Our Founder: Dr. Russ Greenberg (1953 – 2013)

Russ Greenberg Photo_Oct13The Rusty Blackbird was quite fortunate to attract the attention of Dr. Russ Greenberg back in the 1990’s.  Before then, the spiraling decline of this unique blackbird species was largely overlooked.  However, Russ brought passion and vision to the challenge of understanding and addressing the disappearance of this once common bird, and he quickly began to raise awareness and rally troops.  Russ’s leadership led to the founding of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group in February 2005, and his guidance, wisdom and dedication to the cause have spurred the growth and maturation of the group ever since.

Russ was instrumental in the coordination of most of the pioneer research for Rusty Blackbirds, helping to organize and implement at least ten studies in less than a decade, while actively consulting on several others.  Collectively, these projects yielded fundamental  information regarding Rusty Blackbird demography and ecology throughout their range, and helped generate further interest and concern for the species among the bird conservation community as a whole.

This flurry of investigation and engagement culminated  in the publication of a special section on Rusty Blackbirds in the peer-reviewed journal, The Condor, in November 2010, and a thorough synthesis of information and hypotheses on the Rusty Blackbird decline in Studies in Avian Biology in 2011.  None of these efforts would have materialized without Russ’s direction and insight.  Moreover, Russ orchestrated the first Rusty Blackbird Blitz, in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s and National Audubon Society’s eBird project.  This three-year citizen science effort aimed to document the winter distribution and occurrence of Rusty Blackbirds in over 20 Midwestern and Southeastern states.

Russ’s commitment to and accomplishments in the realm of Rusty Blackbird research and conservation are even more inspiring considering his many other professional interests and obligations.   As  head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., Russ directed the Center’s efforts to improve understanding, awareness, and engagement regarding migratory bird and habitat protection in the Western Hemisphere for over two decades.  Russ is well-known for his research in Latin America on bird communities in shade grown coffee systems and his subsequent work in establishing the Bird Friendly coffee program and founding International Migratory Bird Day.  He has also studied several other bird species, focusing on poorly-known subspecies such as the coastal plain Swamp Sparrow and the Atlantic Song Sparrow.

Russ is the author of more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and co-author or co-editor of several other books and compilations, including Birds of Two Worlds: The Ecology and Evolution of Migration (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005) and Terrestrial Vertebrates of Tidal Marshes: Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation (Cooper Ornithological Society, 2006).  Perhaps most importantly, Russ has been a trusted mentor to many young scientists, helping shape the professional foundations of more than 70 postdoctoral scholars, graduate students, and research interns who have studied with him.

The International Rusty Blackbird Working Group would like to express our heartfelt appreciation for the countless late night hours and behind-the-scenes effort that Russ so passionately dedicated to Rusty Blackbirds and our group.  It’s not easy to inspire interest in a nondescript, black bird that makes a sound similar to rewinding a VHS tape, but Russ successfully organized an army of people who now participate in and coordinate Rusty Blackbird research and conservation across North America.  Owing to Russ, this working group has a solid core and successful history to take pride in and build upon as we continue to promote the study and conservation of this vulnerable, valuable species.

Thank you, Russ, we will miss you . . .