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'Wings Across the Americas' Award Honors Forest Service Scientist for Work on Neotropical Migrants' Winter Habitat

Atlanta, GA, March 15, 2012 - Like the at-risk Neotropical migrant birds he studies, Dr. Dave King of the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station has migrated back and forth to Central American countries for more than two decades pursuing research related to the birds’ wintering habitat.

On March 14, 2012, King, of Amherst, Mass., received the Wings Across the Americas  “International Research and Partnership Award” for his work with a joint effort by the Forest Service, the  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, The Nature Conservancy and the Mesoamerican Development Institute. The Wings Across the Americas award ceremony was held as part of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference at the Atlanta Hilton.

“This award is a great honor, and it has been an ongoing honor to work with so many talented people from many organizations in this country and in Central America on research that I care about,” King said.

Fifty years ago, as evidence for declines in migrant bird populations appeared and biodiversity was becoming a greater concern, science focused on understanding the needs of birds in breeding habitat and assumed that they could make use of any habitat type in wintering grounds. King’s work is finding that birds’ wintering habitat needs are much more specific than previously thought.

King and his research team used radio telemetry to track Golden-winged Warblers, a species with declining populations that winters in Costa Rica. Results suggest that non-breeding neotropicals are anything but generalists when it comes to winter habitat. For example, Golden-winged Warblers require forest habitat with vine and dead-leaf tangles within a narrow range of elevation and moisture conditions. “It made it clear it’s important to think about the non-breeding season,” King said of his work with graduate student Richard Chandler.

Similar research is investigating whether Wood Thrushes in shade coffee survive the winter as well as individuals in native habitat. “Previous work on this species suggests that if there is nothing else left, they’ll occur in marginal habitat, however overwinter survival might be lower” King said.

The people of Central America have also been part of the focus of King’s research and partnership with the Mesoamerican Institute. His research has evaluated how agroforestry can increase income for farmers and improve bird habitat. For example, “Integrated Open Canopy Coffee” in which coffee is grown with little or no shade but adjacent forest buffers has made farming more profitable for farmers by creating more sunlight, which reduces disease that lowers yields in shade-grown coffee. Sampling showed that this coffee growing system supports birds such the Golden-winged Warbler that are unable to persist in shade coffee unless there is conserved forest nearby.

“It really comes back to the belief that people cannot make rational decisions about land use when they are desperately poor,” King said. Work with the Mesoamerican Institute has sought to make sustainable use of the land more profitable for the people working the land.

The award is the second Wings Across the Americas award King has received. In 2009 he received the International Cooperation Award for his contribution to an agroforestry study that examined ways people could earn a living from the land while conserving biodiversity.

“Wings Across the Americas” is a Forest Service program that represents an integrated and collaborative approach to bird conservation across agency program areas including Research and Development, the National Forest System, State and Private Forestry, and International Programs.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on our lands contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit


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Last modified: March 15, 2012