Ornithologist, conservationist Robert Ridgely receives 2013 Allen Award

May 16, 2013
2013 Allen Award recipient Robert Ridgely, center, with two past recipients, Linda Macaulay and Victor Emanuel. P 2013 Allen Award recipient Robert Ridgely, center, with two past recipients, Linda Macaulay and Victor Emanuel. Photo courtesy John W. Fitzpatrick.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology bestowed its prestigious Arthur A. Allen Award for 2013 to Dr. Robert Ridgely, at a ceremony May 14 at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library. The award, named for Cornell Lab founder Arthur Allen, was established in 1967 to honor those who have made significant contributions to ornithology by making it accessible to the general public.

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“No individual alive today has contributed more to the understanding and widespread public appreciation of South American birds than Bob Ridgely,” said Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick. “Through his own pioneering explorations in the Andean wilderness, his meticulously researched books and articles, and his relentless pursuit of conservation milestones in Ecuador and beyond, Bob embodies everything that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology strives to achieve and support. ”

“As founder of the Cornell Lab, Arthur Allen broke important ground by blurring the lines between amateur naturalists and professional scientists,” Fitzpatrick said. “Today we honor Allen’s vision by recognizing other leaders who help build this vital bridge, and nobody does this better than Robert Ridgely.”

Dr. Ridgely is an expert on Neotropical birds and coauthor of The Birds of PanamaThe Birds of Ecuador, and The Birds of South America. Ridgely and fellow birder John Moore discovered a new species of antpitta in Ecuador in 1997.  Subsequently named the Jocotoco Antpitta, it has gangly blue legs, a white cheek patch, and vocalizations that range from a soft hooting to a sharp bark. The endangered bird was given the scientific name Grallaria ridgelyi to honor Dr. Ridgely.

Jocotoco Antpitta Jocotoco Antpitta by Patty McGann via Wikipedia.

Listen to the bird’s call and song, recorded by Dr. Ridgely in 1997. The recording is archived in the Lab’s Macaulay Library collection.

Ridgely is the cofounder and president of Fundación de Conservación Jocotoco, which runs 10 nature reserves in Ecuador. He has worked tirelessly to promote bird conservation during his tenure at the Academy of Natural Sciences and the American Bird Conservancy, continuing to the present in his role as Honorary President of the World Land Trust-US.

“Dr. Robert Ridgely is a trailblazer in conservation as well as one the world’s foremost field ornithologists and tropical researchers,” says Dr. Paul Salaman, Chief Executive Officer of World Land Trust-US. “His no-nonsense approach to conservation has resulted in the purchase of private lands for the protection of birds and their environment, producing real world results.”

Ridgely has been awarded the Eisenmann Medal by the Linnaean Society of New York (2001); the Chandler Robbins Award from the American Birding Association (2006); and the Ralph W. Schreiber Conservation Award by the American Ornithologists’ Union (2011).

Past Winners of the Arthur A. Allen Award include Roger Tory Peterson, Alexander Wetmore, Sir Peter Scott, Alexander Skutch, Tom Cade, Victor Emanuel, and Linda Macaulay.



  • David Hartgrove

    On Tuesday, 12/3/13, I was standing on the fishing dock at Spruce Creek Park, in Volusia County Florida with a group of high school kids. About 50 feet out in the marsh there stood an immature Little Blue Heron. Some distance further out there was a Great Egret. This was a good teaching moment since I could point out the difference in leg and bill color and show a picture in the field guide of what the bird would look like this time next year. As we watched, the bird reached out with its bill and snagged what appeared to be a salamander, though I’m unaware of any salamanders that use a brackish habitat. At any rate, through my binoculars I could see that whatever it was had a tail and hind legs that looked salamander like and appeared to be solid black. The bird struggled a bit swallowing the critter and then began to act strange. It was standing on top of the vegetation, which was sea rocket and other kinds of matter I don’t know the name of. So it wasn’t especially steady on its feet to begin with. Within seconds of swallowing whatever it was the bird began to appear drunk. Its difficulty in walking became even more pronounced, it began to swing its head back and forth and suddenly fell over backwards with its wings splayed out. The bird remained motionless on its back for about 30 to 40 seconds. We all thought it was dead. Then its legs jerked a time or two, its wings seemed to flutter a bit, it slowly got upright and stood there for a few seconds and began trying to walk back away from us. Within a few more seconds it flew off about 75 yards out to the top of a black mangrove where it sat for about 10 minutes. Then it flew off to the west and we didn’t see it again.

    In all my years of birding I’ve never seen a bird have this type of reaction. I had no idea there was any organism in salt marshes that could have such a profound effect on a bird. I hope someone can shed some light on this episode. It sure has me baffled. It’s been suggested by some on the list serve where I first posted this that it ate a greater siren (Siren lacertina). This animal was small, no more than 5 inches and probably a bit less. It was hard to be sure since the upper half of the thing was in the heron’s bill. There were 2 small legs and the tail was plump, like a salamander’s, not sharply tapered like an anole’s. It was also suggested that perhaps the bird had swallowed an artificial lure. I suppose that’s possible but in all my years of going to this spot I’ve never seen anyone fish at this location. It would have to be a wildly off target cast since there’s no open water nearby. If anyone has a plausible explanation there are a lot of us here in Florida waiting for the answer. I know of no toxic amphibian that is found in salt/brackish habitat. I wish I could have filmed the bird but as usual a camera wasn’t available when this action took place.