Terry Chesser, Ph.D.

I use genetic and genomic techniques to study the systematics, diversity, conservation, and management of birds. My contributions to avian taxonomy and conservation also include chairmanship of the AOS Committee on Classification and Nomenclature (North America), which provides a standardized avian taxonomy for use by public agencies and private individuals and organizations.


I am a Research Zoologist at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, having previously held positions with the American Museum of Natural History (New York) and the Australian National Wildlife Collection (Canberra), as well as an adjunct position with the US National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian).  My research focuses on the systematics, diversity, conservation, and management of birds.

Current projects include studies of:

  • genomic variation in Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) and Hutton’s Vireo (Vireo huttoni) on the Channel Islands, as part of a larger project informing management of Channel Islands National Park and private lands on multiple scientific issues
  • genomic variation in the Akikiki (Oreomystis bairdi) and Akekee (Loxops caeruleirostris), two critically endangered birds endemic to Kauai, so that genetically diverse, viable captive breeding programs can be established
  • population structure and migration ecology of two Pacific populations of the endangered Red Knot (Calidris canutus), as well as population structure more broadly in the Americas
  • genetics of Red Knot (Calidris canutus), Sanderling (Calidris alba), and Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) at Delaware Bay, three species reliant on migration stopovers there
  • genomics of US and Caribbean populations of the endangered Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii), to assess current and past gene flow between these populations
  • phylogenetic relationships and species status of Procellariiformes seabirds, which include the albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters, many of which are endangered or otherwise of conservation interest
  • genetic variation and phylogeography of selected seabirds (non-Procellariiformes) breeding in the Caribbean and Pacific regions, to determine the conservation status of geographically isolated populations and understand factors promoting genetic isolation in marine environments
  • phylogenetic relationships among all species of birds (the OpenWings project), to provide the foundation for future classification and ecological and evolutionary comparative research on birds
  • a comprehensive revision of the subspecific taxonomy of the birds of North America, for use by policy makers and wildlife managers as well as by scientists and NGOs
  • the systematics, biogeography, and evolution of hyper-diverse suboscine birds, to understand the systematics and taxonomy of the group and the processes that contributed to its radiation in the Americas
  • comparative genetic, vocal, and morphological variation in Neotropical antbirds, to understand patterns of speciation and determine species diversity in cryptic groups of birds
  • effect of anthropogenic noise on grassland birds at Manassas National Battlefield Park and Sky Meadows State Park, Virginia


  • Ph.D., 1995, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge

Professional Experience: 

  • Research Zoologist, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD: 2005-present
  • Curator of Birds and Adjunct Scientist, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: 2005-2018
  • Director (Curator-in-Charge), Australian National Wildlife Collection, Canberra, Australia: 2000-2005
  • Curatorial Associate, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY: 1999-2000
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ: 1997-1999
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY: 1995-1997


  • Research Associate, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC