2021 William Brewster Memorial Award Winner: Marty Leonard

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 William Brewster Memorial Award recognizes the author or coauthors of an exceptional body of work on birds of the Western Hemisphere published during the past 10 years. Established in 1921, the award honors William Brewster, one of the founding members of the American Ornithologists’ Union, and consists of a medal and an honorarium. One of this year’s two awardees is Dr. Marty L. Leonard.

Dr. Leonard is a Professor of Biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she is also Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. As a distinguished scientist, Dr. Leonard has made major contributions in two areas of ornithology: detailed studies of the behavioral ecology of breeding birds, and conservation efforts on behalf of endangered birds in Atlantic Canada.

In her research, Dr. Leonard has been interested in understanding how conspicuous begging signals used by young animals may have evolved. In experiments based on playbacks and food manipulations, Dr. Leonard along with students and collaborators have tested hypotheses that the structure of begging calls can be affected by parent-offspring conflicts and tradeoffs with predation risk. Her field studies with Tree Swallows and other species have included investigations of how energetic costs, acoustics of the nest, competition from nest mates, and environmental noise together affect the types of signals given by young birds. 

Dr. Leonard’s second area of research has been focused on the conservation of endangered birds in Atlantic Canada, including a variety of species that are currently listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. With her students, Dr. Leonard has been working to understand the factors that put species at risk and to determine how to reduce the impact of these factors. Examples include field studies of the foraging habitat and diet of Roseate Terns, the impact of exclosures on nest predation in Piping Plovers, the impacts of forestry management on the occurrence of Bicknell’s Thrush, and linkages between wintering locations and the subsequent breeding success in migratory Ipswich Sparrows.

Dr. Leonard has served as the chair and member of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). She co-edited The Evolution of Begging: Competition, Cooperation and Communication, a book that comprises 24 original contributions from researchers on begging by nestling birds; and published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, including highly cited work in Animal Behaviour, Behavioral Ecology, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, and Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. In recognition of a meritorious body of research on birds over a long and distinguished career, AOS is deeply honored to award Dr. Marty Leonard a 2021 Brewster Award.

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