Thumbnail image Charlie Harper

[Slide text: To Interpret and Conserve:

After 100 Years, What Has the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Come to Mean?; Photo: View of the Cornell Lab building with pond in the foreground]

[Audience talking]

[Paul] All set? Good evening everybody. Good evening. Welcome, and welcome to our audience who are live streaming this over the internet. My name is Paul Anderson, president of the Cayuga Bird Club. It is my great pleasure and honor to introduce tonight’s speaker, John Fitzpatrick. John Fitzpatrick is director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and professor in ecolo—ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University. From 1988 to ninety-five, he was executive director of the Archbold Biological Station in central Florida, and before that served for 12 years as curator of birds and chairman of the department of zoology at the Field Museum in Chicago. 

He is fellow and past president of the American Ornithologists’ Union, and in 1985 received its highest research award for his book Florida Scrub Jay Ecology and Demography of a Cooperative-Breeding Bird co-authored with G. E. Woolfenden. He has served on national governing boards of the Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society, on three endangered species recovery teams, and on numerous scientific and conservation panels. He has authored over 150 scientific papers, discovered and described seven bird species, and is co-inventor of eBird, one of the world’s largest and most rapidly growing citizen science projects. John Fitzpatrick. 


[Dr. John Fitzpatrick] Thank you, Paul. Thank you very much, Paul. Thanks to all of you for coming out here tonight, and thank you many of you, all of you I suspect for your long and faithful support of the Lab of Ornithology. It’s a real pleasure to be, being director of the place on the year in which we get to celebrate the 100th year of there being such an idea. It’s an idea that I think of still as an ongoing and unfolding experiment, which we’ll be talking with you about tonight. Experiments we always are wondering how the outcome is, and uh, a hundred years in things look pretty good, but we have a ways to go. And I’d be, it’ll be uh great fun to share with you the things that we’re thinking about along the way. I’m curious how many of you here in the local audience were at the event this last weekend, we had a big centennial open house? That’s great, big show of hands. Uh it was uh quite an amazing event. 

[Slide text: Centennial Open House

Saturday, September 12, 2015; Photos: A child and adult looking at a screen with headphones on, a group of people outside, and people inside the visitor center looking at displays] 

We estimate somewhere between 1500 and 2000 people were inside this amazing building, um enjoying all of the different corners of the building. And um it’s fun to reflect at the centennial of this, of this institution, how many of those activities that you saw, and the expertise that you saw in the people tie in various ways to the parts that have been part of, played a role in this institution for the last hundred years. 

[Slide text: The Cornell Lab at 100

  • How did we start, and how did we change the field of bird study? 
  • Whom do we serve today? 
  • What challenges face us for the next 100 years?; Photo: Cornell Lab building with pond]

So we’ll explore a little bit of that tonight. I’m basically going to go through three stages. We’ll spend a fair amount of time going through an approximately chronological history of, of how we came to be at this spot. And how we changed the idea of studying birds. We’ll talk a bit about whom we’re serving today. And I’ll close with a few thoughts about the challenges that we see us, ourselves facing over the next hundred years. After all, the next hundred years on this planet are vastly different from the hundred years that faced Arthur Allen in 20—in 1915 when he was first hired. 

[Slide text: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

What are the Lab’s roles in the coming century? 


•We must be about service to the natural world;

•We must help all people and cultures benefit

⁃from understanding nature

⁃from living side by side with healthy wild ecosystems and native species.]

I want to just draw your attention to the idea that we play a role, we genuinely play a role. We’re not a sporting shop, we’re actually a shop that has a purpose. And our purpose fundamentally in my view at least, I want to suggest the premise is that we’re here about service, we are serving people, we’re serving people and cultures, we’re serving nature. We are convinced that all the people of the world will benefit by understanding nature better. And they’ll certainly benefit by being able to live side by side with functioning natural systems complete with all of their native species. There, in essence, I’d suggest is a purpose for today, for the Lab today. 

[Slide text: Our hallmarks:

  • Science
  • Innovation
  • Training
  • Communication
  • Inspiration
  • Conservation
  • Action]

[Slide text: Our hallmarks:

  • Science
  • Innovation
  • Training
  • Communication
  • Inspiration
  • Conservation
  • Action

Our audiences:

  • not limited to scientists
  • global
  • culturally inclusive
  • anyone open to inspiration]

The hallmarks of the Lab today are listed here science and innovation, we’ll stress a bit some of these hallmarks as we evolved, training and communication and inspiration, and conservation, and even action. And an important feature of this place that makes us very different from a standard university department is that our audiences are not simply the scientists that we’re publishing papers for, our audiences instead exist all over the world, uh it’s a global audience that we’re trying to reach right now, although we’re located in a beautiful place at a great research university, we are actually addressing the world from this, from the seat. 

We aspire to being culturally inclusive and you’ll see towards the end what that means, and what challenges that uh puts in front of us. We genuinely want to be able to serve anybody who’s open to being inspired in any way relating to nature. 

[Image: Cover of For the Birds book, by Randolph Scott Little, Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Sapsucker Woods with painting of yellow-bellied sapsucker]

So we’ll reflect on those features that characterize us today throughout this uh presentation of how we got here today. Now I want to uh acknowledge that anybody who wants to look at the deep history of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has access to a few good resources, and I certainly uh browsed through these myself as I was preparing for this talk. 

Uh in particular the large and very informative book written in 1995 by Randy Little, a former board member here called For the Birds. A basic history, chronology of the Lab complete with some very interesting details and letters and so on. That takes the Lab through about 20 years ago, coincidentally the year that I got here at the, to Cornell. 

[Image: Page from History of Ornithology at Cornell University chapter by Gregory S. Butcher and Kevin McGowan with abstract]

There’s also a well written history of the Lab in a book on the history of American ornithology. This chapter by Greg Butcher and Kevin McGowan, two staff members of the Lab. 

[Image: Cover of The Living Bird First Annual 1962 Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology with painting of yellow-bellied sapsucker, and page from it with drawing of building by pond and text:



The Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University has enjoyed a long, productive life. Its beginning actually dates back nearly fifty years to 1915 when the author was appointed Assistant Professor of Ornithology in the Department of Entomology. The Chairman at that time, Dr. James G. Needham, suggested the name “Laboratory of Ornithology” to justify space for an ornithologist in a department devoted to the study of insects. The name was accepted and retained, although the Laboratory as such was without official status in the administrative complex of the University. After some years the Laboratory was transferred to the Department of Zoology and, in 1948, to the newly formed Department of Conservation where it continued its active program of teaching, research, and public education. Finally, in 1955, the Laboratory became a separate department of the University, with research and cultural development as its objectives. Thus, like the familiar Robin which has been shifted three times by taxonomists from one genus to another, it has retained its identity through the years and has remained the same old well-known species.]

And finally I borrowed and certainly have learned through the years occasionally referencing Arthur Allen’s own reflections on his creation of the Lab of Ornithology, written for the first issue of The Living Bird, his journal which I’ll refer to in a few minutes. Uh and there’s some really interesting tidbits in here, and one of the most interesting is the very first paragraph, which you perhaps can read on the screen there. Allen within the first few sentences of his talking about the Lab of Ornithology describes how he was hired as a professor in 1915 in the department of entomology at Cornell. 


That’s bugs. 


Here’s a bird guy who actually did a very interesting and very revolutionary thing in the early part of the 20th century as an ornithologist, he studied the living bird out in the cattail marshes, his PhD thesis, the red, uh red-winged blackbird ecology of a cattail marsh. That word ecology had only been coined a few decades earlier. And so, hired by a group of bug people, he uh, it was suggested that he put a sign “Laboratory of Ornithology” on his laboratory door to distinguish him from his colleagues, and that word stuck increasingly formally throughout Allen’s career, and you’ll see why. 

[Photo: Black and white aerial view of Sapsuckers Woods landscape with patches of trees and farmland]

So this starts really, the story starts at the turn of the century, turn of the 1900s. Cornell University, the land-grant college for the state of New York, having now been uh 35 to 40 years old, certainly serving the agricultural community of upstate New York, and you see, you’re looking right here at exactly where you’re sitting right now. Uh this is the, the upper of the two uh patches of forest that you’re seeing in this picture is what we’ve come to call Sapsucker Woods. Uh Sap—what we now know as Sapsucker Woods Road runs away from us down the middle of this picture. 

And that’s Hanshaw Road coming across the bottom. So looking to the north there, that big patch of woods you can see what it looked like during the first half of the 20th century. It was surrounded by the dominant industry of this region, namely farmland. 

[Photos: Arthur Allen climbing a tree as Fuertes and another man look on, and a handwritten note about the photo dated June 18, 1909]

And it was inside that woods that the young uh graduate student Arthur Allen and the recently graduated Cornell student Louis Agassiz Fuertes discovered a nest of a yellow-bellied sapsucker in 1909, and this picture was taken of Arthur Allen up in the tree checking out that nest, and the distinguished looking Fuertes who would become a world-famous artist there looking on admirably from below. Ever since that moment the woods had, bore the informal title uh Sapsucker Woods. Today of course, by the way, as you all know as Cayuga Bird Club members, the sapsucker is one of the most abundant woodpeckers in our woods, uh has uh hugely populated this part of the northeast as the forests grew back. 

[Photo: Allen standing in front of a group of people outside near the woods]

Well we’re here now in the turn of the twenty—the, the uh, the early teens of the 20th century. This picture was actually taken in 1918, and right off the bat Allen is hired 1915. Here we are 1918, and already Allen is displaying the hallmarks that would characterize his entire life, his entire career, and really right here the hallmarks that continue to characterize the Lab of Ornithology that he founded. 

Allen holding court with a bevy of local people. Uh you’ll see in this picture and in many others a sex ratio bias, presumably because of the social norms of the day. The women had somewhat more time. But regardless, people around the community gathered to listen to Arthur Allen talk about nature. 1918. He was not just a man of Ithaca at that time. 

[Photo: Arthur Allen standing between two large trees with one arm reaching out to touch each tree]

This picture is taken in Taylor Swamp in uh northern Florida, north central Florida during a period in which Allen was still, was uh down looking for the possibilities of remnant pairs of ivory-billed woodpeckers in Florida. He was down there as a young uh assistant professor at Cornell with his wife, Elsie,

[Photo: Elsie Allen leaning against a large tree with the background colorized green] 

searching and in fact uh in the early ’20s successfully finding one pair, which was almost immediately collected by a local collector. 

[Photo: Elsie and Arthur Allen leaning against vehicles near a tent with trees in the background, and some elements colored green]

I love this picture of Elsie looking back at you wearing her World War One garb, and the vehicles of the day in the forests of Florida. 

[Photo: Class photo of about 50 people from a summer course in 1921]

1921, just six years into his profession once again, kind of the milestone that defined the early part of the career of Arthur Allen attracting a huge number of students, in this case for a summer course. But uh pictures just like this of his students during the middle of the uh academic years as well. Arthur Allen surrounded by people who loved listening to him talk about birds. These are people who are not going to be scientists, these are the local community people of the day. 

What’s going on here? What Arthur Allen recognized right off the bat in his life is that birds have this dual power. They have, of course, here we are at a great scientific research university, they have the power for us, to teach us how nature works, they’re amazing scientific research tools. On the other hand, in addition, they also have the power to attract everybody to think about them, to be glad they live around them, to wonder about them, to enjoy learning more about them. 

And Allen knew this from the get-go. And this itself, within the field of bird study, was revolutionary. Up until this point ornithology, professional ornithology, was a, was a, was an academic profession, a discipline of experts, a discipline belonging in the museums, the great museums of the world. And here’s Arthur Allen leading around entourages of people who want to learn about the living bird out in the woods. Characterized him very early on in his life,

[Photo: Class photo from 1940]

he spent his entire career with these gatherings of people. Uh they led, he led, regularly led bird walks around the Cayuga Lake area along with Peter Paul Kellogg, his graduate student and later colleague. So here’s a major feature of Arthur Allen, surrounding himself with people, and enjoying the process of getting those people to be engaged in nature. The fundamental hallmarks of what the Lab of Ornithology still represents today. 

[Photos: Portrait of young Louis Agassiz Fuertes, and clipping with photo of Fuertes next to a crane and text: LOUIS A. FUERTES ’99, AND HIS WHOOPING CRANE—This bird—the crane—after being in cold storage for two years, was mounted and the flesh eaten. Louis said it was as good as new. The whooping crane is almost extinct.]

Now it’s a terrific coincidence of fate that at the same moments in those first two decades of the 20th century uh he got to be very good friends with this dashing fellow. This is the young Louis Agassiz Fuertes on the left, and a somewhat older and more mature artist Fuertes on the right, with this of, curious uh photograph, which I’ll read the caption of. Louis Agassiz Fuertes and his whooping crane. This bird, after being in cold storage for two years was mounted, and the flesh was eaten. Louis said it was as good as new. 


The whooping crane is almost extinct. 


Here’s an article about whooping cranes in the 1920s in which they’re already talking about this bird being almost extinct. The idea that birds at that time were already going extinct, the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet having just disappeared, and other ones on their way, was on the minds of anybody who was out there studying the living bird. 

[Photo: Fuertes in his studio with a painting behind him and parrot on his shoulder]

Conservation began inside these individuals as soon as they became adults. Here’s the more mature greatest artist of birds of the 20th century, Fuertes in in his studio. 

[Photo: Fuertes riding a donkey with a man standing on either side of him]

And I love this picture. This is a picture actually takes, taken not long before he ended up dying. This is Fuertes on the Great Abyssinian Expedition of 1925-26 uh sponsored by the Field Museum in Chicago, and by the Chicago Daily News. And this is the place in Louis Agassiz Fuertes’ life in which he began to explore just how good he could be. One by one as they were collecting birds, he would take these birds, recently collected before they were prepared as specimens, and do very quick, very detailed watercolor sketches on the big chunks of brown paper that he was able to uh, obtain over there. 

[Image: Crested Hornbill painting by Fuertes]

And I just want to advise everybody, everybody here tonight, anybody listening, watching on the stream. If you get a chance, look at these paintings. A few dozen of these spectacular paintings, by far the best bird paintings with watercolor I’ve ever seen anybody do. Shortly after he came back from this trip he showed these paintings to the great ornithologist of the American Museum, Frank Chapman, up near Cooperstown, just a couple of hour drive today from where we are right now. And on his way back to Ithaca was hit by a train and killed. Uh the paintings themselves were recovered from that trip, and they’re now in protection at the Field Museum in Chicago, but there are reproductions of these available now. 

[Image: Bateleur painting by Fuertes (Pl. 19)]

And they are absolutely exquisite. Demonstrations of how much he knew about the living bird. And there’s that word again the living bird. The attention to the life and character of the birds as they’re out there. 

[Photos: George Miksch Sutton drawing outside, and cover of the book At a Bend in a Mexican River by George Miksch Sutton with paintings of trogons on a branch]

It’s a wonderful coincidence that Allen and Fuertes were such good friends. It is not at all a surprise. Or, ornithology and art have been connected for hundreds of years. Audubon and Wilson at the early part of the 1800s, John Gould and so on. Lots of ornithologists, very visual science, visual field, dabbled in art. And many of them became outstanding artists. 

And so here we come and see another feature of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in its infancy. That is the relationship between science and bird study on the one hand, and the aesthetic values that we get by living around birds on the other. And one of the students at Cornell that became a graduate student of Fuertes is shown here in a pretty blurry scan, this is George Miksch Sutton, who became again one of the finest bird artists of the 20th century through his work here at Cornell. Went on to a great career at Oklahoma. Uh this one of his signature books. And of course 

[Image: Drawing of ivory-billed woodpeckers on a tree]

he was along on the later part of the expeditions in the late 1930s in which the Cornell group actually did encounter a few remaining individuals of this ivory-billed woodpecker. 

[Image: Graphic design by Charley Harper featuring a variety of birds and the text “We Think the World of Birds

Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Sapsucker Woods”]

Well this connection of art has lived with us to this day. Anybody who visits this institution knows that we are surrounded by bird art on all of our walls. We have, one of our hallmarks is lots and lots of Charley Harper pictures. This wonderful exuberant enjoyment of the color and patterns of nature done with geometric forms, and in fact this was one of the last pieces that Harper ever did. This big poster of the Lab of Ornithology. We think the world of birds, a characteristic Harper pun. 

[Photos: Part of the South American section of the Wall of Birds mural, and portrait of Jane Kim]

Right on up to the very present, as you all here in the group know, we’re enjoying right now a centennial celebration of a miraculous scale with Jane Kim, shown here in the lower left, painting this enormous epic scale mural of the diversity of birds of the world. Uh this painting will be completely done by the end of this year. And those of you who are at remote locations, consider this a destination because this is an absolutely magnificent mural that depicts the evolutionary story of birds, and one member in color of every living bird family. 

[Photo: Albert Brand and Peter Paul Kellogg with sound recording equipment next to a Cornell University Lab of Ornithology vehicle]

Milestones continued to track as the ’20s gave way to the ’30s. In 1928 by the gift of either great prescience or just plain dumb luck, uh the man on the right here Albert Brand sold out from his stock broker business in New York City to move to Ithaca and become a student of Arthur Allen’s. Uh Brand is shown here with Peter Paul Kellogg, another student at that time. And together they and Allen pioneered the art of recording bird songs for the first time. 

This is just a couple of years after the movie theaters had begun the process of making talkies. They actually came to Allen asking him how do you record sounds in nature? The three of them went to work and made historic recordings for the first time ever of birds in the wild. So here we are, another hallmark that we continue to see in the Lab of Ornithology today, namely innovation, revolutionary change, and how you do things. Keeping up with what’s possible during that day, and taking advantage of it for the purpose of understanding and broadcasting information about birds. 

[Photo: Kellogg in a wagon with recording equipment]

Once they figured out how to do that, as cumbersome as it was, uh wagonloads full of equipment, of course it was incumbent on them to get down again thinking about the conservation, and the information content of the birds of the US, incumbent on them to get down to the south and do a trip or several trips across the southern US to record the vanishing birds of the country. And this is a picture of Kellogg in the wagon full of equipment. 

[Photo: Allen sitting on a chair outside next to a tent and a tree with a book and a spotting scope]

And this of course the iconic picture of Arthur Allen himself, uh in this camp which they dubbed Camp Ephilus—Camp Ephilus because of the genus of ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus. Uh this is the spot where they camped underneath 

[Photo: Ivory-billed woodpecker on a tree]

this amazing pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers as they attempted

[Photos: Ivory-billed woodpecker pair]

[Slide text: Size mattered!; Photo: Two men standing on top of vehicle with a very large reflector]

mystery. It’s amusing to look through the old photographs. I won’t bore you with all of them, but I had to throw this one in just to show you that uh size apparently mattered for uh the people who were doing these enormous reflectors, gathering the sounds of the birds of the world. 

[Slide text: Songs of Kirtland’s Warbler

Quality similar to that of northern water-thrush 

Might be described as “a lively bubbling whistle” or “a liquid gurgle”

Loud and Low pitched for a warbler; Image: Songs depicted as a sonogram with descriptive sounds underneath note markings]

And they also began the process of studying those sounds and depicting them so that they could be compared quantitatively with one another, and before there were such things as electronic sonograms, they could do this with pencil and pen. And so here you have the Kirtland’s warbler singing chu chu chi chi chi oo wi oo, and carefully depicted just as we would see a sonogram today, even with the letters, you know the A flat and the B flat and the G sharp and so on, showing which pitch they were. So foretelling the process that we are underway, that we have underway today at the Lab, which is one of the world’s best bioacoustics research shops in which we’re studying the, the mechanics of bird song. 

[Photo: Arthur Allen teaching students at a large table]

Again, hallmarks at this era, we’re now in the early 1940s, a major hallmark of Arthur Allen not just surrounded by the general public, but also teaching very intently the undergraduates of Cornell University, and increasingly 

[Photo: Group of male Cornell graduate students]

pools of graduate students who were coming to Cornell at that time to get PhDs in ornithology from Allen himself. And indeed this part of the 20th century was the productive phase of Allen’s career in terms of churning out students who left here and populated the great universities of the country, and the museums of the country as their professional ornithologists.

This was the place to be if you wanted to study birds. Here is one of the phrases that we actually use today as a consequence in part of this great building, and the exceptional staff we now have. Once again this is a place in which we say if you’re interested in birds and you can get in, this is the place you want to go. Am I right, Nathan? 

[Nathan responds]

He was my grad student, so he kind of had to say that. 


[Slide text: Randy Little; Photo: Randy Little and Peter Paul Kellogg with sound recording equipment including a large reflector]

I want to just tip my hat to that Randy Little whose book you saw at the beginning. Randy was one of the students that enjoyed learning at the feet of Arthur Allen and side by side with Peter Paul Kellogg as shown here. 

[Photo: Bird song records including Florida Bird Songs, Voices of the Night, American Bird Songs, Music and Bird Songs, and Western Bird Songs]

Now we come to the stage in which Arthur Allen was beginning to, and Kellogg were beginning to get pretty good at tape recording birds, and pretty diverse at the birds that they’ve gotten recordings of, and now what do they want to do? Once again they’re not content with putting them in the archives, they are intent on making these available for the general public to enjoy. And so in the 1940s, just as LPs were beginning to become a popular possibility for music listeners, they produced record after record of these American bird songs of a variety of kinds. And these records then were the precursors for what 

[Photo: Record cover of A Field Guide to Bird Songs]

for my life was a major milestone. Uh namely this first comprehensive record of the field—of the songs and calls of North America’s birds. This was a record given to me when I was about this big by my parents. And it was a tremendous asset. I was, I was overjoyed to be able to have a opportunity to go check on what these sounds that I couldn’t identify out in the woods were. 

So not just me, no doubt an entire generation of individuals beginning in the ’50s got turned on to nature in part because we got to identify and put a name associated with the sounds we were hearing coming out of the woods and the prairies. 

[Image: Cover of Touring for Birds with Microphone and Color Cameras by Arthur A. Allen in National Geographic Magazine]

Allen was never content with only one modality. Uh he began pioneering photography, and followed immediately by color photography. He had a paper, this paper published in the early ’40s in National Geographic. Here we are with the brand establishment, of a, of an institute that is actually able to produce these great color photographs of bird behavior, 

[Image: Page from The National Geographic Magazine featuring two photos of birds, one of a clapper rail, and one of a person feeding a pelican]

not just portraits like an artist would paint, but birds actually being living birds out in the wild. 

[Photo: Allen in the field hidden behind plants]

And here he is at work. He wrote, he wrote this iconic book 

[Photo: Cover of the book Stalking Birds with Color Camera by Arthur A. Allen

National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C. with photo of an American robin flying in to land on its nest to feed nestlings]

Stalking Birds with Color Camera. The idea now, and by the early ’50s that you can hunt birds every bit as actively and passionately and carefully and with difficulty as one would in the, in the shooting exploitive context, but instead hunt them and have your prize be a great color photograph of the bird. Uh thus, that was the theme of this book, that would begin, became, that became the theme of Arthur Allen’s later work altogether. 

[Photo: Land that would become Sapsucker Woods from above]

And by the mid-1950s he had a dream. He’s a man never content to be sticking with what uh has been. He was a man that knew there was a possibility out here at Sapsucker Woods and when he taught a local banker how to take pictures of color, of birds in color and that banker went on and won a Life Magazine competition, the pay, the the favor that the banker did back in return for Arthur Allen, buy Sapsucker Woods for Cornell University and build him a building. And uh so in 1955 

[Photo: Christmas card from 1955 showing a sketch of a design for the laboratory at Sapsucker Woods surrounded by birds and holly]

we found this Christmas card by the Allens that shows the first sketch of what they—would later come to become the Laboratory of Ornithology building at Sapsucker Woods and you can read his phrase and that’s our baby now, 1955. This was beginning to come to pass. 

[Photo: Aerial view of Sapsucker Woods]

They indeed cleared this area out along the edge of what we now call Sapsucker Woods Road, and uh began constructing this building. 

[Photo: Early construction of Lab of Ornithology building with farmland surrounding it]

And I put this slide in in part just to give you this sense because those of you here have all, you’ve all walked these woods, you know that’s a pretty old, getting to be a pretty old woods over there on the north side of the pond, you can see what it was as the building was being built, it’s a recent farm field. 

[Photos: More construction of the building and the pond]

Up went the building. And uh the pond was was well created, and and designed to be able to come right up to the windows of the Lab. 

[Photo: Woman walking in front of the Lab of Ornithology building in 1956 with ducks walking near her]

And so there was born in 1956 this new building, the dream of Arthur Allen at that time in his career, uh coined 

[Photo: Plaque for Cornell University 

Laboratory of Ornithology Research Center

This building is the gift of the Arcadia Foundation through Lyman K. Stuart Class of 1921


the Laboratory of Ornithology Research Center, later called the Stuart Observatory in honor of Lyman Stuart, the man who had bought and helped build the place. 

[Photo: Five men wearing suits including Arthur Allen, Peter Paul Kellogg, and Lyman Stuart]

There is Lyman Stuart in the middle of this quintet of people with Arthur Allen on our left and Peter Paul Kellogg on our right during the latter part of their lives. 

[Photo: Cover of National Geographic Magazine from April 1962 featuring the article “Sapsucker Woods, Cornell’s Exciting New Bird Sanctuary”]

1962, another iconic moment, another brand developing moment this article that meant a huge amount to me again as a 10 year old when this came out. That here is the great National Geographic Magazine covering the idea that there’s an institute in Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca, New York that is devoted entirely to birds and bird observation and bird study. What an amazing thing. I wanted to go to Cornell. 


From that moment on, I actually never ended up even applying, but at that time I was telling everybody I’m coming to Cornell. I finally got here. 


But in this magazine of course, color photographs 

[Photo: Lab of Ornithology building in National Geographic Magazine with caption “At dusk the laboratory hustles on lecture nights. Dr. Allen reads a list of the Cayuga Lake Basin’s 300 birds; a ‘Yes! ’ greets any the audience has seen during the week.”]

depicting the place, talking about the scene. Even indeed appropriate for tonight’s Cayuga Bird Club, the reading of the list as described in the caption to this beautiful uh evening at Sapsucker Woods. 

[Photo: Inside the Lab building with lots of books, a man looking through a spotting scope at the window, a man sitting in a chair reading, and several other people gathered around tables]

The interior being designed as an observatory with books and reference materials, lots of window space, telescopes, very much as you see out here in the building today. In fact the architects and we agreed as we built this building, basically model that idea after the old one, it really had a great thing going. Get surprised as you walk in by the magnificence of nature right in front of you with the pond. 

[Slide text: …a rebel with a cause. In argument he would bulldoze through, brooking no contradiction. Critics were baited with an acid tongue, and, in fits of temper, he could be a cruel mimic. In short, lesser mortals were not tolerated easily and … collegiate friends were few. …he [was not] particularly sophisticated or cultured, just a big, up-front Yank possessed by ‘the big picture’ in avian phylogeny and convinced of the righteousness of his cause and invincibility of his intellect. -Richard Shodde, 2000, Emu 100: 75-76

Charles Sibley (Cornell professor, 1953-1965); Photo: Black and white portrait of Charles Sibley]

Now there’s a very interesting side story to this, and I’ll tell it just briefly. But there was an individual at this time at Cornell University, Charles Sibley, a very famous ornithologist no relation by the way at all to the David Sibley of the, the current artist and illustrator. But this Sibley was a professor at Cornell from the early ’50s to 1965. Note the juxtaposition in the dates here. 

Sibley was a big-time professional ornithologist who was very interested in the taxonomic relationships of birds. He studied hybridization in birds, and genetic structures in hybridizations, such such as one could in that era. But Sibley was also an extraordinarily difficult individual. I actually got to know uh Charles Sibley quite well during the latter part of his life. And I just want to read, just to give you a sense, and I’ll explain why this is important in a second, I want to read this quote from his obituary, by the way,


by Dick Shodde, a great ornithologist from Australia. He was a rebel with a cause. In argument he would bulldoze through brooking no contradiction. Critics were baited with an acid tongue. Fits of temper he could be a cruel mimic. In short, lesser mortals were not tolerated easily and collegiate friends were few. He was not particularly sophisticated nor cultured, just a big upfront Yank possessed by the big picture in avian phylogeny and convinced of the righteousness of his cause and the invincibility of his intellect. 


Wow, this is an obit. 


Well this is the man that was the Big Cheese professor of ornithology at Cornell during this period. And now picture Arthur Allen, the champion of the living bird, the champion of the outdoor bird. As opposed to studying birds in the museums using specimens and ultimately later on using DNA, uh Allen represented the living bird. Sibley, the powerful professor, the staid traditional ornithologist, Arthur Allen the revolutionary, the field guy, the one who actually enjoyed talking with the general public as much as he enjoyed talking with professional students. 

And so you can imagine at that time this idea that got, got pretty exciting to to Allen saying I gotta get out of campus. And there’s no doubt that this was a huge part of what went on during that period. Allen said I want to go get a place where we can play with birds the way we study birds not the way those guys do. And so he created this place. 

[Image: Cover of The Living Bird First Annual 1962 Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology with painting of yellow-bellied sapsucker]

And so in 1962 he opened up the new journal of the Lab of Ornithology, and what did he call it? The Living Bird. The very title of the magazine that we still get today coming out of the Lab of Ornithology. Today we get it as a quarterly, semi-popular beautifully information-rich magazine for anybody to enjoy. In those days The Living Bird, this Living Bird was a technical journal, a big thick once a year technical journal with papers, illustrated, characteristically, with good art, but really intended for a few hundred to maybe a thousand professionals as opposed to the general public that we now deal with today. 

[Photos: Bill Dilger smoking a pipe while writing, and cover of Scientific American January 1962 with two lovebirds on it]

The 1960s had some scientific productivity, I want to mention specifically this man Bill Dilger, who still lives in the Ithaca region, actually made huge uh scientific breakthrough with his discovery of the, of the inheritance of nesting, nest building and courtship behavior in lovebirds, right here at the new Lab of Ornithology building. 

[Photo: Arthur Allen standing outside among trees]

Allen was at the end of his career in the early 1960s. He died in 1964. 

[Photo: Arthur Allen sitting next to a collection of records and holding one]

And we’ll just say goodbye to him sitting next to his records, the proud collection of records that he’d produced before the end of his life. 

[Photo: Arthur Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg standing in the Lab of Ornithology building]

And here he is shown with the man who would then take on the directorship of the Lab for a few years, this is Peter Paul Kellogg, his former graduate student and then longtime professorial colleague at Cornell. 

[Slide text: Olin Sewell Pettingill; Photo: Pettingill smoking a pipe while seated at a desk looking at papers]

For a few years afterwards this man Olin Sewall Pettingill, incidentally very difficult to find a picture of him without a pipe in his mouth, 


very nattily dressed, always with a bow tie. Pettingill became director of the Lab in the late 1960s. He was best known for teaching outstanding field courses in a couple of places in the Upper Midwest. 

[Photos: Pettingill standing in a suit, and cover of Bird Biology, Seminars from the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University]

But from our purposes, he’s actually best known for having done the first version of what we would later call the home study course in bird biology. It was Pettingill’s manual that people of any persuasion could actually use to study birds, and understand birds, and come to grips with birds in a scientific way, but done through an accessible language, readable by any good high school student. So Pettingill, maintaining this idea that Arthur Allen had founded, namely birds are for everybody, not just for the the special few that get to study them professionally for a living. 

[Photo: Cover of Handbook of Bird Biology with two photos of birds and one of a bird nest with eggs]

And this home study course that that he created gave way to several different editions of the book that we now call the Handbook of Bird Biology, and I’m happy to tell you that by about this time next fall we will have the completely revised version of the Handbook, Cornell Handbook of Bird Biology available for you to peruse, and learn from, and for people all over the world to be able to use as a home study course in bird biology. We owe this originally to the period of time in which Pettingill was director of the Lab. 

[Poster with text: Personally Presented AUDUBON WILDLIFE FILMS featuring National Audubon Society Speakers 

Full Color Motion Pictures

Olin Sewall Pettingill, Jr. Sea Ice and Fire; Photo: Pelican]

Pettingill was also a promoter of birds around the country, and actually spent a lot of time traveling and giving lectures to bird clubs much like the Cayuga Bird Club. Wouldn’t surprise me if the, if Pettingill himself gave lectures to the Cayuga Bird Club often back during his era. 

[Photo: Lab building from above in black and white]

In the late ’60s the Lab, the Lab built on a big addition, you can see it bulging out towards you in this picture. That was the Fuertes room that contained the great Fuertes paintings that you see right behind me here, willed to us by a, by an attorney in Hartford, Connecticut. 

[Photo: Library of Natural Sounds room filled with records] 

And it also contained what would now, then come to be known to libr—as the Library of Natural Sounds, the organized, cataloged collection of all the sound recordings that um had been coming in over now the last three or four decades. 

[Slide text: Jim Gulledge; Photo: Jim Gulledge holding sound recording equipment outside]

And with that construction came the hiring of this man who’s, who meant a lot to people around here during his life, Jim Gulledge, excuse me, now deceased. Jim was really the first curator of the Library of Natural Sounds, and taught a succeeding generation of people how to use the evolving equipment for sound recording, uh out in nature. 

[Photo: Two men standing in the pond wearing waders]

A little aside for those of you who know this pond, it was fully drained at one point in 1971, well after it had been established. Uh, and apparently because botulism, that, what they did was they fed a lot of geese and ducks all the time so the place was actually jammed with waterfowl. And worries about botulism were such that they decided it was time to drain the pond, clean it and get some addition, uh new dirt in there. This is a picture of Jim Tate, actually he was a staff member at that time. And Jim later became the Under Secretary of the Interior under Gale Norton in the US 

[Photo: The drained and dried out pond]

There it is, the dried pond. Your beloved Sapsucker Woods Pond. 

[Photo: Three people observing the pond through binoculars and scopes from inside the building]

And here are the, here the, the major attraction was that it must have been a great shorebird watching spot for for a short period of time out there as that was happening. 

[Slide text: Tom Cade; Photos: Tom Cade holding raptors, one in black and white and one in color]

During this period, this is when Tom Cade the professor at Cornell moved his operations out here to the Laboratory of Ornithology site. And it is here and, where he pioneered the process of breeding, and creating releasable populations of the peregrine falcon. And of course Tom, uh hugely influential in the discovery of DDT as the leading cause for the decline of peregrine falcons, and ultimately hugely responsible for the recovery of that bird. Tom would later move his operation, 

[Image: The Peregrine Fund logo- World Center for Birds of Prey with painting of a peregrine falcon in the center]

dubbed the Peregrine Fund, out to Boise, Idaho where he established this world center of birds of prey. He still is out there today, um so we can understand that this globally directed conservation group got its beginnings right here at the Lab of Ornithology.

[Slide text: George Archibald; Photo: George Archibald standing with his arms out next to a whooping crane with its wings out]

As did the International Crane Foundation, thanks to the efforts of this famous guy, George Archibald, a Cornell student who first danced with cranes to get them into breeding condition right here by the white barn,


just a few feet from where we are right now. And George would later leave Cornell to establish 

[Image: International Crane Foundation logo with a silhouette of a dancing crane in the center]

with his great friend uh Ron Sauey, the International Crane Foundation, still very successful conservation group in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Once again, a spin-off by people who see what needs to be done, capture the opportunities that birds supply, and get this done, a hallmark of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology idea that was now emerging as a very serious and good one. 

[Slide text: 1966; Photo: Lab of Ornithology board members—15 men and one woman—standing outside in formal wear]

During the 1960s and ’70s the board of the Lab consisted of a series of very eminent professionals and artists. Roger Tory Peterson was on the board for a number of years, Sutton was on the board, a whole bunch, and I’m just going to just give you just a quick, just flick through. In fact I see the son of one of the board members here, Bob Horn. 

[Slide text: 1970; Photo: Lab of Ornithology board members—15 men and two women—inside with the first row seated]

You’ll see the picture of him in these images. Ken Parks, uh the great ornithologist from Pittsburgh, and so on. 

[Slide text: 1975; Photo: Lab of Ornithology board members outside with first row seated]

But this, this period was not characterized by an enormous amount of external work. This was a period in which people were coming to the Lab, and there’s a certain sense that one gets

[Slide text: 1976; Photo: Lab of Ornithology board members outside with first row seated]

that it was a somewhat closed place. It was a club of sorts with great people coming in here, and enjoying talking with one another, and dealing with some of the students who were energetic enough to get out from the Cornell campus. 

[Photo: Lab of Ornithology board members outside with first row seated]

But it was an interesting spot and in the per—in the history of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Doug Lancaster, then the director, the lanky guy 

[Slide text: 1979; Photo: Lab of Ornithology board members inside with first row seated]

sitting in front with his feet coming out towards us and the white, white hair. Doug Lancaster was an expert on tinamous. And so this was a period in which it was not the most productive period in the Lab’s history. And then there was a change. And the change was in part brought on by some board members who said we should, we should see what we can do here by helping out this place. By maybe getting some people on the board who are not just the professionals in the field, but who are actually philanthropic, philanthropically inclined, who are business leaders, who are civic leaders. And so the board began to diversify, 

[Slide text: Ned Morgens; Photo: Black and white portrait of Ned Morgens]

and one of the individuals that played a big role in that, now early 1980s period was this man, Ned Morgens. Here he is shown as just out of college. Ned is still on our board today, and is one of the most—signature individuals over the past several decades that has helped move the Lab into a new generation. 

[Slide text: Charlie Walcott; Photo: Charlie Walcott holding a pigeon] 

And specifically in 1982 they hired this amazing individual, Charlie Walcott. Many of you know this man, still around, alive and well today with his wife Jane. Charlie Walcott came with an expertise in pigeon homing. And in neurobiology and behaviors, a behavioral scientist. But Charlie understood something. Namely, things had to change here. The financial and economic um, situation at the Lab was a little tenuous. There wasn’t a huge amount of internal research going on at that time, and Charlie said we got to do a couple of things. And one of those things was work with a few board members to get a progressively larger and larger board of, of willing philanthropists. 

[Slide text: 1985; Photo: Lab of Ornithology board members inside]

There’s a picture of one such board in begin, of this beginning board 1985. 

[Slide text: Ned Morgens

Gene Johnson; Photo: Morgens and Johnson in the board member photo]

And here are two board members still on our board today, Imogene Powers Johnson, whose name you see on the front of this building. Uh and Ned Morgens standing above her. This was the beginning of a different kind of board that was serving this institution at that time. Charlie Walcott also recognized that that one annual magazine called The Living Bird was not appropriate for what he recognized the Lab could have as its potential, namely gathering the interest and involvement of all of the general public. After all the 1980s birdwatching had begun to be a pretty popular thing. 

[Slide text: Chris Clark; Photo: Chris Clark sitting with recording equipment]

He also recognized the need to hire a new young breed of hardworking scientists, and so he hired into the bioacoustics research program this young man Chris Clark from Rockefeller University. And Chris Clark would go on to lead the most, uh the largest and best funded, externally funded 

[Photo: Three people on a boat preparing yellow passive acoustic devices for deployment] 

research program in the Lab’s history. This is the man whose interest lay mainly below the surface of the water in the marine mammal realm. And so Chris taking on this, again the same idea of innovation, experimentation to do some things that we, that nobody else had done before. Namely layout, broadly laying out passive acoustic devices to be able to listen to what’s going on underneath the surface of the sea. And this bioacoustics research program continues today. 

[Slide text: Rosetta Stone to the Warblers; Images: Warbler photos with spectrograms of their night flight calls] 

I put this up because these birds are passing over your head every night. This is the Rosetta Stone for the night flight calls of the migratory warblers created by Bill Evans and Andrew Farnsworth, you’ll hear, you’ll hear from Bill Evans uh in a few weeks. 

[Slide text: Greg Budney; Photo: Greg Budney outside holding recording equipment]

Hiring at that time continued, and in the technical area hiring the young man just to succeed Jim Gulledge. This is Greg Budney who’s alive today, 

[Slide text: Bob Grotke; Photo: Bob Grotke at a desk with various equipment]

still around here as a curator of the archive today. They hired a sound engineer of a considerable skill, Bob Grotke. Among his claims to fame was one of the chief sound engineers at Woodstock. 


[Slide text: Pixie Senesac, John Fitzpatrick; Photo: Pixie Senesac and John Fitzpatrick seated in a recording studio]

And they took in visitors who wanted to come in and contribute uh to the uh collection. The recordings that they might be making all around the world. 

[Slide text: Scott Sutcliffe; Photo: Scott Sutcliffe seated in an office]

Many of you know this wonderful individual. Scott Sutcliffe was hired in the mid-1980s to work side by side with Charlie Walcott and help manage this growing place. 

[Slide text: Ted Parker April 1, 1953—August 3, 1993; Photo: Ted Parker holding sound recording equipment in a forest]

We pay homage to this amazing individual Ted Parker who was a very close friend of the Lab’s, and a true milestone of this institution was the loss of this very talented individual 

[Photo: Ted Parker and Al Gentry]

together with his coworker and colleague from the Missouri Botanical um Al Gentry, unfortunately going down in an airplane crash in 1993. To this day we remember Ted Parker, and we, all of us who knew him pledge ourselves to be working ever a bit harder to make up for the loss of how much he was doing at that time with his mere 40 years before he perished. 

[Slide text: André Dhondt. Morgens Professor; Photos: Dhondt in a boat holding binoculars, and standing at a podium] 

In the mid-1990s, coincident with Cornell’s capital campaign, a major new uh event took place namely thanks to the growing engagement of this board I referred to. Charlie was able to begin to attract genuine uh, endowment level funding for professors at Cornell. There comes now the huge realization that we continue to embrace today namely this institution can only achieve its true global scale impact by embracing the fact that we are at a great research university. And so we began to hire endowed professors. And André Dhondt came in 1994. I came the following year on another endowment, 1995. 

[Image: Cover of Interspecific Competition in Birds, Ford Avian Biology Series by André Dhondt] 

And began to uh

[Photo: Two trailers in the snow]

work on the process of the next phase of growth of the Lab of Ornithology, because those of you who live in the region recall what things were like in the mid-1990s here. 


There’s André’s office. 


Here’s a great world-renowned professor coming from Belgium, taking on a great endowed professorship at a great Ivy League research university,


and his office is a leaky trailer filled with mice. 


[Slide text: A World Class Scientist at a World Class Institution; Photo: André Dhondt smiling at the door of the trailer]

There’s Andre peeking out of that trailer. 

[Slide text: Project FeederWatch: Bird Studies

Canada/CLO 1976/1986

More than 16,000 FeederWatch sites; Image: Map of US and Canada showing FeederWatch sites; Photos: Erica Dunn standing near bird feeders and a finch at a feeder]

At that time we were beginning to experiment more and more strongly with the idea that we could engage citizens in doing actual real science. It started with this, Project FeederWatch in the US and Canada. 

[Slide text: Rick Bonney and Ken Rosenberg; Photo: Bonney and Rosenberg standing outside near a picnic table with people seated at it]

It became even more expressed when these two individuals, plus another individual Greg Butcher, uh received a pioneering National Science Foundation grant 


NSF funded, 1992 – 1995

Project Tanager, Project PigeonWatch, Seed Preference Test; Photos: Scarlet tanager, pair of pigeons, and three types of seed]

called the National Science Experiments. This was the first time that they got NSF funding to test the idea that we could actually engage the general public in getting real questions answered out there in the, in the wild. The um experiments consisted of three. I won’t go into what all of those were, but Project Tanager, Pigeon Watch, and the Bird Seed Preference Test all produced meaningful scientific results. And one of the most interesting offshoots of this was this Project Pigeon Watch,

[Slide text: The Power of Pigeons

“In the end, many participants had become bird lovers. All had become science lovers, more observant of the world and nature around them. ” -Group Leader; Photo: Group of people on a bench observing a flock of pigeons in a city]  

for the first time put the Lab scientists in the position of interacting with the people who were teaching young children and middle-aged, and uh middle school kids in the middle of cities the idea that watching nature is a valuable proposition. This was a huge eye-opener for the Lab of Ornithology. It was a new place for us to go in the 1990s, but if you think about what we stood for, and stand for in the longer run, what more natural thing to do than to say birds should be accessible to everybody. You don’t have to be a suburban uh or rural person to be able to enjoy them. And indeed this Project Pigeon Watch gave rise 

[Slide text: ‘Celebrate Urban Birds’ and workshops at the Lab; Photo: Teenagers at a workshop in the Lab’s observatory]

to what would now later come to be called Celebrate Urban Birds. And this is a picture taken just a few months ago right here in the observatory of a big workshop filled with people from all over the country coming in uh, once or twice a year in, under the Celebrate Urban Birds program to be able to take what they learn here back to their local communities around the country. Um, again a brand new place for us to be of taking our idea, the original Arthur Allen idea. 

[Slide text: Jack Bradbury, Sandy Vehrencamp; Photos: Bradbury smiling with a cartoon parrot on his shoulder, and portrait of Vehrencamp]

Finishing up with the idea of bringing new people in, endowments began, kept coming in. We had several additional endowments in the 1990s Jack Bradbury and Sandy Vehrencamp, two of the best-known behavioral ecologists in the world, uh agreed to come and take on professorships here in 1999. Jack and Sandy best known for 

[Image: Cover of Principles of Animal Communication with photo of sage-grouse displaying]

being world experts in animal communication, again fitting in beautifully with the theme of the fact that we study sounds and what those sounds mean in nature. 

[Slide text: Millennium Strategic Plan 

October, 1999

  1. Strengthen financial resources
  2. New physical facilities (= build a building! )
  3. Expand staff in key areas
  4. Facilitate digital data acquisition
  5. Embrace the Web in all program areas
  6. Understand the potential of Citizen Science
  7. Segment audiences and reach more people
  8. Align the Board with strategic priorities]

At the turn of the 21st century we identified some specific things that need to happen to take this place to the next level, and I’ll just circle the two that I want to pay particular

[New physical facilities (= build a building! ) and Embrace the Web in all program areas are circled in red]

uh, tip my hat to. Number one we recognized as the staff was growing and professorships are growing, we got to get out of that old leaky building and the 14 different outbuildings that we had by that point scattered around this place. And by that point we also recognized we had to embrace the internet, use the web for our, as our principal communication vehicle. 

[Photo: View of Sapsucker Woods from above with roads and buildings under construction]

So again we’re now coming up to what you all might remember well, the rerouting of Sapsucker Woods Road,

[Photo: View of old building and new building site right next door, with construction beginning] 

the construction of this new building right next door to the uh, old building that you see there on the left. 

[Photo: New building under construction] 

Here it goes up with the big erector set going. 

[Photo: New walkway and completed building]

And we got, by the, 2003 the spectacular new building that did all the things that we could have dreamed about it doing, plus so much more. It opened our doors and our facilities to a huge influx of students, the Renaissance of student engagement with the Lab of Ornithology really began when we finally actually had a place where they could sit down. 


[Photo: Interior view of building with chairs lined up for watching outside, and large window showing walkway and trees]

And uh, and of course we built places where all of the general public could come and sit down as well, 

[Slide text: Sam and Gene Johnson (autumn, 2002); Photo: Johnsons standing in the new building in front of large windows]

characterizing the previous Lab as well. Um and I’m happy to say that not very many months before he passed away, uh Gene Johnson’s husband Sam Johnson, the great CEO of Johnson, SC Johnson and family companies was able to tour this building and see this great new spot. And we all tip our hat to Sam, and I remember Sam specifically saying the idea that we could build a place that’s the absolute best in the world at this, that’s that a great, I like that idea. As a consequence of that, Gene’s name is on the front of this building. 

[Slide text: Irby Lovette; Photo: Irby Lovette in a lab observing as a woman uses a pipette]

Remember the Charles Sibley story, the separation of the different kinds of ornithology, the evolutionary biology and phylogenetic studies on the one hand, and museums drifting away from the study of the living bird. This new building allowed us to close that loop, bring the collections back in together with, with the uh collections of sounds and videos and so on. And the hiring of Irby Lovette as our evolutionary biologist. Uh Irby characterized by, using molecular techniques for studying a wide variety of biological questions, including 

[Image: Evolutionary tree with a drawing of a bird at the end of each branch, from Berv and Prum 2014] 

uh his, his student Jake who’s actually in the back room there. I had to find the most colorful example I could of creating uh the specific evolutionary tree that shows the relationships of how a great and beautiful and very interesting group of birds evolved. Irby and his students have brought that fully into the fold here, no more split between the evolutionary biologists on the one hand and the behavioral biologists on the other. 

[Photo: Spoon-billed sandpiper]

Milestones have continued to roll in. I’ll just mention that in the same vein that Arthur Allen felt compelled to get down and try to film the ivory-billed woodpecker, when we had an opportunity to get out to, get a person out to the extreme northeastern Siberia to film this, one of, arguably the rarest of all the world’s shorebirds the spoon-billed sandpiper, we couldn’t pass that up Gerrit Vyn, uh who’s now a full-time staff member and photographer and um media producer, spent a good part of that summer up there. 

[Photo: Gerrit Vyn with several other men on top of a tank]

And ended up escaping at the end on this Russian tank. That’s Gerrit sitting on the, right there on the upper right side of the tank there. Gerrit’s about 6 8, or 6 9, so you can’t miss him when he’s standing in a room.


And I couldn’t resist, seeing this picture reminded of this picture, having found this picture,

[Photo: Black and white photo of four men including Peter Paul Kellogg on and near a tank with sound recording equipment] 

and said Gerrit wasn’t the first one to use big armored vehicles for getting out into wild places in the Arctic. That’s Peter Paul Kellogg uh standing on the left with his recording gear uh sometime in the 1950s high in the Arctic, doing much the same thing that Gerrit was doing. 

[Slide text: “Conservation Media”

Philippine Eagle; Photo: Front view of Philippine eagle head, looking right at the camera]

Well this idea that we use media, after all we’ve been gathering media since the nineteen, early 1930s, and by the 2000s were gathering videos as well as sounds. And we were able to put these together and start telling stories with them. At that, was at that point that we recognized we needed to actually create a program, and hire an individual who knew how to do this. Uh and we were able to hire John Bowman who’s here in this room, to come in from National Geographic, 14 years of experience at National Geographic, and take on the idea that we can create very well put together stories with a specific purpose of advancing certain conservation uh issues. In this case we’re working hard right now on this rarest of all the world’s eagles, the Philippine eagle. 

[Image: Poster for The Sagebrush Sea

An ocean of biodiversity, living in a cold desert with photos of sagebrush steppe and several bird species that live there]

And I want to just uh, uh tip my hat to John and his team’s production of this show, The Sagebrush Sea, and I put this in in particular because I understand this actually going to be rebroadcast Wednesday? Wednesday night this week. So if you did, if you missed the the first showing of The Sagebrush Sea, which tells the story the very, very timely story of the sagebrush steppes in the west of North America, and the question of whether the greater sage-grouse should be listed as an endangered species. 

This is the show to look at to just get a sense of the unbelievable richness of flora and fauna that exists in the American sagebrush west. That was the specific purpose and intent of this movie, and I think you’ll agree if you get a chance to see it Wednesday that it does a spectacular job of this. 

[Slide text: Ed Scholes and Tim Laman; Photo: Ed Scholes and Tim Laman with computer and large camera surrounded by ferns and other vegetation]

The idea that we can send teams out to remote places on remarkable, repeated expeditions to do such things, things so bold as to have, the idea that you can actually get great videos of all 

[Photos: Each of the 39 species of birds of paradise with text identifying them]

39 species of birds of paradise. Came to fruition over a multiple year period several years ago, and we’ve been producing together with National Geographic, another coming together, uh that recalls the Arthur Allen eras, uh a great book, and a wonderful traveling expedition on this show that is still underway. 

[Photo: Male bird of paradise displaying, with feathers arranged so he looks oval-shaped from above]

Showing the dazzling behaviors, and absolutely on, bizarre contortions that these birds have evolved as a way of showing off to the female who’s perched above this bird. What a great perfect tutu you can make. 


You want me, that’s what that bird’s saying, you want me. 

[Photo: Person in a dead tree adjusting cameras above a heron nest]

One of the great milestones that we’re continuing to enjoy, and exploring further and further is the idea that we can actually, using modern technology, show people the living world in real time. And this is a picture of an arborist who has climbed up the snag out here on Sapsucker Woods Pond, having investigated its capacity to hold human weight, and he’s now actually adjusting and cleaning I think in this picture, the lenses of the several cameras that were there to produce the wonderful, several year in a row heron cam that we were able to broadcast 

[Photo: View of heron adult, two chicks, and three remaining eggs, one of which is hatching, from the heron cam]

from the middle of Sapsucker Woods Pond. We really started it because we got to watch these birds ourselves for a couple of years, and we just said we gotta show the world what’s going on here, it was so beautiful and so amazing to see these great prehistoric-looking birds going through their entire breeding ritual. And so we continue to explore this idea, and yet another brand new um, embracing of the technology that’s available to us right now. Using today’s technology, pushing today’s technology I might say, to be able to do some things that have never been done before to bring the natural world into the living rooms of everybody around the world. 

[Slide text: eBird; Image: View of part of the eBird website with Home, About, Submit Observations, Explore Data, My eBird, and Help tabs]

Ultimately the citizen science enterprise uh continued to expand and explore the edges of the internet space, and it evolved into this, our, by far our largest now signature project. The idea that anybody in the world at any point in any place at any time can put an entire checklist of birds that you see, whether it’s one bird or a hundred species of birds. Whether you’re in central Africa, or up in the Arctic. In fact only a few days ago we got our first ever checklist from the North Pole. 


The checklist had zero species on it. 


But it documented the fact that there are no birds up there. 


So now, we are now uh running this program in which we’re getting 300 to 700 thousand checklists per month from all over the planet. A genuinely, globally-changing opportunity that we can now for the first time in human history, receive information from anywhere on the planet at such scales that we can actually analyze it, and turn it back around, and show people what they’ve helped us learn, in visualizations that are, that would stun Arthur Allen frankly if he were able to see these things. 

[Slide text: Field Sparrow; Photo: Field sparrow; Animation: Field sparrow movement across eastern and central US over the year] 

And here I would call this new thing a genuine milestone in the study of nature. This, these are data of the field sparrow coming from eBird using land coverages to model exactly where the field sparrow was in every week of the year over a combined period of several years. We actually literally now can see the heartbeat of planet Earth, as a consequence of information sent into us from all over the place, all over the continent, all over the world. Increasingly this is available for every species in the world. We have only a few species left of all the known species on the planet that have not yet been uh recorded once in eBird. 

But especially in places like North America with a high density of data, we are now actually entering the phase of big data science, where we hire machine-learning specialists and advanced statisticians, and even using uh parallel processing computing power to be able to uh, create these models and come to grips with what we now can describe that we never could describe before. This is the power of the citizen. This is the power of a place like the Lab that says we, we can do something. Let’s try this. Let’s try to push this. And we’re continuing to try to push these today. 


2.1 million eBird locations, from every country; Image: World map showing eBird locations, with the most in North America, but global coverage]

Our goal genuinely is to have a different relationship with the planet. In which humans worldwide recognize the capacity to be able to see the changes that are underway, that we are bringing about. And maybe even to change our behavior as a consequence of that. If we’re going to do that, if we’re actually going to help generate a whole new relationship and attitude about the world, 

[Image: eBird mobile start screen in four languages]

we’re going to have to do it in languages other than English. This is just an illustration of four different examples of the mobile device version of eBird. Available both in iOS and in Android, shortly. We have four, I think we have about six languages now. How many languages are there in the world? 


If we’re serious about this, we have a lot of work to do. It sounds outrageous, but it’s not. There are lots of ways in which we can do this. There are lots of partners around the world that can participate with us. There’s where action comes in. Remember action, one of those words? We can do action because we know partners,

[Image: Merlin app start screen with Start Bird ID and Browse All Birds options]

we can work with partners around the world. We worked with a great partner uh to create this product. Again, given the relentless change that’s out there across the landscape of what platforms people are actually interacting with, we created this Merlin Bird ID as a tool to allow beginning bird watchers some help at recognizing your own birds. And there’s a trick inside Merlin. The trick is, it ties directly real time into eBird. So it knows what you might be seeing out there. So instead of starting with the entire bird book as most beginning bird watchers tend to do, Merlin starts by just knowing well what’s likely to be seen right where you are today at the time that you’re reporting, given that spot. 

Now add a few pieces of information, and we can now send you a couple of pictures of a couple of different species that are the most likely ones. And indeed it acts just like a wizard. And we’re getting enormously popular feedback from people who are beginning to use it. Okay, that’s 400 species in the US. There are twelve hundred species in Mexico. There are three thousand five hundred species in South America. Our work is cut out for us. If we take seriously the idea that we are of global consequence, then creating these additional innovative tools for the entire planet 

[Slide text: “Bird Academy”

All About Bird Biology- Satisfy your curiosity. Discover what’s really going on in the lives of birds. Featured Topic: Fancy Males

Interactive- All About Fancy Males

Download- HD bird wallpaper

Video- Displaying sage-grouse, from website]

is upon us. And I’m happy to say that we can do this not just with mobile devices and tools for identifying birds, but we can actually convert all the knowledge that we have little by little about the biology of birds, the kind that’s included inside your textbook, so we can present it in ways, lively ways, in which you get to see things move and interact as you’re learning about birds over the internet on our once called All About Bird Biology, now about to be re-coined, you heard it here first, Bird Academy.


A non-stop addition of new modules for allowing people all over the world to learn amazing things about nature. 

[Slide text: Organism-scale, Macro-scale, Milli-scale, Micro-scale; Photos: Accompanying each scale- Head of bird and full view of bird, feather, zoomed in view of feather, and microscopic view of feather]

From things like the structure of feathers and their evolutionary origins, to anything else you can imagine. The purpose of fancy male displays in nature is one of the big ones that’s now on, on the Bird Academy Site. 

[Slide text: Proposed integration of Macaulay Library and eBird to create global hub of natural history data, images, & media; Diagram: Bird watcher- data submission with arrow to eBird Checklist to eBird Filters to Community Review to Macaulay Library of Natural History to eBird, with Merlin going back with Expert Review to Macaulay Library and Merlin also connecting to the Bird Watcher, all leading to Scientific Outcomes] 

Finally I wanna, before closing with a few comments, I just want to say that we have a big, big, big challenge in front of us still right now. And that is, one of the most exciting things that we have contemplated taking part in, or attempting. And that is, the genuine fundamental merger of the eBird process with the Macaulay Library archive. 

So that when you go into eBird, or other eBird-like [inaudible] on your computer or your uh phone. You can send in not just your bird checklist, but the little movie that you took of the bird that documents that you saw it. Or a little sound recording that you got of that bird. Or we can get 10,000 people to send in their robin recordings, and we can do an instantaneous continent-scale comparison of all of the dialects of the American robin. Or any other such thing that you can imagine. 

All of this requires the technical um, um infrastructure to do it. We are working on this right now. But the possibility that this allows us not only to receive enormous amounts of information. Not just checklists but all the media as well. But also to do quick jobs of actually turning that around and making it available to you in one way or another. Through apps or Bird Academies or any other such thing. And even making those available to other people around the world who want to use their programming expertise to make their own tools. The democratization of all this information. Something that Arthur Allen himself was trying to do almost a hundred years ago. There’s the hallmark of the Lab of Ornithology. 

[Slide text: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The Lab is flying today! ; Graphs: Peer-reviewed Publications from 1995 to 2015 with an increase over time to about 90, Supporting members from 1981 to 2015 with an increase over time to almost 70,000]

Simply put, the Lab is flying today. We’re doing, we’re publishing more scientific papers than we ever have, we have increasingly every year a larger number of supporting members, I’m happy to say. Thanks to all of you for being among that group, and to all of you out there in the streaming space as well. 

[Slide text: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

What are the Lab’s roles in the coming century?


•We must be about service to the natural world;

•We must help all people and cultures benefit

⁃from understanding nature

⁃from living side by side with healthy wild ecosystems and native species.]

So what are our roles? You already saw me at the beginning talk about our premises. We’re about service. This is all about making things available to the world. It’s all about the idea that humans and nature can interact in a stable way eventually. That’s going to be a hard job as the human population moves from seven to eight to nine billion. But we have to do it. 

[Slide text: Our hallmarks:

  • Science
  • Innovation
  • Training
  • Communication
  • Inspiration
  • Conservation
  • Action]

Our hallmarks as you’ve just seen in a quick review of our history. And our aspirations are numerous. We are a diverse place, and we have to stay this way to be able to get all this work done. 

[Slide text: Our hallmarks:

  • Science
  • Innovation
  • Training
  • Communication
  • Inspiration
  • Conservation
  • Action

Our audiences:

  • not limited to scientists
  • global
  • culturally inclusive
  • anyone open to inspiration]

Our audiences cannot be scientists alone. They have to be everybody who’s available to learn. 

[Slide text: On applied vs. Basic research:

  • Given the crucial needs of a human-dominated world undergoing rapid change, applied research is essential;
  • Applied research must not trump fundamental research;
  • The Lab remains committed to both.]

We have to ask some questions. But in this era of climate change and loss of biodiversity, it’s possible that the human-dominated systems demand that we do applied research more than basic research. And my uh notion is that that’s not enough. It’s still that, we are still early as a species in the process of understanding nature. And so studying the basic ways that nature works is also essential. And birds are the best tools there are for diving into the mechanics, and the evolutionary stories, and the ecological relationships of nature. So we will continue in my view at least to have a mix of applied and basic research at this place, just as we have all the way back through to the beginning of Arthur Allen’s era. 

[Slide text: 

  • Continuing to pioneer citizen science means really understanding people: are we prepared and equipped to do this at the highest levels? 
  • The entire world really does need what we supply—can we keep up with the demand? 
  • How do we ensure that we’re using our capacity optimally?]

If we’re going to continue to pioneer citizen science, we need to understand people. We need to not just understand birds, we need to understand people. And the question we have to ask ourselves is whether we are equipped as an institute to do this. Or whether we need to actually really actively seek the partners on campus and other campuses around the country to be able to take citizen science to its next possible levels, which is to understand how people can uh interact with it, and what motivates people to pay attention to it. 

I want to say in short that the entire world needs the kinds of things that we can supply. And our question always is going to be can we keep up with the demand. And we have people knocking on the windows regularly saying we’d like to take part in this. Literally. And it’s extremely exciting, it’s very, very exciting the idea that what we’re doing is catching on. And that people are understanding what a power that birds have to understand things at new levels. And our job is to figure out how can we keep up with that demand. That’s an unanswered question at this point. We need to make sure that we’re using our capacity optimally.

And finally I just want to say that it, we have to keep recognizing that it is not enough to just have fun with birds and then find ways to feel good about that. Believe me, we have fun doing things with birds. I’ve been a birder since I was four and a half years old, and I still love nothing more than sitting out on a fall day and watching the hawks migrate. But it’s not enough for this institute to stand for that. What we can do is say do that and then make some use out of the observations that you’ve done. And as an institute with science and training on the one hand and communication on the other, we need to feel like we can put those things together and really make a genuine difference. Both for the natural world and for the human cultures that live, maybe someday stably side-by-side with it. So we are fundamentally a place 

[Slide text: Interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.]

that interprets and conserves their biological diversity. We’re not just a bird shop. We’re about interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity. We do that through research and education and citizen science, with a focus on birds. It’s a pretty cool idea. It’s a great experiment. And things look pretty good right now after a hundred years, but we got a long way to go as I just tried to give you a sense of before we could feel like we’ve actually really done the job. There’s plenty, plenty, plenty more still that’s left undone. 

[Slide text: Huge thanks to all of you for your tremendous support of the Cornell Lab—we could not do this without you! We’re looking forward to the next 100 years.] 

And I want to end by again thanking all of you, both here and across the uh, the streaming internet, for the help that you’ve given us through the years. The financial support, the scientific support, the data, the engagement that you’ve given us means an enormous amount to us. That’s why Arthur Allen started this thing. And it’s a great privilege to be starting the next hundred years. Thank you all very much. 


Thank you. I went a little long, so. 


[Paul] Thank you. Do we have time for some questions? 

[John] I’m happy to, it’s really a question of whether… 

[Audience] Yes, I really enjoyed the history you laid out of the glorious past hundred years the Lab has enjoyed and your vision for the future. Um as you know the Cayuga Bird Club has a history just as long, there’s been this long

[John] Yes 

[Audience] process of engagement between the two over the years. I’m wondering what you might envision for collaboration between the Bird Club and the Lab of Ornithology moving forward. 

[John] Yeah, yeah. Good question, it’s just asking whether, what the, what the hopes and ideas are for a collaboration between Cayuga Bird Club and the Lab of Ornithology going forward. Cayuga Bird Club being almost as old, or essentially as old as the Lab itself. I think the best answer I can give is that it would be not, it would not be unique to Cayuga Bird Club, but from our standpoint uh, establishing relationships with all the bird clubs across the US, of which as you know there are thousands. 

Um to make a concerted effort to keep eBird data coming in on a regular basis. And I would say specifically, and this is a place where I think local groups make a huge difference, identifying spots where you, or a small group of you, or the club itself actually identifies, our job is to keep monitoring that spot all the time. Now I know May’s Pool that’s such an attractive place at Montezuma that, that’s an easy, easy one. But that’s not the kind that might tell us as much as some other places that are farther away from the main, uh main, main streets that actually are habitats that we don’t have as easily monitored. 

So I would say the quick answer is for Cayuga Bird Club, and also for all the bird clubs of the world to identify places that, by supplying regular data year-round year after year you’re actually elevating to the next level a degree to which we understand the earth. That’s my best idea. 


[Audience] I’m gonna put you on the spot John. Um the hot, the single highlight of your career so far here, and the one thing that you would really like to see happen before you go. 


[John] Wow! 


[John] That’s a fascinating question. The single highlight of my 20 years here at Cornell, and the one thing that I would really see like to happen before I go. Okay single highlight, oh boy. Um I’m going to have to say, uh there have been a number, but I’m going to have to say genuinely that when we began to see eBird take off. 

Some of you might remember that we started with the Great Backyard Bird Count in the late 1990s. As an experiment with would people actually interact with the internet well enough to be able to put checklists in. And we got some pretty big numbers, what would seem to us to be big numbers at the time. And our question was would we be able to handle it if we were getting Great Backyard checklist scale numbers every single day? Would we have the systems to handle it? Would we have the science to handle it? 

And so when we began to see the numbers go up and eBird since 2002 has been climbing literally at a thirty-five to forty percent annual compounded increase. We began to see that, and we saw year after year that happening. I would say that the one most exciting thing that’s happened to me is that we realized we just created something absolutely brand new. That’s taking advantage of 21st century uh capacity. And it’s doing something that biologists have been dying to do for hundreds and hundreds of years.

That was exhilarating. And I will just add as a follow-up that even to this day, and people who are here at the Lab who are here tonight or listening can, can, can, can back me up because every now and again still we get called into an office to say hey look at this. And what we see is some incredibly new pattern that one of our scientists has found in how birds are moving. How they differ from one another moving, and what, what pathways they’re taking. We are just still we’re unfolding you know holiday presents all the time right now in these data. And so that’s, that to me is just terrifically exciting. 

I have to say that the thing I would most want to see happen before I’m, I’m uh out of here and the next one takes uh, takes over is a um, a genuinely global process for that. And that’s a huge challenge for us. I mean language is only one of the issues. Cultural differences, uh establishing partnerships and good local nodes in two hundred different countries and so on, that’s a pretty ambitious um idea. But um but to me that’s a doable idea if we can design it right. And if we can establish obviously the resource base for it, and and also the network of partners, I think that’s a doable thing. It’s a pretty big hope, but uh we’re going to get there. So thanks for the question. I think I’ll let you all go. It’s uh almost bedtime. 


So I appreciate your uh, your attention. 


End of transcript

Join John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab, to kick off a new season of Monday Night Seminars. As part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s centennial celebration, Dr. Fitzpatrick explores what has changed, what has flourished, and what is to come. From 1915, when the Cornell Lab was founded by Arthur Allen and colleagues, this seminar looks ahead to the challenges faced by the Lab and everyone who cares about nature.