Bob Fagen

Bob Fagen
Research Scholar
Animal Play Behavior
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My primary research interest is the biology of animal play. My book Animal Play Behavior (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1981) remains a standard reference on the topic. My current interests in animal play span the phylogenetic spectrum of playful and possibly playful species, with special emphases on birds and nonhuman mammals.

I am writing a new scholarly book on animal play.

My lab at the University of Alaska conducted a ten-year field study of play behavior in brown bears Ursus arctos on Admiralty Island, Alaska. We found that play experience increases survival in the young brown bears we studied. This finding and others reported subsequently by other researchers and on other species indicate that play has benefits that can be measured in ecological currency — survival, for example — or, less directly, in other broadly accepted fitness surrogate measures. Precise mechanisms by which play experience can or may enhance survival or other fitness proxies remain open for discussion and  scientific investigation.

I am currently editing a Special Issue of the journal ANIMALS (an open-source publication from MDPI). The title of this Special Issue is "Ontogeny, Ecology and the History of Life on Earth - Comparative, Pluralistic Perspectives". The control of ecology by development in animals is the theme of this special issue. Ecological processes and variables are recast in a lifespan perspective as active interactions between individual organisms and environment rather than simply as drivers of or expressions of conflict over limiting resources. The term "agency" is frequently used to describe such interactions. Specific topics for contributions might include, e.g., habitat, diet and foraging, social interaction, play, creativity, behavioral plasticity, and the origin and transmission of behavior that is novel within a phylogenetic lineage, species, population or deme.

For additional information and background, please consider visiting the webpage for this special issue at the following URL:

In addition to my new animal play book, my current research and writing projects include:

  • a field study of flight-bathing and flight-bathing play in Tringa sandpipers in the Juneau, Alaska area
  • tabulation and analysis of observations of brown bear play behavior involving birds, from the Admiralty Island field study noted above
  • opportunistic observations of play in Juneau-area birds, particularly Northern Ravens Corvus corax, American (“Northwestern”) Crows Corvus brachyrhynchos, and Bald Eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  • research methods in animal behavior, including data analysis and visualization, statistics, and movement notation

I am a retired University of Alaska faculty member. I currently work part-time as a technical editor-proofreader and housesitter/dogsitter/catsitter. I have studied the Lingít ("Tlingit") indigenous language of Alaska and Yukon for eight years. I have performed in local productions of the Nutcracker ballet each year since 1992.

Contact Bob at

Biology, play