Erinn M. Birmingham

M.Sc. Student 
Centre for Wildlife Ecology
Department of Biological Sciences
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, BC V5A1S6

Voice: (778) 782-3065
Fax: (778) 782-3496

Research: Reproduction and immune function in songbirds exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds
* Click here to skip to my current work and research interests* 


Who am I?

My love of nature and wildlife perhaps was predetermined by my heritage. After immigrating to America, my ancestors continued to farm and enjoy the beautiful, bountiful land. Their connection to the natural world trickled down to me, through my grandparents š who owned a lakeside resort in Northern Wisconsin, and my parents š who took us to our cabin on the same lake, let us explore the woods in our backyard, and bicycled with us past dairy farms on hot July days. Surrounded by life š from pets to gardens to migrating geese, I developed beliefs and values that have helped guide me over the years. 

Books, birds, and brats at UW-Madison

My collegiate adventures began at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (go Badgers!), where I initially majored in Journalism, and later Advertising. Eventually, I decided I could help save the world (or at least try darn hard), so I switched to Wildlife Ecology, later adding Biological Aspects of Conservation (a.k.a. Conservation Biology) as a second major. While in the fantastic Wildlife Ecology Department, I had the opportunity to participate in two graduate research projects; specifically, a study of compensatory growth in food-restricted House sparrows (with Chris Lepczyk), and a study of the effects of forest structure on neotropical migrant songbird reproduction (with David Flaspohler). While avian-focused graduate research might seem like the logical next step in this story, I decided to take a breather from school after receiving my B.Sc. Thus beganá

The Boston years

The year was 1997, and I was a freshly-minted college grad in a new, exciting city. I was ready to meet any challenges head-on. First, however, I had to find an apartment. After a quick eight-month transition period, I had secured both an apartment and a great jobat Quantum Energy Technologies, an energy-related business in Kendall Square. Despite the stimulating environment and talented coworkers (many of whom were affiliated with MIT), eventually I decided to seek out new challenges. I was looking for a graduate project in wildlife toxicology, and happily found one at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.

Mastering Science at SFU

Here atSFU, I am working in the Physiological Ecology lab of Dr. Tony Williams. Within the Department of Biological Sciences, we are part of the Centre for Wildlife Ecology, a collaboration between SFU, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Natural Sciences andEngineering Research Council of Canada.


I am studying the effects of endocrine-disrupting compounds on avian immune function and reproduction. Specifically, I am interested in the effects of 4-nonylphenol,

a common aquatic pollutant with mild estrogenic (and possibly androgenic) properties, on physiological endpoints in songbirds. In the field, I work with Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) (link to Tree swallow work by CWE), while in the lab, I study Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). (See other Zebra finch work by CWE).

Cute bird: Male Tree swallow at Serpentine Fens, Surrey, B.C.

Why this project?

Concern about potential health impacts of environmental contaminants has exploded over the past decade. Much research has focused on endocrine-disrupting compounds š chemicals that interfere with normal hormonal communication (e.g., by mimicking endogenous hormones). In 1991, Soto et al.* discovered that 4-Nonylphenol, a substance leaching from polystyrene centrifuge tubes, caused proliferation of breast cancer and endometrial cells, thus defining 4-Nonylphenol as an estrogenic compound. 4-Nonylphenol and its ethoxylates are widely used by industry as surfactant products and are found in municipal and industrial effluent. 

Most studies of Nonylphenol ethoxylates have examined effects of acute, laboratory exposure in rats or aquatic species. Very little work has considered effects in terrestrial species of chronic exposure to low levels of Nonylphenol. 

*Environ. Health Perspect. 92:167-173. 1991.

Marsh: Marsh at Iona Regional Park, Richmond, B.C.,our exposure site (2000)

Project Objectives
My primary research objective is to assess immune function and reproduction in songbirds exposed to 4-NP and, in the field, other EDCs. This work involves 3 main activities: 1) Examining immunological and reproductive biomarkers 2) Assessing chemical exposure 3) Integrating biomarker and exposure information to perform a sort of ‹risk assessmentŠ for songbirds and assess the utility of these health biomarkers in studies of endocrine disruption.

Bird in hand: 9-day-old Tree swallow preparing for measurement

Conference Presentations and Posters

·Birmingham, E.M., Williams, T.D., Bishop, C.A., and Martinovic, B. 2000. Immune function in Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) nesting in contaminated habitats in Southeastern Ontario and Northern New York State. Poster presentation at Pacific Ecology Conference, Friday Harbor, WA.

·Birmingham, E.M., Williams, T.D., Elliott, J.E., and Bishop, C.A. 2000. Immunological and reproductive parameters in Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds. Platform presentation at 21st Annual Meeting of Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Nashville, TN.

*Please contact me for additional information! I‰d love to chat with you.*

Last updated on 6 Feb, 2003. Contact CWE webmaster.