. Book 1.  http://digitalcommons.bowdoin.edu/scholars-bookshelf/1

Monteverde: ecología y conservación de un bosque nuboso tropical.   Monteverde: Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest.

Former Students

Akane Uesugi Bryant Dossmann Corey Freeman Geoff Trussell '89 Josh Lawler Marci Brandenburg '99 Mike Butler Sarah Haggerty

Recent Awards


Nathaniel T. WheelwrightNathaniel T. Wheelwright is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Natural Sciences in the Department of Biology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Yale University (1975) and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Washington (1982).

Following a Carr Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Florida (1982-1984) and a Visiting Assistant Professorship at Cornell University (1984-1986), he joined the faculty at Bowdoin College. As Director of the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island, New Brunswick (1987-2004), he established a long-term, on-going study of the population biology and behavioral ecology of Savannah sparrows and tree swallows and the pollination biology of island plants. His dissertation research on seed dispersal by fruit-eating birds in Costa Rica has led to long-term investigations of the reproductive ecology of tropical trees and the publication with Nalini Nadkarni of Monteverde: Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest (Oxford University Press, 2000) and Monteverde: ecología y conservación de un bosque nuboso tropical  (Bowdoin Scholars' Bookshelf, Book 3, 2014).

African Elephant DungWith support from the Fulbright Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and Bowdoin College, he has taught and conducted research while living with his family in Spain, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Botswana, Ecuador, and New Zealand.


Former honors thesis student Iris Levin searching for Savannah sparrow nestsSince 1979 I have been studying interactions between fruit-eating birds and the tropical plants whose seeds they disperse in Monteverde, Costa Rica. That project has expanded to include investigations of sex expression, population genetic structure, phenology, photosynthesis, stable isotopes as markers of seasonal cycles, and lifetime reproduction in a group of tree species in the family Lauraceae. The work of more than 120 biologists working in Monteverde was synthesized in a book published in 2000 by Oxford University Press.

In 1986 I began a long-term study of Savannah Sparrows on Kent Island, New Brunswick, Canada, site of the Bowdoin Scientific Station. Our work on sparrows deals with the avoidance of inbreeding, the acquisition of song, incubation rhythms of experienced and inexperienced birds, post-fledging parental care, and mate choice. Most recently, with support from a National Science Foundation OPUS award, I have been collaborating with Erik Postma (Netherlands), Lukas Keller (Switzerland), and Céline Teplitsky (France) on quantitative genetics analyses of phenotypic variation in morphological, behavioral and life history traits across 12 generations. Other long-term research on Kent Island includes the reproductive ecology of insect-pollinated island plants, and the population biology of Tree Swallows.


History of the Organization for Tropical Studies  (June 2013)

Music That Moves Me (MPBN)

Audio Slideshow

Good Gun Tales and the 73-Year History of the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island
Bass Lecture: Good Gun Tales and the 73-Year History of the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island

Popular Articles

NBC News: Scientist documents massive frog die-off (in his own pond)

Wheelwright, N.T. 2014. Plea from another symposium goerFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 98-99 

Putting Guantánamo to good use. Boston Globe (March 23, 2009).

First, there was an albatross. Bowdoin Magazine (April, 2008).

Bird by bird, avian populations are shrinking. Christian Science Monitor (August 24, 2007).

A lead slug, a moose, and Thoreau. Kennebec Journal (December 2, 2007).

Conserving Bird Biodiversity: General Principles and their Application. (book review) Conservation Biology (October 2003)

Enduring reasons to preserve threatened species. The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 1, 1994)

YouTube Videos

Watching an extinction with my kids


Current Courses  - Fall 2012

  • Behavioral Ecology and Population Biology (BIO 215/ES 215)
  • Advanced Independent Study and Honors in Biology (BIO 401)

Previous Courses

Santiago de Cuba, 2008Ecology, Introductory Biology, Investigations in Biology, Evolutionary Ecology, Concepts in Evolution and Ecology, Evolution, Conservation Biology, Introduction to Environmental Studies, Advanced Winter Field Ecology, Latin America: Environment and Society, Theory of Mate Selection in Birds, Bird Song, Human Song, Behavioral Ecology and Population Biology.

Field Courses

Field course on Seed Dispersal in Island Plants for Cuban professional biologists, sponsored by the Departamento de Flora y Fauna, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba (2008)

Advanced Winter Field Ecology with Baby BearSemester Program in Tropical Ecology sponsored by Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin Colleges and the Andean Center for Latin American Studies, Quito, Ecuador (2001)

Module on Plant-Animal Interactions for Bolivian graduate students, sponsored by Estación Biológica Tunquini, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, Bolivia (2000)

Organization for Tropical Studies, Costa Rica: Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach (18 courses); Ecología de Poblaciones (2 courses); Undergraduate Semester Abroad Program (2 courses) (1979-2006)