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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2013 / 07 

Jim Fraser receives Mitchell A. Byrd Award for outstanding achievement in ornithology

July 11, 2013

Jim Fraser, professor of wildlife in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, received the 2013 Mitchell A. Byrd Award for outstanding scientific achievement in ornithology from the Virginia Society of Ornithology.

Fraser has taught wildlife management, conservation biology, and endangered species management at Virginia Tech for 32 years. His research, student mentorship, and public outreach has aided the conservation of numerous birds, including the bald eagle, red knot, piping plover, loggerhead shrike, Wilson’s plover, turkey and black vultures, and the Madagascar fish eagle.

“Jim Fraser has demonstrated outstanding scientific achievement in the field of ornithology,” said Research Assistant Professor Daniel Catlin of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, who was advised by Fraser. “Although his work has spanned the globe, from Madagascar to India and China, from Long Island, N.Y. to southwestern California, he has consistently worked to further our understanding and conservation of species here in Virginia.”

“Beginning with projects studying roost dynamics of black and turkey vultures in Virginia, to studies of piping plovers on the Eastern Shore, loggerhead shrikes in the Shenandoah Valley, and bald eagles on the Chesapeake Bay, Jim has been a consistent voice in Virginia ornithology, particularly with respect to conservation,” Catlin continued.

Fraser and his research team have made contributions to the understanding of red knot migration ecology, showing that thousands of endangered red knots migrating to the Arctic fatten up on tiny clams on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, in addition to those previously known to forage on horseshoe crab eggs on the Delaware Bay.

The team’s recent article in the Canadian Journal of Zoology is receiving international attention for offering an alternative hypothesis for the decline of the species, suggesting it may be linked to an interruption in the lemming cycle and its effect upon potential predators in the Arctic.

Fraser received bachelor’s degrees from the State University of New York and the University of Idaho, and a master’s degree and doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota.

The Virginia Society of Ornithology's annual award was established in 2011 in honor of Mitchell A. Byrd, one of the pioneers of wildlife conservation in Virginia. Byrd received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Virginia Tech. A longtime supporter of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, Byrd received the Friend of the College award in 2008.

Byrd joined the faculty at the College of William and Mary in 1956, where he later served as chairman of the biology department, leading it to national recognition, and founded the Center for Conservation Biology. He devoted much of his career to aiding the recovery of the threatened bald eagle and peregrine falcon in Virginia. He recognized the need for habitat conservation and invited Fraser to team with him in working with people around the Chesapeake Bay to protect critical habitat for the species. The Virginia bald eagle population grew from 33 pairs in 1977 to more than 600 nesting pairs today, according to Byrd, who continues to survey the bird’s nesting habitat.

“Mitchell has been a mentor and a shining example of how to blend science, education, and conservation,” Fraser said. “I can’t think of anyone who has done more for the conservation of birds in Virginia than Mitchell. If I can be half as good as he is, I will be doing all right.”

Related Links

  • Wildlife researchers study the red knot, its implications for sustainable ecology
  • Saving the amazing red knot from extinction -- it's complicated
  • A storm and a study save piping plovers

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