2013 ELLIOTT COUES AWARD
The Elliott Coues Award recognizes outstanding and innovative contributions to ornithological research regardless of the geographic location of the work. The award is named in honor of Elliott Coues, a pioneering ornithologist of the western United States and a founding member of the AOU.
This year, the AOU presents the Elliott Coues Award to Dr. Russell Greenberg --Director of the Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park.
Russ began his professional training at the University of California-Santa Cruz as an undergraduate. He then went onto UC Berkeley to complete his B.A, and then Ph.D. under the direction of Dr. Frank Pitelka. After becoming Dr. Greenberg, he switched coasts and headed to Washington DC for a postdoc with Eugene Morton at the Smithsonian. He has remained a key component of the Institution’s science program ever since
Russ’s groundbreaking research on ‘neophobia’, the aversion to novel stimuli, has become highly regarded as animal behaviorists focus on aspects of temperament and personality in ecological decision-making.
Contributing to fundamental science has always been a priority for Russ, but it was his deep commitment to the species and habitats he cherishes that forced him to add conservation biology to his portfolio.
As a result, Russ was one of the first scientists to recognize that some crops could be grown in ways that minimize the negative effect of agriculture on native ecosystems. Around that simple but profound concept, Russ invented the idea of promoting shade-grown coffee as a bird-friendly product, and took his research on birds in tropical ecosystems and applied it to the marketplace.
He changed the coffee industry by developing a science-based criteria, now considered the gold standard, for how shade coffee benefits both birds and broader biodiversity: the “Bird –friendly Coffee” certification program. The “Bird Friendly” concept has been copied by many and continues to be a pioneering way to link economics to conservation.
The work Russ was doing in the tropics on migrant birds and his vision for conservation biology all began to coalesce in 1989, when Chandler Robbins, John Sauer, Russ, and Sam Droege published transformative paper titled Recent Population Declines in North American Birds that Migrate to the Tropics in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. This paper, to date cited over 650 times, changed the face of bird conservation, sounding the alarm about migratory bird declines, and starting an international conservation movement. Influenced by this work, three years later, the U. S. Congress appropriated funds for Russ and Gene Morton to found the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, with Russ appointed as Director.
One of the first public initiatives to come out of the SMBC was institution of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) which now occurs at over 700 venues every year throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Most recently, Russ has published thought-provoking papers on his integrative exploration of the bird bill as a heat radiator. This ‘thermal view’ of morphology adds another dimension to the bird bill as a textbook study system for adaptive evolution and opens up a variety of new study topics in natural and sexual selection.
Russ’ body of work over the past 30+ years includes over 150 peer reviewed publications, and several books and edited volumes on various aspects of ornithology.
Over 70 postdoctoral scholars, graduate students and research interns, many from
developing countries, have studied with Russ. Russ has made a conscious commitment to
mentoring people from under-represented groups as is evident by the fact that over half of
these are women or from other under-represented groups.
In summary, Russ Greenberg has made a significant mark on the ecology, evolution and
conservation of migratory and resident birds of the western hemisphere through his
highly creative and innovative approaches to science. Thus, the AOU proudly presents the Elliott Coues Award to Russ Greenberg!