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.



Carrie Branch    Tree Swallow nestbox  




Carrie Branch, 2018-present

Carrie is a behavioral ecologist interested in the evolution of avian communication and signaling. Her research to date has primarily focused on working with chickadees and titmice. She finds those species particularly interesting for studying signaling because they are primarily monochromatic in North America, and they have a rather simple, tonal song, in contrast to their very complex call, which has been likened to human language because of its syntactical rules and flexibility. In addition, chickadees in North America are residents and rely on cached food items to survive the winter. These birds are scatter hoarders, meaning they cache their food items throughout the forest and use spatial memory to relocate their caches.

Carrie’s dissertation work focused on Mountain Chickadees (Poecile gambeli) in the Sierra Nevada, which inhabit a continuous montane gradient. Individuals inhabiting higher, harsher elevations cache more food items and perform better on spatial memory tasks, compared to their lower, milder elevation counterparts. 

At the Lab of Ornithology, Carrie will be working with Drs. Mike Webster, Irby Lovette, and Holger Klinck to address the relationship between spatial memory ability, male signaling, and female mate choice. She will continue working with Mountain Chickadees in the Sierra Nevada to assess whether or not male song production and plumage variation reflect a male’s cognitive abilities, and if females choose males with superior spatial memory as their extra-pair mates.

All components of this work, other than analyses, will be conducted on wild chickadees in the field; automated SWIFT recorders will be used to collect song repertoires of territorial PIT-tagged males. Feeder arrays equipped with RFID technology will be used to assess spatial memory, and breeding will be monitored using nestboxes.

Carrie received her Ph.D. at the University of Nevada working with Dr. Vladimir Pravosudov, where she studied potential pre-mating mechanisms that may further enhance or maintain the behavioral separation between Mountain Chickadees inhabiting high versus low elevations. Before moving out west, she received her B.A. from the University of Tennessee, where she studied comparative communication in Parids with Dr. Todd Freeberg, and her M.A. from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, investigating episodic-like memory in rats with Dr. Kate Bruce.



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.



Michelle Fournet    whale  

Michelle monitors humpback whale behavior from the shores of Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.


Michelle stands on shore after checking the intertidal for evidence of prey as a humpback whale forages in Glacier Bay, Alaska. 

Michelle Fournet, 2018-present

Michelle is a marine ecologist whose research focuses on using passive acoustics to understand communication behavior, and the impacts of marine resource management decisions on underwater ecosystems. She uses long term hydrophone deployments (weeks to years), coupled with behavioral observations and field studies to better understand the marine acoustic habitat, how marine animals use sound, and to investigate human impacts on marine organismal behavior. Her interests straddle bioacoustics, behavioral ecology, and education and most of her current and previous work includes each of these three elements.

As a Ph.D. student at Oregon State University, Michelle investigated the acoustic ecology of North Pacific humpback whales in Glacier Bay National Park, Southeast Alaska. By conducting work in Glacier Bay, a historic whale foraging grounds and a marine protected area with predicable and managed vessel activity, Michelle was able to investigate the impact of vessel noise on calling behavior among humpback whales, as well as investigate drivers of acoustic communication in this species.

Michelle is now applying acoustics skills commonly used to monitor endangered marine mammals to understand calling behavior in sonic fishes in Florida Bay, Everglades National Park. Florida Bay is a large marine estuary historically impacted by hydrological management decisions. Michelle’s work investigates whether sonic fishes can act as acoustic indicators of ecosystem change, and whether community structure and ecosystem health can be monitored through passive listening.

Michelle holds a B.F.A. in theatre arts from Boston University College of Fine Arts, an M.S. in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University, and a Ph.D. in Wildlife Science from Oregon State University.



 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.



Camila Gomez    Camila Gomez in the field  

Camila Gomez photo courtesy Universidad de
Los Andes.



Camila carrying out bird surveys in "Ciudad
Perdida," an archaeological site in the Sierra
Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Photo by
Nick Bayly.

Camila Gomez 2018-present

Camila is a Colombian biologist interested in animal ecology, migration, and conservation, particularly the connections among macro-ecological processes and changes in the composition and behavior of fauna.,Her research has centered on the ecology of migratory birds in the Neotropics and on the importance of stopover behavior.

Camila obtained her Ph.D. in 2018 from the Universidad de Los Andes, where she worked with Dr. Daniel Cadena on understanding ecological and evolutionary processes that shape the long-distance migrations of birds.

Through this postdoctoral appointment, Camila aims to better our understanding of the nature and magnitude of changes in avian assemblages from a variety of perspectives and to enhance the Colombian nationwide bird monitoring initiative. To do this, she is following in the footsteps of Frank Chapman. A century ago, Chapman led a group of prominent naturalists on a series of expeditions in Colombia. They collected thousands of specimens and maintained detailed bird records which are now deposited at Cornell, the American Museum of Natural History, and other institutions. Camila will lead an initiative to re-visit those expedition sites in Colombia and to develop methods to integrate historical and current data to evaluate changes in Colombian bird assemblages over the past 100 years.

This highly collaborative endeavor includes the participation from researchers within the Citizen Science, Conservation Science and Education Programs of the Cornell Lab as well as partners in Colombia such as the non-profit SELVA, Universidad de Los Andes, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Cali and the Instituto Alexander von Humboldt.  


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.


Allison Injaian    Tree Swallow nestbox  

Alli holding a tree swallow nestling. Photo by Gail Patricelli.


A tree swallow sits atop a nest box. Photo by Lauren Poon.

Allison Injaian 2018-present

Alli is generally interested in human impacts on birds. Her doctoral research experimentally tested the effects of traffic noise exposure across many levels of biological organization. She found that traffic noise has broad impacts on Tree Swallows, altering habitat use, parental behavior, adult, and nestling physiology, telomere dynamics, and reproductive success.

During her postdoctoral appointment at the Cornell Lab, Alli will expand on her dissertation work by experimentally investigating the effects of exposure to artificial light at night on adult and nestling stress physiology and immune function, in Tree Swallows. This work will be done in collaboration with Dr. Maren Vitousek in Cornell University's Ecology & Evolutionary Biology department. Alli will also continue her work on anthropogenic noise. In collaboration with Dr. Holger Klinck and the Cornell Lab's Bioacoustics Research Program, she is using acoustic monitoring data from "SWIFT" autonomous recordingunits (ARUs) to better understand the potential impacts of aircraft overflights on the timing of vocalizations and habitat use across bird species.

Alli received an M.S. from the University of Michigan in Ecology and Evolution, where she worked with Dr. Liz Tibbetts, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, in Animal Behavior, where she worked with Dr. Gail Patricelli. Through her graduate work, Alli mentored many undergraduate field interns. She found this experience very rewarding and plans to continue mentoring students during her postdoc with the Lab.


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



Shyam Madhusudhana, 2018-present

As a postdoc within the Cornell Lab’s Bioacoustics Research Program, my current work involves developing solutions for automatic source separation in continuous ambient audio streams and the development of acoustic deep-learning techniques for unsupervised multi-class classification in the big-data realm, with focus on efficient utilization of modern computing capabilities in achieving real-time performance.

My research interests have been largely multidisciplinary. In the past, I worked as a Speech Scientist for a leading Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) solutions provider before steering my career into bioacoustics and allied disciplines. My Master’s thesis offered passive acoustic solutions to monitoring free-ranging blue and fin whales in the Pacific Ocean. My doctoral research involved development of solutions for the automation of underwater soundscape assessments.

Prior to joining the Cornell Lab, I had been associated with the Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST), Australia (as a Research Associate), National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), India (as a Research Associate) and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER-Tirupati), India (as a postdoctoral research fellow).

I have been actively involved with IEEE’s Oceanic Engineering Society (OES) and currently serve as the coordinator of Technology Committees. I also referee manuscripts for the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and, in the past, have refereed for the Australian Acoustical Society as well.

Aside from professional activities, I enjoy traveling, running, hiking, camping, photography, strumming on my guitar, and playing cricket.



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.


Sabrina McNew    Tree Swallow nestbox  

Sabrina holding a Giant Runt (Columba livia).
Photo by Jordan Herman.


A medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis) with
a large pox lesion on its face. Photo by Sabrina McNew.

Sabrina McNew, 2018-present

Sabrina is interested in the ways in which parasites and pathogens can affect the behavior, fitness, and ultimately, the evolution of their hosts. During her graduate work at the University of Utah in Dr. Dale Clayton and Dr. Sarah Bush’s lab, Sabrina studied the effects of an introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi, on Galápagos mockingbirds. Relatively recent parasite introductions to island systems, such as P. downsi in the Galápagos, provide an opportunity to understand how naïve hosts respond to emerging threats.

As a Rose Postdoctoral Fellow, Sabrina is planning on incorporating genomic approaches to continue studying the effects of introduced parasites on Galápagos birds. In particular, she is interested in investigating the molecular basis of susceptibility to avian pox in Galápagos finches. By investigating the genetic and epigenetic correlates of avian pox infections, she hopes to learn more about host defense and mechanisms that underlie rapid evolutionary responses to a changing environment.

Sabrina loves Neotropical field work and being involved in the communities where she works. Her research is conducted in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galápagos National Park. With the help of these collaborators, she has developed outreach projects with the goal of expanding knowledge about invasive parasites in the Galápagos and techniques used to combat them. She hopes to continue these projects, as well as incorporate other environmental education programs at the Lab of Ornithology into her postdoc research program.



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.


Laurel Symes    Black-throated Blue Warbler  

Laurel Symes, with avian supervision. Photo
by M. Ayres


Black-throated blue warbler.
Photo by G. Bartley 

Laurel Symes, 2018-present

Laurel’s research focuses on the community ecology of communication: the way that interactions within and between species affect when, why, and how signals are produced.

To address these questions, she studies a variety of taxa including crickets, katydids, frogs, bats, and birds. Her current research focuses on modeling phenological patterns in bird activity to understand 1) when birds arrive and begin to sing and 2) how the singing activity of one individual influences the singing patterns of other individuals and species across a landscape. To quantify singing activity, she is using automated recording and machine learning approaches to find and identify bird calls from a network of recorders in the Lab of Ornithology’s Sapsucker Woods and in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire. At the Cornell Lab, Laurel works with Holger Klinck (Bioacoustics Research Program) and Mike Webster (Macaulay Library).

Laurel has held post-doctoral positions at Dartmouth College (Neukom Fellowship), the University of Wisconsin, and the Smithsonian Institute for Tropical Research. She completed her Ph.D. at Dartmouth College and a B.S. in Biology at Denison University.


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.


A self-paced online tutorial. Learn to ID birds by size and shape
Birds of North America Online, ultimate source for bird info, join for $5/month
Shop for our Causes, your purchase supports our mission
Get delicious, Bird Friendly certified coffee from Birds and Beans.