Cornell University in Ithaca, NY has seven undergraduate colleges, seven graduate divisions, nearly 21,000 total students and a massive campus that encompasses 2,300 acres. It also has under its umbrella possibly the foremost ornithological lab in the world. Housed in a building that sits on a 226-acre wooded sanctuary to the northeast of the main campus, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is renowned not only for its extensive research but also its efforts to spread appreciation for and advance conservation of our fine feathered friends.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology was founded in 1915 by Cornell alum and faculty member Arthur A. Allen, who was a major proponent of instituting what would have been the country’s first graduate ornithological program. No such degree in ornithology is offered at Cornell (although those who work in the lab can complete other graduate degrees that allow their corresponding research to be on birds), but the lab itself – operating under the mission statement of “To interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds” – has rocketed to heights of which Allen would certainly be proud.
Although it is an administrative unit of the university, the lab is also a nonprofit organization that almost completely relies on the financial support of some 45,000 members and donors. The Cornell Lab also counts among its community upwards of five million people who interact with the lab on the online bird guide All About Birds. There are 10 faculty members on the lab’s staff, but they are assisted by large numbers of students and other researchers who come to contribute to its wide-ranging research efforts. The lab is well-known for its particular interest in bird and animal sounds – indeed, it houses the world’s largest collection (165,000-plus) of recordings of such natural sounds. In addition to direct ornithological research, there is also quite a bit of innovation that goes on as well. Many tools, both hardware and software, are developed by the lab to help study birds better.
Something quite unique that the lab has been doing for a while is allowing members of the general public to contribute their own birding observations, most popularly to a massive online database called eBird that was developed in collaboration with the National Audubon Society. eBird thus makes it possible for bird enthusiasts to track many of the world’s 10,000 species, all thanks to the contributions of their fellow birders. This huge amount of observations, which would have been nearly impossible to gather otherwise, has given researchers access to valuable information concerning such important things as the decline of certain species in certain areas and the spread of avian diseases.
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Written by Guest Writer Sean Peick