One of the young from the 2020 season of our Red-tailed Hawk Cam flies above the Cornell campus. Photo by Cynthia L. Sedlacek.

Annual Report


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“Through our collective actions, we are pushing biology and technology forward, and catalyzing the most effective conservation measures for birds and all of the natural world that calls Earth home.”
—Linda Macaulay, 
Chair, Cornell Lab Administrative Board

Key ThemesWatching the World’s Birds

This year saw us helping people connect with birds in the field, developing ways to use observer data to understand conservation issues, and reaching key decision makers who put that understanding into real-world use.

Our Merlin Bird ID app, now covering nearly 8,000 species on all continents, introduced a new list-keeping feature that makes it easier than ever for people to get drawn into birdwatching. Our eBird data scientists introduced new Status and Trends maps that can display a species’ abundance and distribution across the whole Western Hemisphere. And the U.S. government tapped those eBird models for use in analyzing risks of potential wind-farm projects.

Merlin Bird ID, White-breasted Nuthatch by Ryan Schain/Macaulay Library.Merlin finds a White-breasted Nuthatch. Photo by Ryan Schain/Macaulay Library.

Discovering Earth’s Secrets

From dark skies to hidden ocean depths to the mysteries of bird song, we’re creating new technology to shed light on conservation problems that once were thought unsolvable.

Computer recognition of bird song—the long-awaited “Shazam app for birds”—is here thanks to our BirdNET project, which can identify 1,000 bird species and counting. Our Center for Conservation Bioacoustics introduced new Rockhopper submersible sound recorders to map sounds in the Gulf of Mexico and at Easter Island (Rapa Nui). And our Lights Out Texas project caught the attention of former first lady Laura Bush and helped spread the word about Texas’s bounty of migrating songbirds and the need to combat light pollution.

Red-winged Blackbird by Don Danko/Macaulay Library, with soundscape in background.Red-winged Blackbird by Don Danko/Macaulay Library.

Facing a New Reality in Learning

During the first months of the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.S., thousands of teachers and millions of students found themselves suddenly needing new ways to teach and learn. At the Cornell Lab, we’ve been creating online courses for years, and we stepped in to help where we could.

In partnership with the American Ornithological Society, we made seven of our Bird Academy courses free to ornithology instructors and college students so that they could continue their semester with top-notch learning materials. In all, we reached more than 100 professors and more than 2,000 college students. To help elementary and secondary school students, our K–12 Education program created a series of free resources and project ideas, known as the “Curriculum for Cooped-Up Kids.” An estimated 150,000 students benefited from the thoughtful engagement with the natural world around their homes.

Photo courtesy of Conor TaffPhoto courtesy of Conor Taff.

Empowering Communities

In a vast and diverse world, lasting conservation doesn’t happen unless local people have the tools, training, knowledge, and passion to make an issue their own. We work to support members of local communities, so that their voices can be heard and their goals can be realized.

In Peru, our Celebrate Urban Birds staff reached 250 teachers across the Amazonian forest of Loreto, Peru, helping them create ID guides, workbooks, and bird clubs in local languages. In the Mayan Forest of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, our Yucatán Project developed a standardized protocol so that bird monitors can collect data anywhere and share it everywhere. And online, we turned our popular live-streaming cams into a Bird Cams Lab project where viewers join together to explore and test scientific questions.

Children in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Marilu Lopez-FrettsChildren in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Marilu Lopez-Fretts.

Sounding the Wake-Up Call to #BringBirdsBack

Last year, research led by the Cornell Lab revealed that nearly 3 billion North American breeding birds had been lost over the last half-century. We spent this year working to persuade people to take steps to turn those losses around.

On Capitol Hill we’ve seen bilateral support for two landmark bills: the Bird-Safe Buildings Act and the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. We’ve also built our Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative, recognizing that private lands are an invaluable part of the conservation puzzle. Land trusts preserve more than 50 million acres of land in the Lower 48, and our initiative supports them with expertise, resources, and a small-grants program that awards more than $100,000 to land trusts for conservation projects each year.

Western Meadowlark by Jeff Maw/Macaulay Library.Western Meadowlark by Jeff Maw/Macaulay Library.

Engaging Partners

Whether it’s collaborating with engineers and architects or answering a scientist’s call for help telling their story through documentary filmmaking, we’re constantly looking for chances to increase our reach through partnerships.

With a vision no less ambitious than protecting the entire Pacific Flyway for shorebirds, our Coastal Solutions Fellowship funds Latin American professionals—scientists, engineers, economists, architects—to find innovative ways of protecting vital coastal habitats up and down the entire Pacific coast of the Americas. Meanwhile, our Center for Conservation Media teams with passionate scientists like Dr. Purnima Barman to raise the profile of the endangered Greater Adjutant stork, and help turn around its decline.

In Assam, India, Dr. Purnima Barman leads women to help conserve the Greater Adjutant stork. Photo by Gerrit Vyn.In Assam, India, Dr. Purnima Barman leads women to help conserve the Greater Adjutant stork. Photo by Gerrit Vyn.

Financials Revenues and Expenditures

Thanks to friends like you, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a healthy and effective organization. Nested within the fabric of Cornell University, the Lab’s strength lies in its unique institutional model that weaves together research and academics with outreach and conservation programs, and in the support of thousands of members and donors.

As you can see from the top pie chart, membership revenues and gifts are the single largest source of support for our programs and projects. Our members and friends provided 64.6% of our annual revenue, a total of $24.9 million that fuels innovation, growth, and scientific excellence.

We are deeply grateful to our more than 100,000 members and donors at every level, all of whom make it possible for the Cornell Lab to advance the understanding of nature and engage people of all ages in learning about birds and protecting the planet. We’re pleased to include a downloadable list of our Sapsucker Woods Society members and honor and memorial tributes here.

Cornell Lab annual report 2020 revenues and expenditures

Five-Year Trend

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

Download the Full 2020 Annual Report

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

Annual Operating Revenue and Expenditure, 2016-2020

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