Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cornell Lab, Here I Come!!

Oh, my. I don't even know where to begin except to just blurt it out--yesterday I was officially offered, and instantly accepted, the job of my dreams. Starting January 7, I'm going to be writing and editing for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology!!

The Lab has been my personal Mecca since I started birding in 1975. To identify my first bird, I used two field guides but since this bird was so close in appearance to another species, I also had to listen to a bird record at the Michigan State University library--and that record had been produced at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. So the Lab is directly responsible for my ability to distinguish between a Black-capped and a Carolina Chickadee. I soon went out and bought my own copy of that bird record and got to listen to a whole huge variety of bird sounds, including that of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Since that bird was so exceptionally rare, I researched how they'd gotten the recording--it was done by Dr. Arthur A. Allen of...the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

It seems like everywhere I looked in the entire field of ornithology, the Cornell Lab had been in one way or another involved, often providing the very groundwork. They've done amazing collaborations--with the American Ornithologists' Union and the Academy of Natural Sciences, they produced the Birds of North America series--originally a huge printed collection but now online, with many more features such as videos and sound recordings, on the Lab's website. They have the world's largest collection of animal sound recordings (and video!) housed at the Lab's Macaulay Library. Their wonderful array of citizen science programs includes Project FeederWatch, Urban Bird Studies, PigeonWatch, the House Finch Disease Survey, the Birdhouse Network, the Birds in Forested Landscapes project, the Golden-winged Warbler Atlas Project... the list goes on and on. With Audubon they sponsor the Great Backyard Bird Count. And Cornell and Audubon also collaborated in creating eBird, THE place for people to post sightings of birds so scientists, conservationists, and anyone else can see exactly how each species' distribution looks in real time or over a longer period of time.

And the Lab is at the forefront in some critical areas near and dear to my heart. They have a fabulous education program for kids, BirdSleuth!, which evolved from what was Classroom FeederWatch. The name of their All About Birds website pretty much says it all--that's a great place for kids as well as adults to learn more about birds. It has photos, video, and sound recordings for virtually every North American species, is constantly being updated, and so is a valuable resource for educators as well as everyone else. The Lab offers a Home Study Course (which I've personally taken) which is as in-depth as most university ornithology courses, with superb learning materials. And they also provide a fabulous Nature Sound Recording Workshop (again, something I've personally attended), where you'll not only learn how to record birds in the field from some of the finest field recordists in the world, but get to record and see, up close and personal, White-headed Woodpeckers and other wonderful species of the Sierra Nevadas.

This is only scratching the surface of the many conservation, education, citizen science, and research projects and programs the Lab offers. Every one of my experiences with the Lab has left me in awe, not just of the quality of their work but also of the heartfelt eagerness to make the best of ornithology accessible to the world at large, and of the warm sense of camaraderie the whole Cornell team displays. The reason they get so very much accomplished of such a high quality is that they are all so committed to the Lab's mission, and work as such a cohesive team.

When I started producing "For the Birds" in 1986, I was using recordings produced at the Lab. At some point after a year or so, it occurred to me that I probably should have asked for permission to use them, so I sent a cassette tape of some programs to the Lab to ask about it. And who should call me on the telephone one evening but Dr. Charles Walcott, the director of the Lab! He was so warm and gracious, assuring me that yeah, I probably should have asked, but when he was a college student, he himself had produced some programs using recordings from others and he hadn't thought about getting permission, either. He said there was no problem using them--he was delighted the Lab's collection was being used this way. If I hadn't already been in love with the Lab, that certainly sealed it!

So I'm facing this new job with a sense of awe as well as elation. I'm going to do everything in my power to justify their hiring me.

Sam Cook at the Duluth News Tribune called and interviewed me over the phone last night (after a bit of prodding from someone at KUMD pretending to be me)--that article is here. And Lisa Johnson interviewed me on KUMD this morning. I'll post a link to that as soon as I can.

(On edit--here's the KUMD program today. Scroll down to the "On Demand.")


  1. Many congratulations to you Laura! It sounds like a perfect fit for you and Cornell Lab is lucky to have you.

  2. Laura,

    I personally am very happy you accepted the position, and look forward to working with you on our various Lab projects!


  3. Congratulations!

    I found and bookmarked your site the day you posted about your job loss from the bino retailer.

    Since I am new to birding I have found your site a great read every week.

    Good luck,


  4. As I've said elsewhere... yay! You deserve it and I'm so thrilled for you.

  5. Nothing else to say Laura but congratulations! You had a up and down life this past year and through it all you were rewarded with your dream job. I am very happy for you and your family.

    Mike H.

  6. GREAT things come to those who deserve them... Congratulations Laura!
    --Heather Ray

  7. Congratulations Laura! And all the best in your new venture. What's so wonderful about this is that you will share so much with the rest of us. Cornell will benefit from your participation and so will we! You have a wonderful gift of making birds and the love of birds accessable to so many. I'm also glad to hear that you will not be leaving us in Duluth, it's been so great to be able to get to know you during the Peregrine watch. I look forward to hearing everything you have to share with us about your experiences!

    Kelly Boedigheimer

  8. Congrats Laura, on the plum assignment... doing what you love... and... getting paid for it!! does it get any better than that; and Ithaca winters have to be at least a tad better than Minnesota winters (...maybe?).

  9. Congratulations Laura. Cornell is a great resource for all of us birders but now that you will be working for them writing their website and newsletters they will be even better.

  10. Congratulations, I hope that this will turn out to be everything you have expected it to be. It truly is a "dream job" and given your past experiences it should be great.

  11. You sound so happy! Congratulations to you. You have worked so hard for so long, I'm sure you'll be great!

  12. WOW! Congratulations! The job sounds amazing. (Although commuting weekly from Duluth to New York sounds, erm, mildly hellish.) But Cornell Lab is all kinds of awesome. I'm sure it'll be perfect.

  13. I'm not sure how the newspaper got it wrong--there's no way Russ or I would drive or fly 1200 miles each way every week. It would be grueling AND waste a tremendous amount of energy. He gets pretty good vacation time now and so he'll come visit me and I'll come home as often as feasible--but more like every month or 6 weeks than every week! We survived it in college, going to separate schools 500 miles apart, back when you had to save up all your change to make a long-distance phone call. We'll survive it now.

  14. Great news, Laura! This new position should give you the time and resources to pursue your goals in ornithology. We, in turn, will look forward to more of your thoughts, photos, and continued great writing.

    Best wishes, Ivars

  15. Laura, I'm SO happy for you! And I'm happy for Cornell -- they must be as thrilled that you're joining them as you are!

  16. Congratulations, Laura!

    Our loss is Cornell's and the nation's gain.

    Who will take over the warbler walks?

    Will you still be able to speak at the Sax-Zim festival?

    How will I find out what interesting birds are to be found on Hwy 13 between Superior and Port Wing?

    There will be an incredibly big hole here in the Lake Superior area, but I'm know every one of us is excited for you and very proud of you!

  17. I will definitely be here for the Sax-Zim birding festival! I don't know who will take over the spring warbler walks, but I sure hope this tradition continues. Larry and Jan Kraemer did a great job last spring when I was out of town, and lots of our regulars would do as good a job as I do.

    Whenever I'm in town, I'll certainly be driving to Port Wing to see my mother-in-law. I LOVE that stretch of Highway 13.

  18. W00T!

    I am so happy for you! You and Russ will have to sign up for Skype.


  19. Congratulations, Laura! I am just overjoyed for you. No one could deserve such a great opportunity more than you!

  20. Congratulations Laura! I heard your announcement over KUMD, and Lisa Johnson sounded just as thrilled as you! I look forward to hearing about your Cornell adventures in the New Year!

  21. Laura,
    Way to go!! I told you good would come out of bad!! You rock!!
    Cindy Krienke

  22. Hi Laura,
    Congratulations on your great new job. I know things were pretty rough for you for a while, but I bet this more than makes up for it now. I'll echo Lynne's sentiments in saying that Cornell is lucky to have you joining their team.

  23. Laura,

    i'm still catching up on reading my blogs after the power loss of last weekend, so I'm just now finding out about your new job. Congratulations! Are you going to move to Ithaca, work out of the Lab? When you do, say "hi" to HMANA's employee, Ernesto Ruelas, whose office is upstairs (but don't tell him right away how we "know" each other.

    Carolyn H.

  24. Congratulations Laura! Before we moved to NC, we lived about 40 miles from Ithaca - a beautiful place!

  25. Hey Laura, this is your old friend Don from Mayberry. I haven't talked to you since we met in Sacramento, so it is nice to see you doing what you love to do in such a great place. Give me an email sometime, I miss chatting with you. I even made the October 16, 2009 edition of the New York Times (and I didn't even have to get indicted) Best, Don

  26. Shoot, Don--I lost your email! Right after I was in Sacramento I took this job, and then switched to a Mac and now all my old emails are lost in the electricity. So email me (

    So lovely to hear from you! I have a photo of you in your splendid car.