Wildlife Research: Jim Rodgers

After more than three decades with the agency, Jim still enjoys studying birds in their natural habitats as much as ever.

Jim Rodgers
Jim Rodgers holds a boom box that is broadcasting the calls of various species of marsh bird in an attempt to elicit their response and hence detection during a survey. Photo was taken in a Juncus marsh in St. Johns County near the coastline.


B.A. Biology, University of South Florida (USF), 1971
Postgraduate degrees for work on wading bird behavior and ecology:
Biology, Louisiana State University, 1974
Biology, USF, 1979
Certified Wildlife Biologist, 1986
Elected member (1988) and fellow (2004) of the American Ornithological Union


Warden-naturalist with National Audubon Society, 1979-1980
Avian biologist with the FWC, formerly the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (GFC), since 1980


What are you working on now?

The last year of a marsh bird monitoring project (2010-12). We begin work on a gull-billed tern survey in 2012.

How is this information beneficial?

We determine the occurrence and relative abundance of six species of marsh birds in both freshwater and estuarine habitats to determine distribution and population status. Two of these species are also game birds. Along with the population data, the modeling of their association with habitat variables will enable the FWC and other agencies to determine the population status and trends of these species in Florida.

What is your typical workday like?

Managing data from current and past research on waterbirds; writing a paper from a 2000-05 study on the habitat use of wood storks and its correlation with reproductive success; supervising seven avian biologists studying a variety of species. I read a lot of e-mail (70+ a day) and attend a plethora of meetings in person or by video or telephone. Wish I was fishing instead.

Do you have a favorite species to study?

I enjoyed working with the snail kite during 1980-2001. I also spent a lot of time working with the wood stork from 1980 to 2005. Both have interesting behaviors and ecological requirements and, as a result, problems they face when humans compete for their needed resources. Least bitterns were fun, too, during 1996-99. They are all fun to work with. Anything to get out of the office.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Besides a very nice son (32 years old), catching several fishing slams around the state, and surviving to my current age without major mishap, I guess it would be the long tenure with the GFC/FWC and the conservation work on several endangered species.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

Overall, dealing with budgetary concerns and seeing that we keep qualified staff. More personally, spending long hours in the office while anxiously awaiting the start of the spring field season.

What do you like most about your career?

I like being able to go out in the field, enjoy a morning sunrise, see a lot of birds in their habitats, and get paid for it. Still seems almost unreal. I actually can't wait to get to work some days. On numerous occasions, I have turned to a seasonal field tech and said something along the lines of "Isn't this great? And we are getting paid to do this. We should be paying to do this."

What do you like least about your career?

Dealing with administrative things such as vehicle reports and trying to keep track of my staff. But I remind myself that if I do all that stuff, I get to go out and do field work. And get paid too!

Did anyone inspire you to become a scientist?

Yes, my dad. He was what you would call a naturalist, although he had only an eighth-grade education. He taught me to appreciate getting up early and seeing wildlife in their native habitats, to be a patient light-tackle angler, and to have calm temperament to tolerate imbecilic things around me.

When did you choose this career path?

Very early, at least in my midteens. As a teenager, I wanted to do one of three things: 1) be a professional surfer, 2) be my own captain on the biggest Bertram fishing boat I could afford, or 3) be a marine biologist. I slightly changed majors in early college to become more associated with terrestrial habitats.

What would you do if you weren't involved in science?

Be a professional fishing guide on the biggest Bertram I could afford.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Go to college, of course. Get at least an M.S. Take all the statistics courses you can tolerate. Never stop learning and enjoying life. Also, develop a good sense of humor because it helps to laugh at yourself when you do stupid/dumb things.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy fishing off Florida's west coast as my primary recreational activity. I also enjoy gardening, reading anything associated with Kurt Vonnegut, quoting one-liners from old movies, trying to remember if I attended a concert by old extinct rock bands, and trying to figure out gravity.

FWC Facts:
Some biologists feel that mullet jump because they are trying to remove parasites. Others believe it may be part of schooling behavior in mullet.

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