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Russ Greenberg, 1953 - 2013

Fern Davies

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Russ Greenberg, who developed the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and served as its director since 1991, passed away on Thursday, 24 October 2013.




His wife Judy reports that earlier in the day, he was calling for a bird quiz. Let's hope that heaven is a place full of thousands of new species to see, as no one will enjoy that more than Russ. 


In memory of Russ, please make sure to buy only shade-grown coffee. And when you see a Rusty Blackbird, think of Russ. And please do share your memories of Russ by posting them as replies, below.


In August, Russ was awarded the 2013 Elliot Coues Award by the AOU. 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. In presenting the award, AOU President Sue Haig spoke of his remarkable career:


 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.[/background] 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 RecentPopulation Declines in North American Birds that Migrate to the Tropics in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. This paper 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!


In September, Russ' friends and colleagues came together in Chestertown, Maryland to celebrate Russ' 60th birthday and honor him and his work with a festschrift. The wide range of talks reflected Russ' extraordinary career:



Monday September 23rd, 2013

Talk schedule

Talks begin at 10:20am


1. Evolutionary succession – Brian Olsen

2. A Greenberg Effect on Lack's Law? – Steve Beissinger

3. A thermal perspective of Darwin’s finch bills – Russ Greenberg, Ray Danner, Glenn Tattersall, and Cadena

4. Seasonal refashioning of the bill: A temperate phenomenon? – Ray Danner and Russ Greenberg

5. Variation in evolutionary trajectories of urban and rural populations – David Luther

6. Red leaves as cues to attract insect-seeking birds in tropical forest understories – Sunshine Van Bael

7. Are changes in bird song and climate related? – John Rappole

8. Global patterns in aerial insectivore communities – David Winkler



9. Molecular consequences of sperm competition in birds – Irene Liu

10. “Stable unpredictability” and the evolution of cooperation – John Fitzpatrick

11. Inverse Lake Wobegon in the Emberizidae: Most male sparrows are not good-looking and are below average – Doug Gill



12. Differences between sexes of a migratory bird in dispersal and spatial distribution at multiple scales – Paul Hamel and Gabriel Colorado

13. Late breeding season habitat shifts: A southern phenomenon? – John Faaborg

14. Everything we believe about dispersal of resident forest birds is wrong – Jeff Walters

15. Matching what birds do with how they perceive the world: More useful predictions of species behavior and use of habitat – Todd Keeler-Wolf



16. Do environmental cues trigger mirror-image misorientation in young Blackpoll Warblers and cause it to persist in the population even though mirror-image vagrant individuals presumably die in the Pacific Ocean? – David DeSante and Sam Droege

17. Warblers are from Mars, Euphonias are from Venus (Migration in different worlds) – Doug Levey and Alex Jahn

18. Does endocrine disruption contribute to migration orientation errors and thus population decline? – Pete Myers


Foraging ecology

19. Comparative research on bacterial based cerophagy in birds – Rob Fleischer, Rebecca Dikow, Kurata, Lock, and Claire Spottiswoode

20. Behavioral ecology of species interactions: The seed dispersal insurance hypothesis of

masting in oaks – Mario Pesendorfer

21. Birds and periodical cicadas: Addressing a 350-year-old mystery – Walt Koenig

22. What’s on the winter menu? Icterids and Accipiters in the Southeast – Patti Newell Nickerson


Conservation, agroecosystems, and community interactions

23. Understanding global declines of Rusty Blackbirds – Steven Matsuoka

24. Using birds as a conservation approach for wild bees in the Corn Belt – Valerie Peters and Bob Cooper

25. Community disassembly drives loss of ecosystem services in simplified

agroecosystems – Stacy Philpott and Peter Bichier

26. The role of insectivorous birds in forest ecosystems has not been adequately assessed

because of poor design of exclosure experiments – Bob Cooper and Valerie Peters

27. Could nitrogen deposition mediate ecological traps? – Colin Studds

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