Brett Klaassen Van Oorschot

Ph.D. Student

Phone: (406) 243-6834

Personal Website

Personal Summary

I am interested in the biomechanics and aeroecology of flight. I started working in the flight lab as an undergraduate and have been fortunate enough to continue my work here as a graduate student. I’d like to end up as a professor teaching biology, with a strong emphasis on experiential learning and fostering collaboration between seemingly disparate fields like physics and biology.

For fun, you’ll find me flying my paraglider over Mt. Sentinel or riding one of the many mountain bike trails around Missoula. I’m an avid climber and skier. I also love building, breaking, and fixing things.


Ph.D. student at University of Montana, 2011 – present
B.A. in Organismal Biology & Ecology, University of Montana, 2006 – 2011

Research Interests

I’m interested in how birds and other flying organisms have adapted to life in the air. Birds have unique adaptations to minimize the costs of flight. However, the costs of flight are not uniform and can vary based on species-specific ecological pressures. If ecological pressures were uniform, bird wings would converge on a single, best-possible wing design. Instead, wings span a range of morphologies that allows birds to specialize in ecological niches. For example, oceanic birds (e.g. albatross) have pointed wings believed to be optimized for fast horizontal winds while over-land soaring birds (e.g. eagles) have emarginated or splayed wings thought to make use of thermal updrafts. Birds that fly over land and water (e.g. herons) have intermediate wing morphologies. In this way, the wing morphology of flying birds varies along a “wing continuum” that is thought to be driven by species-specific ecological and aerodynamic pressures. However, this continuum has never been formally described and the mechanisms which influence it have not been tested. My research will elucidate how wing morphology affects flight performance, and, in turn, how ecology influences wing morphology.


Crino O, Klaassen Van Oorschot B, Malisch J, Williams C, Breuner C. (2010). Proximity to a high-traffic road: physiological and life-history consequences for nestling white-crowned sparrows. General Comparative Endocrinology. (In press).

Klaassen Van Oorschot B,Tobalske B. (2010). The aerodynamic effects of splayed primary feathers. Integrative & Comparative Biology. (Abstract).

Grants / Fellowships/ Awards

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
  • Sigma Xi Outstanding Senior Award
  • 2010 Montana Integrative Learning Experience Grant
  • 2009 Montana Integrative Learning Experience Grant
  • Office of Research and Educational Opportunities Symposium 1st Place Award
  • Office of Research and Educational Opportunities SICB Travel Grant
  • UW Undergraduate Research Convention Travel Grant
  • Oregon State University Research Symposium Notable Speaker Award