Allison Nolker ‘13 Inspires Young Musicians with Birdsong Studies

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou

Allison Nolker ‘13 is currently a master’s student at NC State studying zoology with concentrations in anthrozoology and bioacoustics. Nolker, who has had a lifelong interest in animals and human-animal interactions, piloted the accelerated dual bachelor’s/master’s program in zoology.

Her current research focuses on the evolution of bird songs, particularly mockingbirds. Nolker explained that, over time, urbanization can affect some birds’ songs and pitch. Nolker is examining recordings from the 1980s and comparing them to recordings she’s captured recently in various regions within central North Carolina.

Nolker’s recordings have been used for more than just research. Last spring, students at Peck Elementary School in Greensboro, North Carolina participated in a project wherein they created art, music, and dance performances inspired by the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou. Nolker was asked to share her mockingbird recordings to help the students compose music. Students in Peck Elementary’s Strings Program then performed their composition at a tribute to Dr. Angelou held on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in September 2013.

After completing her master’s degree in May 2014, Nolker tentatively plans to do technical work in the field before pursuing her PhD in bioacoustics.

When asked what advice she would offer undergraduate students seeking research opportunities, Nolker said, “Talk to everyone you can. Be interested. Go to seminars. Make people know who you are.”

Story by Laura Turner