Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship Program
Connor McGrath


Connor McGrath


Connor McGrath



The Evolution of Mimicry in Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers

Connor McGrath, Biology
Faculty Mentor: Professor Gavin Leighton, Biology

Connor is a junior in Biology scheduled to graduate in spring 2021. After graduation, he is interested in pursuing further education in the field of Biology. He has had a lifelong interest in zoology and plans to pursue a career in the field. He also has a strong interest in illustration, which was an important aspect of his research project methods. Researching woodpecker plumage and behavior was his first formal research study.

During his fellowship, Connor found that the correlation between model placement on bird feeders and the resultant bird activity appear to be governed both by the presence of a woodpecker model, but also the species of birds interacting with the model. The species-specific effect may be due to differences in dominance between the woodpecker species and the third-party species. Some birds, such as grackles, are more dominant than Downy woodpeckers but less dominant than Hairy woodpeckers, and thus have learned to disregard smaller models, despite the similar appearance of the two. In contrast, other, smaller birds, such as house sparrows, reacted similarly to both models, hinting at a low enough level of dominance to fear white and black woodpeckers in general, regardless of size. These patterns display a greater complexity of effects of mimicry, in that not all birds respond to mimicry in the same way. Connor’s conclusions raise further questions about possible target species for the effects of this phenotype.

Connor McGrath