Peter Marra

Head, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

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. You can also get a listing of his Jamaican publications. In addition, Pete has a profile on Google Scholar.

Pete is co-founder of Tree House Concerts, an ultimate frisbee player, avid fly fisherman and passionate cook.

Recent articles

Research projects


  • Ph.D. (1998) Dartmouth College
  • M.S. (1989) Louisiana State University

Robert Rice

Research Scientist, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

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.

Recent articles

  • 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

Research projects


  • Ph.D. (1990) University of California, Berkeley, CA

Thomas Brandt Ryder

Research Scientist, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Brandt Ryder is a research ecologist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. He earned a B.S. from Unity College in 1999 and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri in 2008. Brandt joined the Migratory Bird Center in 2008 as a postdoctoral fellow and moved into a research ecologist position with the center in 2011.

Brandt's research interests are broadly focused on the factors that influence adaptive behavioral variation, individual fitness, and population dynamics. His research integrates a diverse suite of tools including molecular, endocrine, and modeling, to answer questions about the ecology and evolution of migration, dispersal, reproductive strategies, social behavior and population demography. When possible, Brandt's research leverages novel tracking technologies (coded-tags, proximity data logging, GPS tags and geolocators) to advance our understanding of the causes and consequences of behavior, social structure and movement dynamics.

Brandt's research program spans both North and South America. In southern Indiana, he examines the local and landscape factors which are driving the population dynamics of a declining neotropical migrant species, the wood thrush. On the Channel Islands, Brandt collaborates with Scott Sillett to answer questions about how the social environment of island scrub-jays influences dispersal and recruitment. Finally, Brandt collaborates with Pete Marra on questions about how the novel selection pressures associated with urbanization impact avian vital rates and mate choice.

In Ecuador, Brandt studies of the reproductive and social behavior of a cooperative lek-breeding bird, the wire-tailed manakin. Brandt recently received an NSF with collaborators Ignacio Moore at Virginia Tech and Brent Horton at Millersville University to continue his long-term work on manakins. The NSF funded project will specifically examine the proximate links between individual variation in hormone-signaling pathways, behavioral phenotype and social network structure. Future work in South America will explore non-breeding ecology of migrant wood warblers (Blackpoll and Blackburnian) wintering in agroecosystems and a comparative study of two species in the genus Catharus to examine how long-distance migration shapes life history trade-offs.

Brandt has published papers in various journals including: Proceedings for the Royal Society, Biology Letters, Ecological Applications, Behavioral Ecology, Conservation Biology, Ecology and Evolution, etc. Brandt's publications in affiliation with the Smithsonian are listed here and his full publication list is available on Google Scholar.

When Brandt is not chasing birds, searching for nests, or analyzing data he enjoys photography, playing old-time music, running and all things Apple. Brandt lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two German Shepherds.

Research projects


  • Ph.D. (2008) University of Missouri-St. Louis

Scott Sillett

Research Scientist, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

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.

Recent articles

  • 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

Mary Deinlein

Education Specialist, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Mary is interested in environmental education; developing and implementing science-based educational materials, programs and outreach events; writing and editing nature and conservation oriented publications

Nora Diggs

Research Technician, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Nora is interested in urban ecology and stable-isotope ecology

Robert Reitsma

Research Technician, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Robert is interested in habitat selection of wintering neotropical migratory birds and use of neotropical agroforestry systems by resident and migratory birds. Bob's research interests now lie in the impact of urbanization and West Nile virus on mid-Atlantic bird communities.

Gregory Gough

Webmaster, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Milu Karp

Research Technician, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Amy Scarpignato

Research Technician, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Amy is interested in GIS and spatial analysis. Currently she is analyzing the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory encounter database of all species banded and recaptured since 1914 to produce an atlas of the migratory connectivity for the birds of North America.

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