Wildlife Research: Janell Brush

Janell Brush is an avian researcher currently involved with numerous research and monitoring projects involving shorebirds and seabirds.

 Janell Brush
Janell Brush scans at a wintering
flock of shorebirds near Cedar Key.

Janell Brush
Research Scientist: Avian Research Subsection
Gainesville, FL

B.S. Biological Sciences,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1998)

M.S. Wildlife Ecology and Conservation,
University of Florida (2006)
Thesis: Wetland avifauna usage of littoral habitat prior to extreme habitat modification in Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida.


After college graduation, I moved to northern California and worked in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on a project for The Institute for Bird Populations. From there, I moved to South Florida to work with the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (Coop Unit) on the endangered snail kite. After one field season, I moved to Gainesville, where I continued to work for the Coop Unit on various wetland research projects. During my six years there, I designed, developed and managed various research projects from the Florida freshwater wetlands to the Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. While at the Coop Unit we received funding from the FWC to monitor wetland-dependent avifauna (birds) before and after a large-scale lake modification project on Lake Tohopekaliga. I became a graduate research assistant on the project and earned my master’s degree from the University of Florida. I started working with the FWC in September 2006. During my time at the FWC, I have branched away from freshwater wetland avifauna to the world of coastal waterbirds, in particular, shorebirds and seabirds. I was the project investigator on two State Wildlife Grant funded shorebird projects. I also oversee the statewide Bald Eagle Monitoring Program.

What are you working on now?
I am involved with numerous research and monitoring projects involving shorebirds and seabirds.  This involves working with the Florida Shorebird Alliance (FSA), a statewide partnership of government and nongovernment organizations committed to advancing shorebird and seabird conservation in Florida. The FSA partners collect data in accordance with FWC monitoring protocols and input data into the Florida Shorebird Database. I worked on a team to develop the FWC Breeding Bird Protocol for Florida’s Shorebirds and Seabirds, and I recently completed the protocol for nonbreeding shorebirds and seabirds. In addition, my team has developed research protocols for disturbance and invertebrate monitoring. The current FWC shorebird and seabird monitoring program continues to generate new findings and address management information needs. The questions generated from the statewide monitoring programs are the impetus of ongoing and new research projects.

In addition to research based on identified management information needs, I am also working on numerous projects involving the American oystercatcher. The Big Bend region of the state, including the Cedar Key area, supports the second-largest concentration of wintering oystercatchers in their range. Our recent research results indicated that high-tide roosting habitat is a limiting factor for oystercatchers in this critical wintering ground. We are currently working with coastal engineers and Peter Frederick (UF) to rebuild reefs at two offshore high-tide roosts. In addition, we are working with partners on the Tolomato River near St. Augustine on a small-scale oyster reef restoration effort. This area has a dense concentration of nesting oystercatchers that frequently experience failure due to nest overwash. These two small-scale projects will allow us to test methods and monitor the response of oystercatchers to habitat restoration. If successful, the techniques can be applied in other areas at larger scales. I am also responsible for an ongoing American oystercatcher breeding project that involves identification of current nesting locations, nest productivity, banding of adults and juveniles, and monitoring marked birds to determine breeding if birds return to the same location to nest year after year, distribution and movement patterns.

How is this information beneficial?
The majority of the research I conduct is based on specific management information needs and results are directly used by managers to further the conservation of the species.

What is your typical work day like?
Currently, I attempt to spend most of my day working on numerous manuscripts highlighting important research results. I often meet with FWC staff on the development and modifications to the shorebird monitoring protocols and online database. When bald eagle nesting season is in full swing, a good portion of my week is spent managing the survey and working with counterparts to answer information requests. I am also the master permittee on the State of Florida bird banding permit, and it requires constant updates and maintenance. Unfortunately, I do not get into the field very often these days, but I am fortunate to have amazing personnel who are more than willing to keep the fieldwork going.

What is your greatest career accomplishment?
My greatest career accomplishment is probably my involvement with the statewide shorebird and seabird monitoring and research programs.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
Prioritizing hundreds of management information needs to ensure research efforts lead to the greatest conservation impact.

What do you like most about your career?
I love problem solving. I love that I get to explore and work in some amazing natural areas of this incredible state. I appreciate that I witness something spectacular everyday I’m in the field. I have had the opportunity to work with brilliant people who have contributed to the success of my research projects and conservation of the species we work with.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?
I always knew I wanted to do research in some capacity. Biology is a very broad field and I didn’t discover quantitative ecology until after completing my undergraduate studies. Growing up, I always had an outdoor job and I was excited that I could have a career that would allow me to continue working outdoors and be active.                

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?
Alternative medicine or writing books.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Get as much hands-on experience as you can working in different ecosystems with a variety of different species. Take as many statistics classes as possible.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time I enjoy reading, rock climbing, working out at my crossfit-style gym (Go Primal Fitness) and any activity that involves being active and outside.

FWC Facts:
Red tides are not always red. They can appear green, brown or even purple in color. The water can even remain its normal color during a bloom.

Learn More at AskFWC