Postdoctoral Scholars Program

Current Postdocs

Marcelo Araya-Salas/postdoc 2016   Postdoc Araya-Salas hummer project

Recordinig at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica. Photo by Maxime Alliaga.

  Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris) at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica. Photo by Maxime Alliaga.

Marcelo Araya-Salas, 2016-present

Marcelo's research focuses on using Neotropical study systems and novel analytical methods to evaluate ideas in behavioral and evolutionary biology. His first paper examined the harmonic content in Nightingale Wren songs, which provided no support to a long-standing belief in the musicality of bird song. He recently co-authored two studies on hummingbird behavior, derived from his Ph.D. research, showing for the first time that 1) their bills have adapted to serve as weapons in agonistic encounters and 2) hummingbirds exhibit open-ended vocal learning. He also co-authored a recent study suggesting that vocal learning does not seem to accelerate the evolution of acoustic signals in Neotropical parrots. He plans to continue this research as a postdoctoral associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, evaluating whether cultural transmission can promote signal divergence and clade diversification over evolutionary time.

Marcelo has also been involved in the development of computational tools for the analysis of animal vocalizations on the R platform. He and his collaborators have made available an R package (warbleR, that provides tools to streamline high-throughput acoustic analysis of animal sounds. Owing to this experience, he has provided training opportunities in animal communication research in regional (Central America) and international conferences.



2016 postdoc   Baltimore and Bullock's orioles 

Shawn holding a Semipalmated
Plover in Churchill, Manitoba. Photo by Andy Johnson.


Baltimore Oriole (left) by Bryan Hix; Bullock's Oriole by Ganesh Jayaraman, both via BirdShare.

Shawn Billerman, 2016-present

Shawn is broadly interested in understanding patterns of avian speciation. His research takes advantage of museum collections, and focuses on using hybrid zones to understand how intrinsic and extrinsic processes have influenced how and where species hybridize, and ultimately what factors are important to understanding reproductive isolation.

At Cornell, Shawn will be studying hybridization across five different hybrid zones from the Great Plains of North America. The birds that hybridize in this region that will be part of Shawn’s research include Indigo and Lazuli buntings, Rose-breasted and Black-headed grosbeaks, Eastern and Spotted towhees, Baltimore and Bullock’s orioles, and Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted flickers. Shawn will use genomic data from specimens in the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates, as well as climate models to understand the important factors that have shaped these co-occurring hybrid zones. At Cornell, Shawn will be working with Dr. Irby Lovette and the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program, and is funded by an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Prior to starting his postdoctoral work at Cornell, Shawn received his Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming in 2016, working with Dr. Matt Carling. For his dissertation research, Shawn studied the factors that contribute to movement of a hybrid zone between Red-naped and Red-breasted Sapsuckers in the Pacific Northwest. 


 Lilly Briggs     Briggs_Guatemala

Photo by Lilly Briggs.


Lilly Briggs going birding with young Q'eqchi' Maya women in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Photo by Kevin Vande Vusse.

Lilly Briggs, 2016-present

As a postdoctoral associate, I will focus on research and program development involving continued collaboration with the Education and Citizen Science programs, to help expand, enhance, and evaluate the Lab’s educational efforts with underserved audiences, particularly in Latin America.  

As part of my Masters of Environmental Studies degree at York University in Toronto, Canada, I collaborated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to conduct the first field test of a Latin American version of the Education program’s environmental education and citizen-science curriculum, BirdSleuth. While pursuing my Ph.D. in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University, I remained actively involved in further developing the BirdSleuth-International program. My work included co-writing the official BirdSleuth-International curriculum, as well as organizing and delivering workshops throughout seven different countries in Latin America for formal and informal educators on the use of the curriculum and participation in eBird. 

Increasing evidence suggests that certain place attachments and place meanings-–which together form an individual’s sense of place-–can have a positive influence on pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors. I sought to build upon previous work in this emerging area of inquiry through qualitative research among the Q’eqchi’ Maya of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, with a particular focus on the young female Q’eqchi’ participants in an environmental education and youth development program called Women, Agroecology, and Leadership for Conservation (WALC), facilitated annually by Community Cloud Forest Conservation. In conducting my research, I not only examined the many environmental and social impacts of the WALC program on participants and their communities, but also investigated young Q’eqchi’ women’s sense of place, as well as why they are motivated to engage in environmental stewardship practices.


Adriaan Dokter    birds on wx radar

Adriaan with a Dark-bellied Brent Goose.
Photo by Jan Ellens.

  Weather radar has become a useful tool in
migration studies.

Adriaan Dokter, 2016-present

Adriaan is an ecologist with a background in physics, and an interest in animal movement and foraging ecology. His research bridges the disciplines of ecology, computer science, physics, and meteorology, addressing questions about the effects of global change on the distribution and seasonal migration of birds.

At the Cornell Lab of ornithology, Adriaan is studying the migration corridors of small songbirds at the scale of a full continent. A large-scale perspective on population abundances at the scale of continents is still largely missing, but is within reach now, using meteorological weather radar networks in migration ecology and the latest advances in cloud computing technologies. By estimating from radar network data how many birds are moving in and out of large-scale regions, Adriaan aims to understand the drivers of annual patterns in bird abundance, reproduction, and mortality.

After receiving his Ph.D. at the Institute of Atomic and Molecular Physics in Amsterdam, Adriaan has worked on studying animal movement during postdoctoral appointments at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, the University of Amsterdam, and the Netherlands Meteorological Institute. Adriaan has a continuing interest in understanding the role of individual decision making as a constituent of large-scale movement patterns, which he explored in individual tracking studies on Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Eurasian Oystercatchers.



 Natalia Garcia     Natalia Garcia

Natalia holding a Nine-band Armadillo in
Treinta y Tres, Uruguay. Photo by Ana Barreira.

  Releasing a Rufous-bellied Thrush from a
mist-net in the Centro de Investigaciones
Antonia Ramos (CIAR), Misiones, Argentina.
Photo by Ana Barreira.

Natalia Garcia, 2018

Natalia is broadly interested in the evolution of acoustic and visual communication in birds. Particularly, she has studied the effect of morphological constraints in the evolution of communication signals and the evolutionary drivers of sexual dichromatism. She is also interested in studying the relationship between divergent phenotypes and the genetic architectures that generate them, specifically from the point of view of achieving a better understanding of the speciation process.

At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology she will be looking for differentiated areas of the genome between pairs of sister species of Empidonax flycatchers that are phenotypically almost identical yet can be identified by their diagnostic songs. As vocalizations are innate in these species, she hopes to find areas of the genome that are related to differences in their songs.

Before starting her postdoc at the Cornell Lab, Natalia spent two years as a postdoc in the Argentine Museum of Natural History in Buenos Aires. Natalia obtained her Ph.D. in 2016 from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She studied song and plumage color variation in the "blue clade" of the Cardinalidae family (buntings and grosbeaks of the Amaurospiza, Cyanocompsa, Cyanoloxia and Passerina genera). Working in a museum has had a deep impact on her life. Natalia is fascinated by the many interesting questions that can be answered doing collection-based research. But she also really enjoys going into the field, so she tries to integrate both approaches to study different aspects of birds’ behavior, evolution and systematics.



Ryan Germain 2018    Male Song Sparrow

Ryan advocating a relaxed approach to nest-
searching on Mandarte Island, British
Columbia. Photo by Kathrin Näpflin.


Male song sparrow. Photo by Ryan Germain.

Ryan Germain, 2017-present

Ryan’s research focuses on understanding the sources of variation in individual life histories, and the consequences of this variation for mating system evolution. To address these questions, he primarily uses longterm field studies to determine the relative effects of environmental, genetic, and among-individual variation on reproductive success, survival, and population relatedness structure.

Ryan’s work at the Lab of Ornithology will involve determining the drivers of selection within populations of migratory songbirds and resident, cooperative breeders. Specifically, he is interested in how broad-scale environmental variation and the quality of a male’s habitat can influence the expression of sexual signals and ultimately promote increased reproductive success.

Prior to joining the Cornell Lab, Ryan conducted postdoctoral work at the University of Aberdeen, investigating the effects of female multiple mating (polyandry) on the potential for inbreeding among her descendants in future generations. Ryan received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia investigating the effects of habitat versus among-individual and genetic variation on measures of fitness in song sparrows, and his M.Sc. from Queen’s University studying delayed plumage and song maturation in American Redstarts.




Daniela in Bateke Plateau National Park in
Gabon where she was working as a
biomonitoring coordinator. Photo by Matthieu


Forest elephants at Dzanga Bai in the Dzanga
Sangha Reserve in the Central African Republic.
Photo by Daniela Hedwig.

Daniela Hedwig, 2016-present

As a postdoc with the Elephant Listening Project, Daniela will use passive acoustic monitoring to investigate elephant abundance and activity in relation to signs of human encroachment, develop a warning system to mitigate human-elephant conflict and support anti-poaching patrols, and to investigate the function of forest elephant vocalizations. The conservation status of African forest elephants is rapidly becoming catastrophic. Fuelled by the illegal poaching for ivory, the loss of habitat and conflicts with people, the population size of African forest elephants has seen a devastating decline by more than 60% within just 10 years.

Daniela’s passion for the conservation of African wildlife has led her to co-initiate community outreach projects in collaboration with national authorities, NGOs, and the private sector. She spearheaded a long-term biomonitoring program for The Aspinall Foundation in the Bateke Plateau National Park in Gabon, a landscape heavily influenced by human encroachment. Most recently she was working with WWF Germany on wildlife crime related issues, particularly regarding the ongoing African elephant poaching crisis.

Daniela received her Ph.D. from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany where she studied the vocal behavior of wild western gorillas in Central African Republic and mountain gorillas in Uganda.


Daniel Hooper    Daniel Hooper  

Daniel holding a Tui at Nga Manu Nature
Reserve, New Zealand.
Photo by Daniel Hooper.


Long-tailed Finch at Kidman Springs Research
Station,Northern Territory, Australia.
Photo by Daniel Hooper.

Daniel Hooper, 2017-present

My research interests are focused on understanding the evolutionary significance of chromosome inversions to the process of speciation. Speciation is associated with not just the accumulation of molecular changes but also with regulatory changes in gene expression and structural changes, such as chromosomal inversions–structural rearrangements to the order and recombination landscape of genes on a chromosome. Because the speciation process is protracted, it appears that gene flow among incipient species is common, and often influences the generation of reproductive isolation. Gene flow generally acts to homogenize differences between diverging populations but it can, paradoxically, play a creative role in speciation by promoting the evolution of chromosome inversions that encompass and keep together sets of locally adapted genes. 

Within the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I will be working with Dr. Irby Lovette and the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program in order to examine the interplay between structural and functional evolution throughout the speciation process. I will study divergence in sexually dimorphic gene expression, the large-Z effect, and chromosome inversion evolution using genomic and transcriptomic data from members of the Australian grassfinches (order Estrildidae) with emphasis on the hybrid zone between subspecies of the Long-tailed Finch (Poephila acuticauda). 

While a Ph.D. student in Trevor Price’s lab at the University of Chicago, I examined the evolutionary history of chromosome inversion evolution across the order Passeriformes broadly and at greater depth via a comparative genomic approach in the Australian grassfinches. I found that chromosome inversions evolve often in passerines, more frequently on the sex chromosomes, and appear to be intimately linked with speciation when it occurs with gene flow. 



Kyle Horton with owls   Chestnut-sided Warbler

Kyle with Northern Saw-whet Owls. Photo by Tom LeBlanc.


Chestnut-sided Warbler by Kyle Horton.

Kyle Horton, 2017-present

Kyle’s research focuses on avian migration systems to answer broad behavioral questions about how migrants orient and navigate to and from their wintering and breeding grounds. His work integrates multiple sensor systems including radar, acoustics, thermal imaging, and citizen-science records. His work to date has examined wind drift compensation, migrant airspace usage, and large-scale phenological patterns of nocturnal migrants.  

No single tool addresses the quantification and identification challenges of sampling inflight migratory movements. Rather, efficient, detailed analysis of large-scale movements is reliant on the integration and contribution of complementary data streams. For example, radar and imaging devices can track nocturnal migration and provide details of in-flight behaviors, yet both are limited in that they cannot confidently provide species identity. The recording of flight calls offers a reliable method for identifying species actively migrating at night. With recent advances at the Lab of Ornithology in the automation of detection and classification algorithms, studies pairing acoustic monitoring with remote- sensing networks like weather surveillance radar are poised to address core migration questions with implications for global conservation. His work at the Lab will take advantage of the vast and mostly untapped resources of acoustic records and weather surveillance radar, to illuminate the composition, timing, density, direction, speed, and altitude of nocturnal movements of migratory birds.

Kyle received a B.S. in Biology from Canisius College in 2011, an M.S. in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Delaware in 2013, and a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2017.


eBird     08_Sapsuckers

Conducting field work in Borneo. Photo by Justin Hite.


 Female Little Hermit Hummingbird in Trinidad.
 Photo by Julian Kapoor.

Julian Kapoor, 2016-present

Julian is a musician and avid naturalist who has long been deeply fascinated by the seemingly endless variety inherent in the songs of birds. Despite this diversity in the form and function of birdsong, in-depth studies of the evolution of avian vocal behavior tend to be restricted to a subset of species (oscine passerines, or “typical” songbirds) that share similar life histories (temperate, socially monogamous, and territorial). HIs goal, as an organismal biologist and behavioral ecologist, is to study the evolution of vocal communication, especially learned song, in “non-traditional” taxa with less well-studied life histories to identify unifying themes in the evolution of vocal learning and signal diversity. He will conduct these studies using a combination of observational and experimental field studies, mathematical modeling, molecular genetics, and by developing cutting edge sound analysis and radio telemetry tools.

His recent work has focused on the evolution of vocal plasticity, learning, and cultural evolution among species with lek and lek-like mating systems, where intense sexual selection is thought to have led to stunning elaboration of male sexual signals (including song). As an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, and then a visiting researcher at the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology, he studied the development of coordinated duets among lekking male Lance-tailed Manakins (Chiroxiphia lanceolata) in Panama, and in collaboration with Dr. Emily DuVal. As a graduate student in the department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, he first studied the evolution of vocal learning in lekking Bearded Bellbirds (Procnias averano) in Venezuela before focusing his primary dissertation work on the functional significance of microgeographic dialects in lekking Little Hermit Hummingbirds (Phaethornis longuemareus) in Trinidad.

As a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab, he is part of the Webster lab and will study the influence of social information on the use of vocal and visual displays in the temporary lek-like aggregations of Red-backed Fairy-wrens (Malurus melanocephalus) that form during the pre-breeding season in Australia.



At work in the field while studying cooperative nest construction among Sociable Weavers.


Sociable Weavers create large, multi-chambered nests that can house as many as 100 pairs of birds. Photo by Rul Ornelas

Gavin Leighton, 2015-present

Gavin is behavioral ecologist with a background in animal behavior, population genetics, individual-based modeling, and sexual selection. Gavin is interested in both the evolutionary mechanisms that maintain sociality and the resultant effects of sociality on behavior. Gavin will expand on his previous research by using comparative methods to understand how sociality influences vocalizations in avian species.

Gavin received his Ph.D. from the University of Miami in 2015. His dissertation investigated the evolutionary maintenance of cooperative nest construction in Sociable Weavers. Gavin is currently a PERT Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Arizona. He is now performing RNA sequencing work and colony manipulations to understand division of labor in ants.

Gavin was awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology from 2015 to 2017. Gavin will continue to pursue his interests in social behavior and group dynamics by utilizing sounds in the Macaulay Library to investigate how bird vocalizations change due to the evolution of sociality.




Rusty with a Bradypodion transvaalense, the
Transvaal dwarf chameleon. Photo by Ryan

  A currently unnamed species of dwarf
chameleon. Photo by Russell Ligon.

Russell Ligon, 2015-present

Rusty is interested in understanding the causes and consequences of complexity in animal signaling systems. His dissertation work at Arizona State University was focused on understanding the dynamic color signals used by chameleons to communicate. After completing his Ph.D. work, Rusty received a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to undertake work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology studying the evolution of extreme displays in the birds of paradise. Rusty continues to tackle these questions and has also undertaken a new project designed to examine the territorial marking and singing behavior of house mice in Mike Sheehan's lab in Cornell University's Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. Website



Vicki Martin. Photo by Terry Brown.


Citizen scientists watching rosella nest.
Photo by Vicki Martin.

Vicki Martin, 2017-present

Vicki is an environmental social scientist who has spent most of her research career studying people’s perspectives on environmental impact and management issues in Australia and New Zealand. Her research has covered diverse marine and terrestrial environments (such as the Great Barrier Reef, national parks and geothermal vegetation), as well as diverse topics including climate change, natural resource management, and science communication. 

Her experiences sparked an interest in citizen science and the possibility for it to deepen the relationship and understanding between science and society. Her Ph.D. research focused on the potential for marine citizen science to increase public engagement in science in Australia (a nation of ocean lovers). The research was conducted at a national scale, using 110 face-to-face interviews and an online survey of 1,145 marine users, to investigate if, why, and how the public wants to become involved in marine research, and the likely outcomes for public engagement in science more broadly. The results showed there is a considerable capacity to increase the number of marine citizen science volunteers, whose future contributions depend on the reduction of particular barriers, the ability of projects to address volunteers’ needs and interests, and improved communication for volunteer recruitment. The study also found marine citizen science is most likely to attract volunteers who are already interested in science, which is important information for the development of public science communication strategies aiming to reach diverse audiences through citizen science. 

At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Vicki is continuing her research in citizen science volunteer recruitment and retention. She is very excited to be working with the Lab, using social research to help grow public involvement in scientific research.


Photo by Sarah Wagner.   Blue-faced Honeyeater. Photo by Bryan Suson.

Eliot Miller, 2015-present

Eliot has been an avid naturalist from a young age, and particularly enjoys watching and finding birds and plants. After completing his undergraduate degree, he worked on a variety of field projects, including sites in Alaska, Ontario, Massachusetts, Mexico, and Ecuador. Work in Ecuador eventually led him to graduate school at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, where he worked under the tutelage of Robert Ricklefs. He later co-enrolled at Macquarie University in Sydney, and received additional training in Mark Westoby’s lab. His dissertation focused on patterns of phylogenetic community structure and evolution through climate space in two iconic Australian radiations, the Meliphagidae (a bird family) and the Hakeinae (a plant subfamily). His interests include ecomorphology, foraging behavior, patterns of diversification, and adaptations to novel environments. Eliot has received an National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship to study species distribution models in the Harmon and Nuismer laboratories at the University of Idaho. This project will rely on eBird data and resources that involve ongoing collaborations with Lab scientists. After Eliot’s NSF-funded work concludes, he will become an in-house postdoctoral scholar based at the Lab of Ornithology.



XXXX    Flyi8ng_Bird_Ceceilia_Nilsson_295x295.jpg  

Cecilia Nilsson. Photo by Inger Ekström.


Chiff-chaff (Phylloscopus collybita) taking flight.
Photo by Thomas Alerstam.

Cecilia Nilsson, 2017-present

I am a behavioral ecologist, mainly working with flight behavior and bird migration. Migration is a fascinating behavior to study as it requires animals to integrate a complex suite of traits to successfully move across the globe. Migration is also a vulnerable time for many birds, increasing their exposure to different stressors, both natural and man-made. 

During my Ph.D. at Lund University, Sweden, I mainly studied flight speed and drift behavior of actively migrating individual birds in different situations. I used radar to track birds during migration at several field sites in Sweden. By studying their flight behavior during migration in detail I could test hypotheses about the costs and constraints that shape their migration. 

I currently hold a postdoctoral position at the Swiss Ornithological Institute, Vogelvarte Sempach, where I work with European weather radar data on bird migration. I will join the Cornell Lab of Ornithology late 2017.

To be able to correctly interpret individual tracking studies and make risk assessments and conservation recommendations regarding migratory birds, it is crucial that we understand the large scale behavioral patterns that shape the migration phenomena. 

During my Rose Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology I am excited to join Dr. Andrew Farnsworth’s group in studying large-scale migration patterns. We will be combining two state-of-the-art datasets, NEXRAD weather radar data and eBird observations. Weather radar data gives us detailed information about flight behavior over large scales, while eBird provides us with information on species composition and abundance. The combination of NEXRAD data and eBird provides a unique and powerful way to study migratory behavior on a large scale. 


Karan Odom with Troupial    Odom sound recording  

Karan with a Troupial in Puerto Rico. Photo by Kevin Omland.


Recording birds in Puerto Rico. Photo
by Kati Fleming.

Karan Odom, 2017-present

Karan is a behavioral ecologist interested in the evolution of elaborate traits in female as well as male animals. Karan is especially interested in how complex vocal communication, such as bird song, evolves and, specifically, the selection pressures that act on females versus males to select for these traits. Karan uses large-scale phylogenetic reconstruction and comparative methods to compare evolutionary patterns of bird song across female and male songbirds of many different species. Karan combines this information with field-based methods to assess the function and selection pressures acting on female song and duets of mated pairs. 

Karan was awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for the research she will conduct at Cornell. She will be using the Lab’s Macaulay Library to compare evolutionary patterns of song structure in male and female songbirds. She will conduct her research with Dr. Mike Webster, director of the Macaulay Library and Dr. Irby Lovette, Chair of the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.    

Karan conducted her Ph.D. at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) under Dr. Kevin Omland and her Masters with Dr. Daniel Mennill at the University of Windsor. Karan's Ph.D. research focused on the prevalence and function of song in female songbirds, including ancestral state reconstruction of the evolution of female song across songbirds and field studies with troupials, a tropical songbird in Puerto Rico. Her Masters research focused on the function and geographic variation of duets in Barred Owls. 



Mario with Island Scrub-Jay. Photo by Katie Langin. Acorn Woodpecker by Melanie Baker.

Mario Pesendorfer, 2014-present

Mario’s research is driven by an interest in the ecological causes and consequences of animal behavior. Here at the Cornell Lab he is studying how seed predation and dispersal by Western Scrub-Jays (A. californica) and Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) varies with large-scale and local acorn abundance at the Hastings Natural History Reserve in Carmel Valley, California.

During his undergraduate and master’s studies at the University of Vienna, Austria, he worked with Ludwig Huber and Thomas Bugnyar, investigating the cognitive abilities of primates and birds. For his master’s thesis, he compared the role of individual and social learning in the ability of Keas (Nestor notabilis) to acquire a novel foraging skill.

Before starting his Ph.D., Mario spent time in Brazil’s Atlantic Rain Forest, studying the social transmission of novel behavior in free-living groups of common marmosets. In 2008, he began a doctoral program in the Avian Cognition Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Under the supervision of Alan Kamil, he investigated scatter-hoarding by Island Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma insularis) and their role as seed dispersers for oaks on Santa Cruz Island in California’s Channel Islands National Park. Interestingly, he found that seed dispersal rates and distances correlated positively with acorn abundance in the local oak species which varies tremendously between years. 



Orin Roinson   Tricolored Blackbird
Orin Robinson   Tricolored Blackbird

Orin Robinson, 2017-present

Orin’s research focuses on using and developing quantitative tools to learn about population and community level processes in vertebrates, with the goal of informing conservation actions. While his current research is on bird population dynamics, he has conducted research on reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals, too.

The focal species of Orin’s current research is the Tricolored Blackbird. Tricolored Blackbirds are almost entirely found in California, with a small percentage (~1-5%) breeding in Nevada, Washington, and Oregon. Their populations have declined precipitously over the last 80 years. The goal of his project is to understand their habitat associations, movement, and demographic rates throughout the annual cycle. While these are common topics in many bird studies, the nature of the available data and lack of knowledge about many aspects of the Tricolored Blackbird's annual cycle make even this basic information difficult to characterize. Orin will make use of field collected data and citizen science data to understand the seasonal distributions of Tricolored Blackbirds and their demography.

Prior to joining the Lab of Ornithology, Orin received an M.S. in Marine Sciences studying Brown Pelican nesting ecology at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. He received a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in Ecology and Evolution where he worked on simulation modeling of invasive predator management, evaluation of population viability analysis output, and the effects of harvest on sex-changing species.


Conor holding a Common Yellowthroat. Photo by Corey Freeman-Gallant.   Male Common Yellowthroat warbler from the color-banded population that Conor has studied since 2005. Photo by Conor Taff.    

Conor Taff, 2015-present

Conor is an organismal biologist with broad training in animal behavior, sexual selection, molecular ecology, and physiological ecology. His research program addresses questions that span multiple levels of biological organization; the overall goal is to understand both how cellular and physiological processes influence organismal performance in natural populations and how individual variation in behavior or resources, in turn, influences cellular processes. His background is in animal communication, but recent interests include disease and movement ecology and the influence of early life conditions on individual variation in life histories.

Conor received his PhD from the University of California, Davis in 2013. His dissertation focused on the evolution of complex sexual signals in Common Yellowthroat warblers. This work contributed to his winning the Merton Love Award for best dissertation in ecology or evolution at UC Davis, the Animal Behavior Society Warder Clyde Allee Award, and the Cooper Ornithological Society Young Professional Award. Conor is currently a USDA NIFA Postdoctoral Fellow and is studying the ecology and epidemiology of zoonotic disease transmission in American Crows.

Conor will be arriving at the Lab of Ornithology in 2015 as an in-house postdoctoral scholar. In addition to continuing his ongoing work, Conor will be joining the long running Tree Swallow project at the Lab to study the way that stressful breeding conditions influence physiological senescence, survival, and stress responsiveness in both nestlings and adults.




Photo by Jill Jankowski.


Yellow-rumped Warbler by David Toews.

David Toews, 2014-present

David is an evolutionary biologist and molecular ecologist. Much of his research relies on combining genetic data with other physiological, behavioral and biogeographic information to make inferences about evolutionary processes. His field studies have mostly focused on studying contact zones and hybrids zones in wood warblers and wrens in western North America. 

Currently he is studying genetic and phenotypic variation in the Yellow-rumped Warbler species complex. In particular, his research has focused on traits involved with migration, as populations in this group differ in both their migratory tendency (i.e., residents versus migrants) and direction (i.e., orientation on fall migration). With a number of international collaborators, he is also working to better understand how genetic variation is distributed within and among different populations of this diverse taxon.

David received his master’s and Ph.D. in Darren Irwin’s lab at the University of British Columbia.



Jennifer Walsh   Saltmarsh sharp-tailed Sparrow
Photo by by Adrenne Kovach.    Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow by Bri Benvenuti.




Jennifer Walsh, 2016-present

Jen’s research focuses on understanding selective mechanisms responsible for driving reproductive isolation in naturally occurring avian hybrid zones. Her work to date has focused on combining traditional field data with genetic analyses to understand intrinsic selection and ecological divergence between two tidal marsh birds, the Saltmarsh and Nelson’s sparrow.

Jen’s future work at Cornell will combine genomic and phenotypic data with archived biological specimens to test hypotheses of hybrid zone evolution between Nelson’s and Saltmarsh sparrows over a 125 year time period. This work will address fundamental questions concerning the maintenance of pure species boundaries in the face of increased gene flow and a rapid hybrid zone expansion.

Jen has been awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to address these research objectives. She received a Ph.D. in Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science from the University of New Hampshire (2015) in the lab of Dr. Adrienne Kovach.


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