Cornell Lab Annual Report 2021

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Roseate Spoonbill by Drew Weber/Macaulay Library

Your support has helped us build global connections among the diverse communities of people who love and study birds.

Linda Macaulay, Chair, Cornell Lab Administrative Board
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Key Themes

Connecting a Global Community

The Cornell Lab’s team of experts is creating innovative products and tools powered by the largest collection of bird occurrence data in the world and the world’s largest digital wildlife archive.

Highlight: Knowing the names of birds helps us connect with them and with the world. This year, Merlin Bird ID’s new sound identification feature gave people the ability to discover which bird species were singing nearby. Often described as “magical” by users, Merlin’s Sound ID feature would not have been possible without millions of contributions by eBirders from across the globe. The breadth and depth of this dataset, combined with computer vision and artificial intelligence expertise, made this quantum leap in birding technology possible.

small yellow and black Common Yellowthroat perched on flowers
Your support helps keep the Merlin app free for everyone around the world. Common Yellowthroat by Brad Imhoff/Macaulay Library.

Hearing the Unheard: A Listening Revolution

World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2020 found the average population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles have dropped an alarming 68% since 1970. The newly named K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics is working to reverse the downward curve of biodiversity by listening to the Earth in incredible new ways.

Highlight: For the past four years, a network of Cornell Lab–produced Swift automated recording units has helped researchers to protect elephants and detect poachers in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of the Congo. Their success has prompted other organizations to propose similar monitoring networks in additional elephant strongholds. To build capacity, the Cornell Lab’s Elephant Listening Project (ELP) is working to establish a bioacoustic research hub, to be staffed with a team of Congolese experts, that will train conservation practitioners to set up, run, and analyze acoustic monitoring projects.

Elephant researchers in Republic of Congo
Photo courtesy of the Elephant Listening Project.

Stirring Passion in People’s Hearts

The Cornell Lab’s Center for Conservation Media connects with groups around the world to produce media that make a difference for birds and nature. This year Bird Cams, the Virtual Visitor Center, and the art of Maya Lin invited the world to make live connections with birds and the Cornell Lab.

Highlight: In 2018, the Cornell Lab provided inspirational film and imagery of the birds-of-paradise, helping to prompt Indonesian leaders to pledge protection for 70% of their remaining rainforests. Now, the Lab is part of a “Defending Paradise” social-media campaign aimed at building support among urban youth in Indonesia to help conserve one of Earth’s most important and imperiled intact rainforests.

The powerful visual storytelling of the Center for Conservation Media’s Birds-of-Paradise Project—like this scene of Greater Bird-of-Paradise courtship—is central to the Defending Paradise campaign.

Giving Birds a Seat at the Table

Threats to birds and our natural world demand action from governments, industries, nonprofits, and communities. The Cornell Lab is forging partnerships across all of these areas to find innovative solutions to the most pressing conservation needs of our time.

Highlight: The detailed migration forecasts made possible by BirdCast can pinpoint the most important nights for keeping city skylines safe for birds. Those forecasts have powered the tremendously successful Lights Out Texas project in one of the busiest migration corridors in North America. The initiative took flight this spring with a statewide campaign, and cities across the state made proclamations to encourage businesses and residents to dim lights.

Dallas skyline at night
The Lights Out Texas effort persuaded more than three dozen businesses to go dark during peak migration nights, including 12 of the tallest buildings in Dallas. Photo by Pond5.

Reaching More People, and in New Ways

Deepening communities’ connections with birds and science is critical to spurring positive action on birds’ behalf. Last year, more people than ever gave time and energy by participating in citizen and community-science projects around the world—and birds and the natural world are better for it.

Highlight: The Cornell Lab is gaining immeasurably from what amounts to a whole new way of thinking about the scientific process. Since 2018, our NSF-funded Noise Project has explored research that is co-created and co-led by communities historically excluded from the sciences. Four community-based organizations are partnering with the Cornell Lab to design projects aimed at understanding how noise pollution affects communities, ecosystems, and our health, in order to create positive change and lead to better communication and dissemination of results in the community and beyond.

Buddah garden with green trees, plants, a flag and bird feeder
Two of the Noise Project’s principal investigators, Berenice Rodriguez and Makeda Cheatom of the World Beat Center in San Diego, turned their garden into both a noise sanctuary and a place to conduct research. Image by Marilú Lopez Fretts.

Meeting the Challenges of the Future

Access to research opportunities and experienced mentors helps students take the latest bird research questions to the next level. Access to a safe study environment is key to allowing the next generation to flourish.

Highlight: Cornell PhD students Monique Pipkin and Amelia-Juliette Demery made an important contribution to a long-overlooked topic last year when they wrote a paper addressing how researchers, especially minority researchers, can stay safe from harassment while doing fieldwork. Published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, the article’s valuable insights were shared far beyond the ornithological community and made waves across many disciplines that place researchers in the field.

Amelia-Juliette Demery and Monique Pipkin pose with museum specimens of some of the birds they study.
Amelia-Juliette Demery (left) studies iris and bill coloration, science and conservation policy, and ways to make science more equitable. Monique Pipkin (right) studies iridescent plumage in Tree Swallows and the use of art in museum settings. Images courtesy Amelia Juliette-Demery and Monique Pipkin.


2021 Fiscal Year: July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021

Thank you for supporting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. In fiscal year 2021, thousands of members and donors provided more than 67% of our annual revenue, a total of $28.9 million that expands our capacity to promote global conservation through research, education, and citizen science.

As it was for many people and organizations, fiscal year 2021 was unusual for the Lab: we saw increases both in charitable giving and program revenues (in part driven by the fact that during the pandemic many people sought out activities such as birding or online courses such as Bird Academy) combined with expense reductions (including a university-mandated hiring freeze and salary reductions, spending cuts, and travel restrictions).

As a result, the Lab ended the year with an uncommon surplus of funds. With most of these financial limitations now lifted, this surplus will allow us to grow in strategic ways as quickly as possible in fiscal year 2022 and beyond, particularly given that the threats facing birds and biodiversity are immediate and significant. Thank you for making it possible for us to invest in our vital research, education, and conservation efforts. We’re pleased to include a downloadable list of our Sapsucker Woods Society members and honor and memorial tributes here.

Two pie charts indicating revenues and expenditures for fiscal year 2021. Text states $43,020,856 revenues and $34,563,382 expenditures

10-Year Trend (2012–2021)

The bar chart depicts healthy growth over the past 10 years with revenues exceeding expenditures, allowing the Lab to continually expand and strengthen our vital research, education, and conservation efforts.

Download previous annual reports here:
2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

bar graph showing revenues and expenditures for the last 10 fiscal years

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