Emily Cohen is a research ecologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center, which strives to understand and protect the grand phenomenon of bird migration. The period of a migratory bird’s annual cycle thought to be the most perilous — its twice-annual journey over oceans and inhospitable landscapes — is also the least understood. Cohen is advancing understanding of bird migration, identifying key habitats for migrants and how migration is changing.

Cohen's projects include:

  • Mapping the distribution of migratory birds around the Gulf of Mexico during spring and fall using weather radar data
  • Spring migration banding at Clive Runnels Family Mad Island Marsh Preserve
  • Large-scale band re-encounter analyses of migratory connectivity patterns for the birds of North America
  • Developing a statistical package for R, MigConnectivity, to estimate the strength of migratory connectivity — a quantitative resource available to researchers.

Cohen recently led a collaborative study that synthesized current knowledge and outlined information needs to understand the effects of migratory periods on bird populations. The focus of much of her current work is coastal habitats around the Gulf of Mexico, which provide vital resources for North America’s migratory birds during migration to wintering areas in the tropics. She is using weather radar to map stopover habitat, long-term migration banding to measure the condition of migrants and changes in the timing of migration, and stable isotopes to model the distribution of populations in those habitats. Her work is informing the management and conservation of stopover habitat around the critical Gulf of Mexico region. 

Cohen completed a bachelor’s of science in ecology and environmental biology from Appalachian State University in 1996. She received her master's in zoology from Michigan State University in 2002 and her Ph.D. in biology from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2011. She did a postdoctoral fellowship with Peter Marra at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center from 2012 to 2016 and became a research scientist at SMBC in 2017. Cohen has published papers in 14 different journals, including Biology Letters, Methods in Ecology and Evolution, and Ecological Applications.

In her spare time, Cohen enjoys hiking with friends, birding, cooking with food fresh from the garden and traveling. She lives with her husband and daughter in Takoma Park, Maryland.


R Package MigConnectivity

Migratory connectivity describes how populations overlap throughout the annual cycle. For birds, this can include phases of breeding, migrating and overwintering.

Stopover Habitat Along the Gulf of Mexico

Habitats along the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico provide critical resources for North America's migratory birds.