The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center is considered a national and international leader in the biology and conservation of migratory birds.
We train the next generation of ornithologists by sponsoring both undergraduate and graduate students at collaborating institutions (where we have adjunct faculty status), as well as in-house post-doctoral fellows.
There are currently 4 research scientists on staff.
Pete Marra is the Head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. He earned an M.S. from Louisiana State University in 1989, a Ph.D. from Dartmouth College in 1998 and has been a conservation scientist at the Smithsonian Institution's Conservation Biology Institute since 1999.
Pete's research in avian conservation science has three broad themes, including the ecology of migratory birds, urban ecosystem ecology, and disease ecology. His primary interests lie in understanding the factors that control population persistence and dynamics so Pete's research examines the roles of climate, habitat, food and pathogens as well as other direct sources of mortality on the individual condition of both individual migratory and resident birds and their populations. His research is both fundamental and applied and emphasizes incorporating events throughout the annual cycle to understand how more complex interactions across seasons drive the ecology and evolution of life history strategies. To that end, Pete is ambitiously pursuing technological solutions to track animals (dragonflies to bats) throughout their lifetimes.
Pete has founded several large research and communication initiatives including Neighborhood Nestwatch, The Migratory Connectivity Project and the Animal Mortality and Monitoring Program. Communicating his science and his excitement for the conservation of wildlife to as wide an audience as possible, including the general public, is a high priority of his overall program.
Pete and his students, post docs and colleagues have published their papers in Science, Nature, PNAS, PLOS Biology, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Ecology, Ecological Monographs, Conservation Biology, Biological Conservation and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Full listing of Pete's publications. Pete also has a profile on Google Scholar.
Pete is co-founder of Tree House Concerts, an ultimate frisbee player, avid fly fisherman and passionate cook.
- Bird—building collisions in the United States: Estimates of annual mortality and species vulnerability
- Human-Modified Habitats Shape Bird Mating Patterns
- Scientists Find That Rain May Not Always Be a Welcome Thing to Waterbirds
- Neighborhood Nestwatch
- Migratory Connectivity Project
- Modeling Source-Sink Dynamics of the Wood Thrush
- The role of Density dependent and density independent factors in driving performance in the American redstart
- Partners in The Sky
- Tracking Animal Mortality and Morbidity for the surveillance of disease and poaching
- Long-distance dispersal in a migratory bird
- Mining a USGS Hidden Treasure: Using Untapped Data from the Bird Banding Laboratory to Define Migratory Connectivity of the Birds of North America
- Quantifying Anthropogenic Mortality in the Birds of the United States
- Ph.D. (1998) Dartmouth College
- M.S. (1989) Louisiana State University
Robert is interested in agroecology and land use policy issues in Central America and Mexico.
Dr. Rice heads up the Bird Friendly® coffee program. A coffee farm that has been certified as Bird Friendly® maintains a forest-like sanctuary for migratory birds that overwinter in the canopy of trees that shelter and nourish the coffee shrubs below.
Bob is also interested in another tropical food crop, cacao (the source of chocolate), that might also be grown in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Recently, Dr. Rice has been involved with research into the use of plants as biofuels, and their potential as bird habitat.
- Fruit Production in Shade Grown Coffee Farms
- Shaded Coffee Farms Provide Secondary Income for Farmers: Wood
- Coffee Farms in Chiapas, Mexico
- Coffee Overproduction: An Opportunity for Biodiversity Conservation
- Ph.D. (1990) University of California, Berkeley, CA
Thomas Brandt Ryder
Brandt is interested in understanding the factors that influence adaptive behavioral variation, individual fitness, and population dynamics. His research uses birds as a model system to answer questions about movement ecology, sexual selection, social behavior and population demography.
Dr. Ryder's research program spans both North and South America. In southern Indiana, Brandt leads a landscape scale study examining the local and landscape factors which, are driving the population dynamics of a declining neotropical migrant, the wood thrush. On the Channel Islands, Dr. Ryder collaborates with Dr. Sillett to answer questions about how the social environment of island scrub-jays influences dispersal and recruitment. Finally, Brandt collaborates with Dr. Marra on questions about how the novel selection pressures associated with urbanization impact avian vital rates and mate choice.
In Ecuador, Dr. Ryder continues a long-term study of the reproductive and social behavior of a cooperative lek-breeding bird, the wire-tailed manakin. Brandt recently received NSF support to examine the proximate links between individual variation in hormone-signaling pathways, behavioral phenotype and social network structure. Future work in South America will focus on the non-breeding ecology of neotropical migrant birds wintering in intact primary forest vs. agro-ecosystems (e.g., shade grown cacao and coffee).
- Human-Modified Habitats Shape Bird Mating Patterns
- Migratory Connectivity
- It's Catbirds vs. Cats…and the Cats Are Winning
- Backyard Bird Nest Survival in Cities and Country
- Ph.D. (2008) University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
Scott is interested in how events throughout the annual cycle of migratory birds are interconnected and how multiple mechanisms, both natural and human-related, operate to limit and regulate these bird populations.
Dr. Sillett's research spans North America. His long-running (begun in the 1960s) research in the White Mountains of New Hampshire focuses on the black-throated blue warbler. One of his most famous discoveries was the link between warbler population cycles and the El Niño climate phenomenon.
At the other end of the continent Scott is studying rare and vulnerable birds, such as the island scrub-jay and dusky orange-crowned warbler, that inhabit the remote Channel Islands off California.
And in the interior of the continent he has begun an intensive demography study of the wood thrush in Indiana.
- New Population Statistics Reveal Island Scrub-Jay Among United States' Rarest Bird Species
- A Second Home May Shore up Island Scrub Jay's Future
- Web-based Teaching Module on Black-throated Blue Warblers
- Birds and Bugs and Plants
- Ph.D. (2000) in Biology, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
- M.S. (1992) in Zoology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
- B.A. (1989) in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ