Jared Verner is perhaps best known for his pioneering theories on the evolution of avian polygyny. That early work was instrumental in launching the modern study of ultimate factors that influence avian mating systems. Verner's research on Marsh Wrens (Cistothorus palustris) demonstrated his unusually keen sense of observation and included hypotheses on the evolutionary significance of territory, selection for sex ratio, and functional aspects of vocal communication. Together with Mary Willson, he was first to note the relationship between avian mating systems and habitat type. His communication studies exposed surprisingly complex relationships among repertoire size, song type, song sequence, dialects, dispersal, and habitat stability — all accomplished before the advent of modern sound equipment. That work was among the most important early studies on the function of vocal communication among male birds.
More recently, Verner's work focused on both political and biological aspects of North American bird conservation. He was a member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and his population models were pivotal in convincing opponents that a captive breeding program held the only promise of averting that species' extinction. Today, the success of that program is exemplary.
With the publication in 1980 of California Wildlife and Their Habitats: Western Sierra Nevada, Verner and his co-editor, Allan Boss, helped pave the way for the widely accepted use of Wildlife Habitat Relationship (WHR) models. Those models have been instrumental in providing for continued communication among researchers and land managers on the state-of-the-art in wildlife habitat modeling.
Verner's research also played an important role in the development of rigorous methods for monitoring bird populations. That work resulted in recommendations for coping with sources of variability in counts and suggested ways to improve the rigor with which birds are monitored. In the 1985 issue of Current Ornithology, he published a critical review of the primary methods used to monitor bird populations.
Verner also played a lead role in research on Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis) and in the development of scientifically credible management and conservation strategies for both the northern and California subspecies. Guidelines for the California Spotted Owl (S. o. occidentalis) were based on a unique (at the time) spatially explicit approach to modeling owl territories. Some of the important conclusions from that work defined the relationship between owls and large old trees, large snags, and large downed logs—facts critical in the development of management recommendations for the California subspecies.
In addition, Verner and his students and colleagues made widespread contributions to understanding of bird-habitat relations in the Sierra Nevada of California. That work included studies of the possible significance of the expansion of Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) into montane forests of the Sierra Nevada, the relationship between total crown volume and bird-species richness in Sierran conifer forests, investigation of life histories of oak woodland birds, studies of nest-site limitation of cavity-nesting birds, and examination of the effects of livestock grazing on bird communities.
For more than 40 years, Jared Verner has made widespread and highly innovative contributions to understanding the biology and conservation of the birds of North America. For his many valuable contributions to avian ecology and conservation, the American Ornithologists' Union is pleased to award Jared Verner the Elliott Coues Award for 2004.
The Elliott Coues Award is given for meritorious contributions having an important influence on the study of birds in the Western Hemisphere, but which have not been recognized through a Brewster Award. Contributions to ornithology not eligible for recognition with a Brewster Award because of geographic limitations may be honored through a Coues Award, as may works including important innovative ideas but which, because of brevity or publication outside the primary ornithological literature, may not have been selected for a Brewster Award. However, the Coues Award is not necessarily limited to such works. The award consists of a medal and an honorarium provided though the endowed Ralph W. Schreiber Fund of the American Ornithologists' Union.