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Species of the Century

By Gustave Axelson
From the Winter 2015 issue of Living Bird magazine.
Arthur Allen's group at camp. Photo by Arthur Allen.
Arthur Allen’s group at camp. Photo by Arthur Allen.

From its founding, the Cornell Lab has focused on revealing the mysteries of bird biology and behavior through scientific inquiry. What began as discoveries and revelations about individual species grew into an appreciation for the role of birds within their broader ecosystems and the importance of those species to the larger world. In recent times the Cornell Lab has been building on another dimension—using science to guide conservation action that saves bird populations and protects places. Now as it all comes together—the science of species, of processes and places, of change—we can look back at the birds that brought us here.

A few of the significant birds studied during the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s first 100 years:

Warblers by Brian E. Small
Warbler family Tree: American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens), Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca). In 2010, Cornell Lab scientist Irby Lovette and colleagues rock the warbler family tree with a major reclassification of their taxonomy. Decades of DNA research produce a greatly improved understanding of warbler evolution—in other words, how the many species in this group branched off from one another as they evolved over millions of years. These results shift more than 20 warblers of the former Dendroica genus into Setophaga, with the American Restart (top right) as its evolutionary namesake. The Black-throated Blue (center) and Blackburnian warblers (right) are also members of this colorful and diverse group. Photos by Brian E. Small.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library

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