Employee Spotlight: Chief of the Bird Banding Laboratory Retires

Release Date:

Reflecting on Bruce G. Peterjohn’s almost three-decade long career with Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

A man delicately removes a small songbird from a net.

Bruce Peterjohn, former Chief of the BBL, extracts a songbird from a mist-net at PWRC's long-term fall migration banding station. (Credit: Antonio Celis-Murillo, U.S.Geological Survey. Public domain.)

Bruce G. Peterjohn, Chief of the Bird Banding Laboratory, retired on December 31, 2019, after nearly 29 years of federal service and 27 years on staff at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, (PWRC), and was the BBL chief for the past 11 years.

Bruce Peterjohn’s background in birds and biology was already well-established prior to his employment at PWRC. He discovered his interest in birds in the mid-1960s, attained his Bachelor’s in Biology from The College of Wooster, Ohio, in 1974. Peterjohn continued his education with a Master’s degree in Zoology/Animal biology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in 1976. He then served as a biologist with the Ohio Department of Transportation. In the1980s, Peterjohn became the Middlewestern Prairie regional editor for American Birds, which led to the publication of the first edition of The Birds of Ohio in 1988. Furthermore, he was co-coordinator with Dan Rice for the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas project which was published in 1991.

Peterjohn began his employment at PWRC as a Wildlife Biologist with the North American Breeding Bird Survey in 1991, but he had ties with the center for many years prior as he began sampling Breeding Bird Survey routes in 1982. Since then, Peterjohn has sampled 277 routes in seven different states, identified 218 breeding species and counted 419,387 birds.

While at PWRC, Peterjohn has served the center in various capacities. He worked to expand and lead the Monitoring Program by establishing the Point Count Database and Breeding Bird Atlas data management systems. Additionally, he worked on the Colonial Waterbird Database, North American Amphibian Monitoring Program, and Northeast Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative’s national data program. Peterjohn was an author of several scientific publications concerning avian populations using Breeding Bird Survey data. Bruce Peterjohn became the eighth Chief of the Bird Banding Lab in 2008 and continued to serve PWRC in this capacity until his retirement.

In addition to his many duties at the center, Bruce was also active in bird banding, serving as a sub-permittee under David Holmes and later becoming a Master Bander, specializing in Hummingbirds. Peterjohn plans to continue his research on winter hummingbirds in retirement.   

Until the lab permanently fills the position of Chief, two current staff members will be taking on the role of Acting Chief of the Bird Banding Lab: Jenn Malpass, Ph. D., from January to April 2020 and Antonio Celis-Murrilo, Ph. D., from May until August 2020.