Congratulations 2017 AOS Early Professional Award Winners!

AOS is pleased to recognize Dr. Michael Butler, Dr. Nancy Chen, and Dr. Riccardo Ton as the 2017 recipients of the Early Professional Awards, the Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award and the James G. Cooper Young Professional Awards.


The Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award recognizes work by an ornithologist early in his or her career who shows distinct promise for future leadership in the profession. The AOU established this award in 2006 to honor Ned K. Johnson, a lifelong supporter of the AOU and its former President (1996-1998). The award consists of a framed certificate and an honorarium provided by the Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Fund. The 2017 Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award is presented to Dr. Michael Butler.

Mike Butler with a Northern Shrike

Michael Butler is currently an assistant professor at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Mike received his B.A. in Biology and Physics from Bowdoin College (2002), working heavily with Amy Johnson and Nat Wheelwright, his M.S. in Raptor Biology from Boise State University (2006; Al Dufty, Jr.), and his Ph.D. in Biology from Arizona State University (2012; Kevin McGraw). His research efforts fall into a wide range of categories, including biomechanics, ecoimmunology, physiology, and behavioral ecology, driven by an underlying research interest in examining how animals meet challenges posed by the environment. To investigate these topics, Mike has performed studies with species as diverse as mallards, Savannah sparrows, Gila monsters, American kestrels, corn snakes, great-tailed grackles, European starlings, chameleons, house finches, and on one occasion – sharks. In addition to research, Mike enjoys teaching undergraduates, and training the next generation of scientists. Mike has nearly 40 peer-reviewed publications, and received the Aaron O. Hoff Superior Teaching Award in 2015.


The James G. Cooper Young Professional Award recognizes two early-career ornithological researchers (up to three years post-Ph.D.) for their outstanding contributions in any field of ornithology. First awarded in 2009, this award recognizes early-career researchers for outstanding scientific research and contributions to the ornithological profession. The 2017 James G. Cooper Young Professional Awards are presented to Dr. Nancy Chen and Dr. Riccardo Ton.

Nancy Chen acting as a pedestal for a scrub jay

Nancy Chen is currently an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow with Graham Coop at UC Davis and will be starting as an Assistant Professor at the University of Rochester in July 2018. Before joining the Coop lab, Nancy was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a Ph.D. student with Andy Clark and John Fitzpatrick. Her research seeks to understand the genomic basis of contemporary evolution in natural populations by combining genomic data with long-term demographic and pedigree data. Nancy’s dissertation research concentrated on elucidating the genomic consequences of declining population size and developing bioinformatics tools for analyzing next-generation sequencing data in non-model organisms. Nancy is also interested in promoting diversity in the sciences. She organizes a women in science discussion group at UC Davis and is one of the organizers of the symposium Birds of Different Feathers: Increasing Diversity in Ornithology to be held during this year’s meeting.

Riccardo Ton

Riccardo Ton started his first ornithological experiments in the garden of his grandma in Italy at the age of 6. Later he explored the major migratory flyways in the alps north of Venice while getting his M.S. at the university of Padova. He finally received his Ph.D. in 2016 from the University of Montana working with Tom Martin. His research examined the effects of metabolism and temperature on embryonic development times and post-natal growth rates in temperate and tropical songbirds. His rooted passion for field biology took him to conduct his research in sites all over the world including U.S.A., Venezuela, Malaysia and South Africa. Riccardo is also actively involved in conservation projects that aim to restore the traditional rural habitats of his region that are quickly lost to urbanization and changes in agricultural practices. His work includes first-authored publications in Functional Ecology and Scientific Reports.