International Conference Focuses on Avian Research

September 13, 2002

Arthur Nead

More than 1,000 scientists specializing in bird research will flock to New Orleans late this month for the third North American Ornithological Conference. Co-hosted by Tulane University and the Audubon Nature Institute, the conference on Sept. 24-28 provides a forum for members of several major ornithological societies to network and attend a series of scientific presentations.

"This is a joint conference held every four years," says ornithologist Thomas W. Sherry, a professor in Tulane's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a co-chair of the conference. Sherry's scholarly specialty is the ecology of birds that migrate between North America and the Caribbean. His extensive fieldwork in Louisiana, New England and Jamaica has put him in contact with many ornithologists around the continent. When the president of the American Ornithologists Union suggested three years ago that the conference next be held in New Orleans, Sherry agreed and began organizing the meeting.

Tulane and institutions from Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have worked together to plan the meeting.

"We've been thinking of this as a collaborative effort, and this has worked out well," he says, adding that he has received support from colleagues at Southeastern Louisiana University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and LSUShreveport. "This has been an exercise in coalition building," says Sherry, who is pleased with the support Tulane has given the conference. "President Scott Cowen has been supportive and helpful," he adds. "He has provided us with a generous grant from his office."

Other entities at Tulane providing valuable assistance are the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and the Tulane/Xavier Center For Bioenvironmental Research. The Audubon Nature Institute, the conference's principal co-host, has donated funds to the conference, and has made the Aquarium of the Americas available as the site for the meeting's gala opening-night reception.

The conference's main sessions will be held in downtown New Orleans at the Inter-Continental Hotel and will begin with a plenary address, followed by eight concurrent symposia. Also, there will be two poster sessions in the grand ballroom of the hotel on Wednesday and Friday evenings. At each of these poster sessions, the results of some 160 bird-related research projects will be on display.

There was such an enthusiastic response to the call for symposia that the organizers had to schedule many of them on the day before the official opening of the meeting. Of particular interest will be a symposium on bird parasites and viruses, which will address West Nile virus and the role that birds are playing in the propagation of the disease. Other topics to be discussed include long-term climate cycles, like El Nino and La Nina, and their effects on bird populations.

The use of satellite tracking devices, which have been useful in bird research, also will be discussed. Not all of the conference's activities will take place in downtown New Orleans, as organizers have coordinated 10 field trips to bring participants into various Louisiana habitats. Conference leaders have organized a two-day workshop for kindergarten-through-grade-12 teachers in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

"The theme of that workshop is how to incorporate birds and bird themes into the curriculum," says Sherry.

Tulane will host an exhibition of bird-inspired art at the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library's Special Collections gallery in Jones Hall. Entitled "Anderson, Audubon, et. al.," it will feature the art of Mississippi artist Walter Anderson, and will also include works by 17th-century and later illustrators such as John James Audubon and John Gould.

"The conference has been a big undertaking," says Sherry, "and it could not have been put together without the work of a tremendous group of people including my Tulane colleagues, visiting instructor Bruce Fleury, and my students. It's been good for ornithologists in south Louisiana to work together on a project like this."

Arthur Nead may be reached at

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