News, Profiles

Waterbird research inspires professor to travel worldwide

Kevin McCracken

Kevin McCracken

Kevin McCracken, an associate professor in the biology department at the University of Miami, has seen his share of picturesque sights, from Alaska’s Northern Lights to the peaks of the Andes Mountains.

McCracken’s research on waterbirds, like ducks and herons, inspires him to travel the globe.

“I once spent three winters on an island in the Southern Ocean, south of Adelaide, [Australia],” he said.

Ever since a high school trip to the Galapagos, McCracken has dedicated his research endeavors to dabbling in every aspect of waterfowl.

“I knew I was going somewhere interesting and exotic with dozens and dozens of species I’d never seen before,” he said. “It just opens your eyes. I was young and lived in a big city with a lot of concrete. Not much wildlife.”

Since 2001, McCracken has taken an annual voyage to the South American Andes with students and postdoctoral researchers to study birds that thrive at low-oxygen heights. This research seeks to investigate how these birds avoid altitude sickness, a state where the body reacts negatively to a lack of oxygen.

“Research goes better when you have a clear idea of what you want to do, but for me it’s very interesting,” McCracken said. “When you set out to accomplish a goal and it takes a few years, by happenstance or serendipity, you come across another interesting idea that naturally creates the goal for the next five years. I think that’s what’s so exciting about science.”

Part of the excitement includes surprising findings. According to an article published by The New York Times in 2007, McCracken discovered the 17-inch bird phallus on an Argentine duck back in 2001. This is the longest one known to date.

Prior to pursuing research at the University of Miami in 2014, McCracken lived in Alaska for 15 years. To reach Florida, McCracken and his family undertook a 21-day drive from The Last Frontier to the Sunshine State, stopping only to visit friends along the way. He notes adjusting to Miami’s year-round warmth as one of his top achievements. Traffic, however, is still a struggle.

“It’s probably the most interesting geographic, biological and cultural contrast you can undertake in North America,” he said.

McCracken seems to be adapting well. Junior Vincent Hsu, a biology major who took McCracken’s genetics class in fall 2014, believes that McCracken has a unique approach to teaching.

“Of all the professors I’ve ever had, he’s probably the most passionate and the most open to students,” Hsu said.

After completing a class with McCracken, Hsu  stays in contact with his past professor.

“He makes it seem like we have a real connection. It’s not just in the classroom,” Hsu said. “He’s someone you can call your friend.”

February 8, 2015

Reporters

Sherman Hewitt


Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • HurricaneSports

University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga, awaiting word from the NCAA on the appeal to rei ...

The Hurricanes officially welcomed ballyhooed new quarterback Tate Martell on campus Friday, and he’ ...

Before Jess Simpson’s final playoff run as the coach of Buford fell short in a Georgia state champio ...

The Miami Hurricanes football coaching staff is officially complete. UM announced Friday that Taylor ...

The Marlins — along with a handful of other teams — haven’t signed a single player from another team ...

The University of Miami brings together leaders in academia, professional practice, and industry to ...

On Dec. 14, 2018 universal health care programs in both the United States and Mexico were dealt sign ...

For the first time in more than 15 years, two of UMTV’s weekly shows were nominated for the Televisi ...

Miami Transplant Institute performed 681 transplants during 2018, setting a new national record in k ...

Jazz aficionados launch new video series by sharing invaluable performance techniques. ...

"We're excited to welcome these coaches to the Miami family," Diaz said. ...

Canes have won six of last 10 meetings with UNC. ...

Check out the January edition of the University of Miami's e-magazine. ...

The University of Miami men's tennis team improved to 2-0 on the young season after securing a ...

The No. 17 Miami women's tennis team will play its first doubleheader of the season Saturday in ...

TMH Twitter
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.