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 5 research scientists on staff.
As a postdoctoral fellow working in Panama, Russ discovered that many kinds of migratory birds, some of them suffering population declines, overwintered in certain agricultural areas, habitats not thought to be particularly good for birds.
His research in shade grown coffee led to the Bird Friendly® coffee program, an effort to provide forested sanctuaries for migratory birds. Shade grown cacao and semi-forested cattle pastures are other tropical habitats where Russ has done research.
Russ is currently studying the rusty blackbird, which may be declining faster than any other North American songbird. He is collaborating with researchers to discover the causes, and hopefully the remedies, for this decline.
He is also researching poorly-known subspecies of birds like the coastal plain swamp sparrow and the Atlantic song sparrow. The discovery of the previously unknown winter range of the coastal plain swamp sparrow was accomplished through the use of some serious sleuthing.
And finally Russ has delved into the psychology of birds and discovered that migratory birds and resident birds view their worlds quite differently and this may have an impact on their long-term survival.
Peter is interested in isolating the factors that control population abundance in migratory and resident birds.
Dr. Marra is one of the few ornithologists to study urban ecology. He created the Neighborhood Nestwatch program which encourages citizen scientists to help collect data on the survival and productivity of birds found in Washington, D.C. area backyards.
He also studies migratory biology with a focus on the American redstart. Jamaica is the site of his long-running winter studies on this bird. Peter has discovered that there are profound links between the redstart's overwinter behavior and its success as a breeder the following summer.
The study of emerging infectious diseases, West Nile Virus, for example, has also been a focus of his research.
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.
Thomas Brandt is interested in reproductive strategies of birds. My current study on gray catbirds examines how landscape connectivity and urbanization influence rates of extra-pair paternity among populations.
The impact of anthropogenic activities on biological diversity and ecosystem processes are well established. Human activities remove natural habitat, modify vegetative structure and often introduce non-native species.
Despite the extent of change resulting from human landscape modification many wildlife species still thrive in urban environments. Both migratory and non-migratory birds are an essential component of urban wildlife communities.
The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has contributed significantly to our understanding of how urbanization affects the ecology of birds through its citizen science project entitled Neighborhood Nestwatch.
To date, however, our understanding of how human activities and landscape modification affect evolutionary processes remains poorly understood. Examining micro-evolutionary processes in long-lived animals can be challenging because it requires the ability to measure change in response to different environmental conditions.
The urbanization gradient provides those different environmental conditions and molecular tools enable us to quantify potential differences in repro-ductive strategies. As such, studying mate choice patterns and the sexual selection associated with it provide tractable metrics for investigating the impact of urbanization on micro-evolutionary process.
Over the past 10 years scientists have redefined how they think about the mating systems of birds. The advent and application of molecular tools are largely responsible for the advances in our understanding of avian reproductive strategies.
The long held view was one of social monogamy in which a male and female formed seasonal pair bonds. The rise of molecular ecology produced the realization, however, that nearly all species examined have different genetic mating systems from their social mating system.
Molecular investigations of avian mating tactics now show that 85% of species studied engage in mating outside the pair bond. Data demonstrate that birds are regularly unfaithful to social partners with the result that males may feed offspring belonging to other males.
The revelation that extra-pair behavior is common in birds has sparked extensive research on mechanisms that drive variation among populations and the adaptive significance of such behavior.
Here, building upon the Neighborhood Nestwatch project, we will examine how urbanization influences reproductive strategies of the gray catbird (Dumatella carolinensis).
Specifically, we will examine how novel selection pressures associated with habitat modification impact mate choice patterns. Furthermore, our study is designed to investigate the underlying mechanisms driving variation in rates of extra-pair paternity along the urban to rural gradient.
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.
And in the interior of the continent he has begun an intensive demography study of the wood thrush in Indiana.