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Bird researcher alarms UNG campus with unusual attire
A mockingbird scans its surroundings while perched on a tree limb. Janice Crook-Hill, a faculty member and ornithologist at University of North Georgia-Dahlonega’s campus, alarmed passersby with her research garb. She donned a Ronald Reagan mask while observing the birds in the bushes near Owen Hall on campus, as part of study into whether mockingbirds recognize human faces. - photo by NCTC Image Library

To University of North Georgia students at the Dahlonega campus, fear not: Someone in a Ronald Reagan mask lurking in the bushes is simply a professor doing research about birds.

A call came into campus police at 10:36 a.m. Monday regarding a suspicious man wearing a mask, a Hawaiian shirt and khaki pants in the bushes near Owen Hall. A camera, according to the report, was strapped to his chest.

The lookout was canceled after it was determined to be female faculty member Janice Crook-Hill.

She and the 21 students of her ornithology class are studying whether mockingbirds can recognize faces.

“Apparently somebody saw me approaching one of the nests this morning when I was wearing a mask and so reported it as seeming suspicious, which I can see why it would have seemed suspicious,” she said Monday afternoon.

For consistency’s sake, she and her students use Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton masks when approaching the nests.

“So rather than scary monsters, we’re trying to get something that looks pretty much like human faces,” Crook-Hill said. “So of course politician masks are the ones that are readily available.”

Crook-Hill, who clarified she was wearing a floral shirt and had binoculars, not a camera, said the research focuses on facial recognition as a perceived threat. The results have been mixed so far.

“We want to see if they are recognizing a specific individual who has previously posed a threat and they only respond really aggressively to that person or if they respond just to any human after they’ve been sort of harrassed,” Crook-Hill said.