In the Field

This wildlife biologist studies birds and landscapes.
By Cristina Fernandez
Image: Danielle Belleny standing outdoors, holding binoculars

When she was a kid, Danielle Belleny “was always outdoors, messing with plants and picking up bugs and investigating the world on my own.” She hadn’t yet heard of wildlife biology, but that’s what she was learning about. “I wanted to be a veterinarian, at first,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to work with animals, and as a kid that was the only job I knew where you could do that.” But when Belleny reached her second year of college, her dad mentioned wildlife biology as an alternative to veterinary school. 

While in college, Belleny started working on research projects. She spent a lot of time with animals in their natural environment. On one project, she studied the plants that animals eat. Another involved placing trackers on a bird called the northern bobwhite. She even spent time herding goats, as a way to maintain a grass habitat for endangered box turtles without hurting them.

These are northern bobwhites in the wild.

Belleny’s current job at Plateau Land and Wildlife Management, in Hays County, Texas, lets her split her time between the indoors and outdoors. It also lets her work with people. “In the mornings, I’m usually out the door by sunrise,” she says. She does her best to get to her survey points before the sun comes up completely. Survey points are specific locations that researchers study over time. She surveys birds, keeping track of different species. And she searches for signs of what other animals in the area are doing. “It’s basically knowing how to read the landscape,” she says, “based on what plants and different characteristics are there.”

Around lunchtime, she’ll return home and write up a report. In the afternoon, she leaves for another site visit. Landowners can request her services. She advises people on how to accommodate the wildlife that lives on their property. Her work takes her all around Texas. “[It’s] a lot of meeting new people, a lot of quick introductions, and then talking for long periods of time.” She enjoys talking about her research and collaborating.

Belleny has been birding, or birdwatching, for seven years.

Outside of work, Belleny has been birding, or birdwatching, for seven years. Her first book, This Is a Book for People Who Love Birds, was published in May 2022. Writing it allowed her to share her love of birds. Now she’s working on a children’s book about birding. It’s scheduled to come out in fall 2023.

Belleny has some advice for young people thinking about careers. “Try everything you’re interested in. You don’t know every job that exists out there, so keep asking questions.” And if you’re interested in working with animals or becoming a wildlife biologist, “Go to a library and find some field guides.” There’s a lot of information about animals out there, and books are always a good place to start.