2021 Elliott Coues Award Winner: Bruce Beehler

Over the coming months, we will be profiling the previously announced winners of this year’s AOS awards in a series of posts on Wing Beat.

The AOS Elliott Coues Award recognizes outstanding and innovative contributions to ornithological research, with no limitation with respect to geographic area, sub-discipline(s) of ornithology, or the time course over which the work was done. The award consists of a medal and an honorarium and is named in honor of Elliott Coues, a pioneering ornithologist of the western U.S. and founding member of the AOU. One of this year’s two awardees is Dr. Bruce Beehler.

After a post-graduate Thomas J. Watson Fellowship allowed him to spend 15 months studying birds in Papua New Guinea, Beehler studied the behavioral ecology of birds of paradise for his doctoral studies at Princeton University. He went on to spend a decade at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, followed by time with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the U.S. Department of State, Counterpart International, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, finally returning as a Research Associate of the Bird Division of the Smithsonian in 2014. Over the years, he has led ornithological expeditions and conservation initiatives in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

In his work with the U.S. Department of State, Dr. Beehler organized U.S. delegations to the Ramsar Conference of the Parties and the IUCN World Conservation Congress. His support and participation in the development of the 87,000-hectare YUS Conservation Area in northern Papua New Guinea—the nation’s first national conservation area—led to protection of forests containing five hyper-endemic bird species (Emperor Bird of Paradise, Huon astrapia, Huon parotia, Huon melidectes, and Spangled Honeyeater) and two endangered mammal species. Dr. Beehler also provided the support, planning, and fundraising for the creation of a marine conservation program for the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia, leading to the conservation of substantial portions of the richest marine reef ecosystems on Earth. In the end, his conservation work led to the preservation of more than a million hectares of forest and reef in the New Guinea region.

Dr. Beehler is a prolific scientific and popular writer who has contributed to popularizing ornithological science through his books, papers, field guides, monographs, blogs, and other publications, as well as public lectures, op-eds, and news broadcast appearances. His books range from the first edition of Birds of New Guinea (1986, Princeton University Press) with Thane Pratt and Dale Zimmerman to North on the Wing—Travels with the Songbird Migration of Spring (2018, Smithsonian Books) that recounts his adventures tracing the spring migration of songbirds via car, foot, bike, and canoe, and resulted in a Choice Award in the Outstanding Academic Title category.

Working with 81 collaborating authors from 15 countries, Dr. Beehler’s academic publications range from descriptions of island biogeographies, to mating behaviors and social systems of New Guinea forest birds, to his work on rails of the world, including the publication of two editions of a comprehensive regional field guide, as well as a full distributional, taxonomic, and systematic reassessment of the New Guinea avifauna to the subspecies level. Dr. Beehler’s ground-breaking fieldwork on the ecology, behavior, and systematics of the birds of paradise led to a 1998 Oxford monograph and sixteen supporting scholarly papers. Additional research with collaborators has focused on lek mating behavior in birds of paradise and chemical defenses of the Hooded Pitohui in New Guinea.

Dr. Beehler’s biodiversity field assessments in Melanesia led to the recognition of a new threatened biodiversity hotspot, a comprehensive multi-expert natural history review and assessment of Indonesian New Guinea (Papua and West Papua Provinces), and a 2005 expedition to the Foja Mountains of western New Guinea that resulted in the discovery of more than 100 new species of plants, frogs, birds, mammals, and butterflies, as well as the rediscovery of a “lost” bird of paradise (Parotia berlepschi) and a new species of wattled honeyeater, Melipotes carolae.

In recognition of his many contributions to ornithology, from traditional taxonomy to cutting-edge conservation, AOS is pleased to name AOS Fellow Dr. Bruce Beehler as a 2021 recipient of the AOS Elliott Coues Award.


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