Christine Dahlin, PhD


University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

450 Schoolhouse Rd

Johnstown, PA 15904



*Publications and Presentations

*Course Descriptions

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General Research Interests

My research is motivated by a desire to understand the functional and evolutionary reasons for the behavior of animals.  My research has primarily focused on how vocal signals are used in the context of social interactions in animals.  My work has been conducted in parrots and corvids, who offer intriguing parallels with human behavior due to their vocal learning abilities and complex sociality. Vocal learning is only shared by a few other groups in the animal kingdom, and much is unknown about how it shapes communication in organisms such as parrots.  Much of my work focuses on the fine scale structure of acoustic signals, and how that structure relates to function.  To pursue these interests I have researched communication in pinyon jays, Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus, yellow-naped amazons, Amazona auropalliata, and budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus.



Opportunities for undergraduate research

If you are a motivated undergraduate at Pitt-Johnstown and interested in the field of ornithology or animal behavior, then there may be an opportunity to work with me in the lab or field. Current research projects I am engaged in are described below. I am also happy to mentor students on independent research projects related to my areas of expertise.


Individuals in the photo (from left): Leandra Boodoo, Rachel Whalen, Dr. Christine Dahlin, Amy Dundorf, Kelly Nalley and Chelsea Blake


Current projects:

Yellow-naped amazon duets Mated pair of YNAs at their nest site in Costa Rica
Yellow-naped amazons are a medium size parrot native to Central America.  Like humans, parrots are life-long vocal learners, and understanding how yellow-naped amazons use this ability in the wild has the potential to provide insight into vocal learning in general.  One category of vocalizations yellow-napes give are duets, in which mated pairs of yellow-naped amazons coordinate their vocalizations to create complex, synchronous signals.  I am currently researching the function, structure and patterns of duetting .

Yellow-naped amazons also have dialects, and each dialect is characterized by different call types.

To see a duet go here. 

Photos by Hugo Cobos


American crow tool-use

American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) are life-long vocal learners who maintain complex social networks, consisting of long-term mates, offspring and neighbors, and are widely recognized for their cognitive abilities.  Although tool use has been documented in New Caledonian crows and in other corvids in lab environments, very few observations of tool use in wild crows have been observed. We have designed a simple crevice device to test the ability of crows to use a stick tool to extract peanuts and mealworms.


For information on tool use in another corvid, the New Caledonian crow, go to:


West Nile Virus monitoring

West Nile virus (WNV) was introduced in 1999 and spread rapidly across the country, reaching PA in 2000.  The costs of WNV on human and animal populations has been enormous, and the full effects on wildlife is not well known.  Myself and Dr. Jill Henning ( are collaborating with Luke DeGroote and the staff of Powdermill Nature Center, Dr. Walt Meshaka  and other ornithologists in the state to survey local and migratory birds and snakes for WNV.

For more information on West Nile in PA go to:

To learn about Powdermill Nature Center go to:

Golden-winged warbler monitoring:

Golden-winged warbler (GWWA), Vermivora chrysoptera, populations are declining rapidly due to loss of their preferred, early successional habitat and inter-breeding with blue-winged warblers, Vermivora pinus.  USFWS has listed GWWAs as a species of concern, and serious conservation efforts are needed to save this species in the eastern part of their range. To contribute to that effort we have begun a program to survey and monitor GWWAs on the >300 acre Pitt-Johnstown Natural Area.


For more information on that status of GWWAs go to:


Pitt-Johnstown Research Opportunities:

Summer Program for Undergduate Research (SPUR): Biodiversity: A new program that funds diversity themed research on the Pitt-Johnstown Natural Area. For general information on this program contact myself or Dr. Karen Lee:

Faculty Mentorship: students can work on faculty directed and student led projects in various aspects of biology. Most of my students study aspects of avian behavior, cognition and conservation. A >300 acre natural area provides ample room for student-led projects right on campus.