Heather Wilson

woman sitting on a float plane
Pilot Biologist - Waterfowl

Migratory Bird Management
1011 E. Tudor Rd., MS 201
Anchorage, AK 99503
United States

Contact Heather Wilson

Fill out the form below to send a message.

If you would like a response, please provide your name and email address. If you are a minor, please get your parent’s or guardian’s help to contact us.

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

For more on what we do with information you provide and how we protect your privacy, see our privacy statement.


About Heather Wilson

Heather Wilson, Ph.D., is a wildlife biologist/airplane pilot for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Migratory Bird Management (MBM), in Anchorage, Alaska.  She holds a B.A. in Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; where her doctoral research focused on the population ecology of Pacific common eiders on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska.  After several years of working as a field biologist in North, Central, and South America (focused on neo-tropical migratory birds and bats), Heather moved to Alaska in 2001. The next year, she became a private airplane pilot, adding commercial, instrument, and float ratings in 2008. As one of two biologist-pilots for Migratory Bird Management in Alaska, Heather flies surveys throughout the state; from the Alaska Peninsula, to the Yukon Delta, to the North Slope. She is currently the project lead/pilot-observer on the Alaska Winter and Fall Brant Surveys (Cold Bay), Copper River Delta Dusky Canada Goose Breeding Pair Survey (Cordova), Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Breeding Pair Survey (Bethel), YKD Brant Colony Photo Survey (Bethel), the Arctic Coastal Plain Breeding Pair Survey (Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, Atqasuk), and assists with the North American Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, Teshekpuk Lake Molting Goose Survey, and Greater White-fronted Goose banding. Most of the surveys she flies serve as the primary population indices for Pacific Flyway and Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council, as well as Threatened and Endangered Species management plans.  When not flying surveys, Heather is busy compiling data, writing reports, and preparing for more surveys!  She likes to spend her off-time hiking, hunting, fishing, flying, and playing music with her family.

Selected Publications

Stillman, R. A., E. M. Rivers, W. Gilkerson, K. A. Wood, B. A. Nolet, P. Clausen, H. M. Wilson, and D. H. Ward.2021. Predicting impacts of food competition, climate, and disturbance on a long-distance migratory herbivore. Ecosphere 12(3):e03405. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.3405.

Uher-Koch, B. D., R. M. Buchheit, C. R. Eldermire, H. M. Wilson, N. A. Rojek, and J. A. Schmutz. 2020. Shifts in wintering distribution and abundance of emperor geese in Alaska. Global Ecology and Conservation 25 (2021) e01397. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01397.

Uher-Koch, B. D., J. A. Schmutz, H. M. Wilson, R. Michael Anthony, T. L. Day, T. F. Fondell, B. T. Person, and J. S. Sedinger. 2019. Ecosystem scale loss of grazing habitat impacted by abundance of dominant herbivores. Ecosphere 10: 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.2767.

Amundson, C. L., P. L. Flint, R. A. Stehn, R. M. Platte, H. M. Wilson, W. W. Larned and J. B. Fischer. 2019. Spatio-temporal population change of Arctic-breeding waterbirds on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska. Avian Conservation and Ecology 14 (1):18. https://doi.org/10.5751/ACE-01383-140118.

Sedinger, J. S., C. A. Nicolai, A. W. VanDellen, A. G. Leach, H. M. Wilson, and R. Michael Anthony. 2016. Predation and reduced grazing interact to reduce recruitment and population growth in Black Brant. Condor 118: 433-444. https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-15-109.1.

Ely, C. R., W. J. L. Sladen, H. M. Wilson, S. E. Savage, K. M. Sowl, B. Henry, M. Schwitters, and J. Snowden. 2014. Delineation of Tundra Swan Cygnus c. columbianus populations in North America: geographic boundaries and interchange. Wildfowl 2014: 132-147. pdf.

Wilson H. M., J. S. Hall, P. L. Flint, J. C. Franson, C. R. Ely, J. A. Schmutz, M. D. Samuel. 2013. High seroprevalence of antibodies to avian influenza viruses among wild waterfowl in Alaska: Implications for surveillance. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58308. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0058308.

Wilson, H. M., P. L. Flint, A. N. Powell, J. B. Grand, and T. L. Moran. 2012.Population ecology of Pacific common eiders on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Wildlife Monographs 182:1-28. https://doi.org/10.1002/wmon.8.

Petersen, M. R., D. C. Douglas, H. M. Wilson, and S. McCloskey. 2012. Effects of sea ice on winter site fidelity evident among Pacific common eiders. The Auk 129(3):399-408. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26607729.

Milani, J. F., H. M. Wilson, M. H. Ziccardi, R. B. LeFebvre, and C. A. Scott. 2012. Hematology, plasma chemistry, and bacteriology of wild tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) in Alaska. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 48:212-215. https://doi.org/10.7589/0090-3558-48.1.212.

Schamber, J. L., P. L. Flint., J. B. Grand, H. M. Wilson, and J. A. Morse. 2009. Population dynamics of Long-tailed Ducks breeding on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Arctic 62 (2): 190-200. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40513287.

Wilson, H. M. 2007. Population ecology of Pacific common eiders on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Dissertation, University of Alaska, Fairbanks: 204 pp. http://hdl.handle.net/11122/7005.

Wilson, H. M., P. L. Flint, and A. N. Powell. 2007.Coupling contaminants with demography: Effects of lead and selenium in Pacific common eiders. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 26(7):1410-1417. https://doi.org/10.1897/06-537R.1.

Wilson, H. M., P. L. Flint, T. L. Moran, and A. N. Powell. 2007.Survival of breeding Pacific common eiders on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Journal of Wildlife Management 71(2):403-410. https://doi.org/10.2193/2005-776.

Wilson, H. M., J. L. Oyen, and L. Sileo. 2004. Lead shot poisoning of a Pacific loon in Alaska. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 40:600-602. https://doi/org/10.7589/0090-3558-40.3.600.

Hollmen, T. E., J. C. Franson, P. L. Flint., J. B. Grand, R. B. Lanctot, D. C. Docherty, and H. M. Wilson. 2004. An adenovirus linked to mortality and disease in Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) in Alaska.  Avian Diseases 47(4):1434-1440. https://doi.org/10.1637/7029.

Wilson, H. M., Petersen, M. R., and D. Troy. 2004. Concentrations of heavy metals and trace elements in king and spectacled eiders in northern Alaska.  Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 23(2):408–414. https://doi.org/10.1897/03-21.

Popular articles and Media Outlets

Springer, E. March 2020. “Counting Birds at the End of the World: Flying biologist Heather Wilson’s unique skills take her to the Alaskan skies”. Vogue Magazine (Online), Culture Section. https://www.vogue.com/article/heather-wilson-biologist-pilot-alaska.

Schmitt, K. A. Jan. 2017. “This Biologist Defies Gravity (and Glass Ceilings) to Document the Effects of Climate Change: As one of five American women in this role, Heather Wilson blends aviation and birds to bolster climate change climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's climate system and caused change on a global scale.

Learn more about climate change
Smithsonian Magazine (Online), “The Age of Humans (Living in the Anthropocene)” Series. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/meet-woman-who-blends-flying-and-biology-180962207/

Schmitt, K. A. Feb. 16, 2017. The Alaskan Pilot-Biologist on the Front Line of Climate Change: Heather Wilson. Outside Magazine (Online), “How I Work: Lessons for Living the Dream” Series. https://www.outsideonline.com/2149331/alaskan-pilot-biologist-sees-climate-change-firsthand

Gordon, Stephani. "Chasing Birds in Beringia – Short Film". 2010. Featured on Terra 2010. Winner of the John Wesley Powell Science Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival, NYC 2011.

Winter Survey and Increasing Population of Pacific Black Brant - Educational Video. March 3 2017. Educational video compiling imagery, video, audio, and text collected and designed by the 2017 Winter Izembek Brant Survey crew (H. Wilson and W. Larned) and Tim Bowman.  Coordinated by Andrea Mederios (USFWS external affairs)

USFWS Science Women - Heather Wilson - Wildlife Biologist/Pilot

Wander Women Podcast - Interview with Pilot/Biologist Heather Wilson

Areas of expertise

From The Library

Survey area for the Arctic Coastal Plain Breeding Pair survey in Alaska.

In The News