Summary: I am an evolutionary biologist (ethologist) and historian at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) and a PhD candidate in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science (BEES) at Drexel University. I am also the Editor of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC) and its journal Cassinia, and resident caretaker of the Wyck Historic House & Garden (Philadelphia, PA).
Ornithology: I am fascinated by secretive species that inhabit dense thickets, that seem to be always just beyond our observation, and for which even the sexes are sometimes impossible to distinguish in the field. I use video and audio recorders, DNA analysis, tracking units, radio telemetry, and other tools, to reconstruct their evolutionary histories (ancestry) and test hypotheses about the proximate and ultimate causes of behavior (see Tinbergen’s four questions). The systematics and biogeography of the Nightingale-Thrushes (Aves: Turdidae: Catharus) are a primary focus of my current research. My pursuit of the thrushes has taken me to many spectacular wild places, from Newfoundland and Labrador to the Darien Gap of Colombia and Panama.
(Scientific) History of Science: I use the same data-driven approach to study the history and sociology of American science, by searching for and exposing lost and/or unknown primary sources that shed new light on the past. I recently published five lost letters of John J. Audubon and the original American prospectus for The Birds of America, and relocated Audubon’s type specimen of Western Meadowlark, which had been mislabeled and “lost” in the Academy collection for over 150 years. I live in and study the historic Wyck house in Philadelphia, where many early American scientists visited and socialized.
PhD candidate / Dean’s Fellow, Drexel University
Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Advised by Jason D. Weckstein
Graduate Research Associate
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
MS, Natural Resources, Delaware State University
Graduated 2014, Cumulative GPA: 4.0 / 4.0
Advised by Christopher M. Heckscher
BA, Sociology, Pennsylvania State University
Graduated May 2004, Cumulative GPA: 3.4 / 4.0
No Degree, Music Recording Technology & Vocal Performance, Lebanon Valley College
Attended September 2000 – May 2001
SELECTED FIELD RESEARCH
RACN, Nicaragua, March-April 2017.
General collecting expedition to two sites in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACN), in collaboration with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and the Biodiversity Institute at University of Kansas (KU). Our crew inclueded Mark B. Robbins (Kansas Univeristy Biodiversity Institute), Johnathan (Jack) P. Hruska (Kansas University), and Therese Catanach (ANSP). We collected the first data-rich specimens from the humid rainforests of Parque Nacional Saslaya, as well as pine savanna and gallery forest sites near Alamikamba.
Pennsylvania, USA, May-June 2016.
Coordinator of the Philadelphia Breeding Bird Census, the first systematic city-wide survey of breeding birds in the place where American ornithology began. With a team of 75 (!) volunteers, we surveyed a linear distance of 262 km in the Philadelphia park system, counting 15,168 individuals of 101 species, and finding 231 nests of 42 species along the way. Breeding evidence was obtained for 71 species (70% of total). This was the first comprehensive survey of the breeding birds of Philadelphia, which will serve as a baseline for future studies.
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, June-July 2015.
Crew Leader of field expedition to collect genetic samples of Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus), conduct avian point-count surveys, and vegetation surveys, in poorly-explored areas of the province. Research coordinated by the State University of New York, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and the New York State Museum. In addition to numerous sites around Newfoundland, we accessed many poorly-surveyed areas along the coast of Labrador as far north as Cartwright.
Delaware, USA, January 2011–October 2013.
Intensive two year field-video-genetic study of the mating system of the Veery (Catharus fuscescens) in the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont region, for my graduate thesis at Delaware State University (MS, Natural Resources), under the guidance of Dr. Christopher Heckscher, with whom I have published several papers on Veery behavior (e.g., Halley and Heckscher 2012; 2013; Halley et al. 2016; Heckscher et al. 2015). We were the first to document cooperative parental care and flexible polygynandry in the Veery. Some nests were attended by multiple males, and others by males who were simultaneously feeding at multiple nests themselves.
Sapzurro, Colombia, October 2012.
Christopher Heckscher (Delaware State University) and I spent a week mist-netting and banding migratory and resident birds with Dr. Nicholas Bayly (Asociación SELVA, Bogota, Colombia), at his lowland rainforest field site in the Darién Gap. We captured multiple species of Catharus, including eastern and western races of the Veery (C. fuscescens, see photo), as well as numerous migrants and tropical resident species. It was spectacular to observe large migratory flocks of swallows and other passerines, careening along the forested ridges of the Caribbean coastline, arriving at last in South America after a long southward journey.
Karnataka, India, September 2009–January 2010.
I conducted a study of rainforest frogs at an organic spice plantation in the Western Ghats, hosted by Drs. Anurag and Sujata Goel (WAPRED Research Foundation). My study resulted in range extensions for two poorly known Raorchestes species (see Halley and Goel 2012), and the first photographic series documenting the extent of their metachrosis (i.e., color-changing ability). I explored the jungle at night to collect frogs, and then kept them in a terrarium for a couple days at a time, while I photographed and studied them.
Nevada, USA, April 2006 – July 2008.
For three consecutive breeding seasons, I assisted Dr. Aaron Holmes (Oregon State University) in a study of how songbird and small mammal communities in Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge respond to and recover from wildfire. This project spawned an independent study of biparental incubation and allofeeding by Brewer’s Sparrows (see Halley et al. 2015). I conducted point counts, searched for and monitored nests, deployed and operated small mammal trapping arrays, and ran time-lapse video camera systems at nests to collect behavioral data and identify predators.
Guàrico, Venezuela, September – November 2007.
I assisted Dr. Karl Berg (Cornell University) in studies of vocal learning and communication at nests of the Green-rumped Parrotlet (Forpus passerinus). The study was the first to document vocal learning in wild parrots. I netted, banded and bled adults and nestlings, conducted playback experiments, cross-fostered nests, and monitored behavior via digital video. See “How A Parrot Learns Its Name in the Wild” on YouTube. I also explored the llanos ecosystem on a daily basis, catching snakes, chasing capuchin monkeys, and trying to identify and learn something about everything that I encountered.
Hazeva, Israel, September 2005 – December 2005.
I assisted Drs. Amotz and Avishag Zahavi (Tel Aviv University) in their studies of ‘altruistic’ behavior in Arabian Babblers (Turdoides squamiceps), and learned firsthand about the Handicap Principle and the evolution of costly signals. The Zahavis started color-banding babblers at Hazeva in 1972 (I think), making it one of the oldest long-term studies of any passerine bird. Amotz taught me many valuable lessons about how to watch and anticipate bird behavior, as we tracked numerous babbler groups through the relatively open desert landscape and recorded their interactions. We discussed our observations daily in the context of evolutionary theory.
Bocas Del Toro, Panama, February 2005 – June 2005.
I assisted Dr. Adam Stein (Syracuse University) in study of signal evolution in a hybrid zone where two kinds of collared manakins (Manacus spp.) meet and interbreed. We lived in remote jungle with a small indigenous community (Guaymí), and located leks in the secondary growth jungles along the river’s edge. We mist-netted, banded, measured, and bled adult manakins, and monitored courtship displays via infra-red video and direct observation. This study was later featured on the front cover of Evolution (2006, 60: 1476–1485).
- 2016/17 — Curatorial Assistant, Dept. of Ornithology; Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA)
- 2010; 2017–present — Resident Caretaker, Wyck Historic House & Garden (Philadelphia, PA; manuscripts, rare artifacts)
- American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY; ornithology)
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington DC; ornithology)
- Delaware Museum of Natural History (Wilmington, DE; ornithology)
- American Philosophical Society Library (Philadelphia, PA; manuscripts)
- Haverford College Library (Haverford, PA; manuscripts)
- Wagner Free Institute of Science (Philadelphia, PA; ornithology)
- 2017 — William L. McLean III Fellowship — $27,000 — Drexel University, Dept. of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
- 2016 — Julian Potter Award — Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC)
- 2016 — Teaching Excellence Award (nominee) — Drexel University
- 2016 — Travel Award — $300 — Drexel University
- 2015 — Elected ‘Fellow of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC)’
- 2015 — Dean’s Fellowship —$10,000— Drexel University, College of Arts and Sciences
- 2015 — Carbon Footprint Cup — 32nd Annual World Series of Birding, New Jersey Audubon
- 2012 — Best Oral Presentation — Delaware State University, Graduate Research Symposium
- 2009 — Carbon Footprint Cup — 26th Annual World Series of Birding, New Jersey Audubon
- 2016 — Field Ornithology (ENVS 580) — TA Instructor, Drexel University
- 2015 — Evolution & Organismal Diversity (BIO 124) — TA Lab Instructor, Drexel University
- 2015 — Cell Biology & Genetics (BIO 122) — TA Lab Instructor, Drexel University
- 2015 — Ornithology (ENVS 606) — Guest Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania
- 2013 — Advanced Wildlife Biology (NTRS 684) — Guest Lecturer, Delaware State University
- 2012 — Tropical Ecology (AGRI 548) —Guest Lecturer, Delaware State University
- 2012 — Ornithology (NTRS 312) — Guest Lecturer, Delaware State University
Wyck at the Dawn of American Science
- 2017 — Annual Summer Lecture of the Wyck Association; Chestnut Hill Meeting House, Philadelphia, PA
Ethology and Systematics of the genus Catharus (Aves: Turdidae)
- 2016 — Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
- 2016 — Drexel University, Department of Biodiversity Earth & Environmental Science (BEES), Graduate Research Seminar, Philadelphia, PA.
Thomas Jefferson: Birder in Chief
- 2017 — Bucks County Birders; Peace Valley Nature Center, Doylestown, PA
- 2016 — Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC), Philadelphia, PA — at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
- 2015 — American Philosophical Society Museum (in Philosophical Hall), Philadelphia, PA
Two centuries of climate change and arrival dates of migratory songbirds in the cradle of American ornithology: Philadelphia, PA (1802–2012)
- 2016 – Pennypack Environmental Center, Philadelphia, PA.
- 2014 – Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center, Philadelphia, PA.
Kin structure and mating system of the Veery (Catharus fuscescens) in the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont
- 2016 – North American Ornithological Conference (NAOC VI), Washington DC, USA.
- 2016 – Birding Club of Delaware Valley, Broomall, PA.
- 2016 – Evolutionary Biology Mixer — at Leidy Hall, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
- 2015 – Washington Crossing Audubon Society, Pennington, NJ
- 2015 – Eastern Bird Banding Association, Elk Neck State Park, MD
- 2014 – Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC), Philadelphia, PA — at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Origins of American Ornithology- The View from Wyck
- 2014 – Wyck Historic House and Garden, Philadelphia, PA
Multiple male feeders at nests of the Veery (Catharus fuscescens)
- 2012 – North American Ornithological Conference (NAOC V), Vancouver, B.C., Canada. *Poster Presentation*
- 2012 – Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC), Philadelphia, PA — at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
- 2012 – Graduate Research Symposium, Delaware State University. *Best Oral Presentation*
- 2012 – Sussex Bird Club, Lewes, DE
Interhemispheric migratory movements of the Veery (Catharus fuscescens) revealed by light-level geolocator technology
- 2012 – Q.E.D. Natural Science Symposium, Delaware State Univ., Dover, DE
The evolution of altruism: a personal journey
- 2011 – Northeast Treatment-free Beekeeping Conference, Leominster, MA
- Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (member since 2014)
- American Ornithological Society (member since 2017)
- Philadelphia Botanical Club (Programs committee, 2017–present)
- Wilson Ornithological Society (member since 2011)
- Delmarva Ornithological Society (member 2011–2013)
- Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia (inducted 2001)
EDITORIAL WORK / PEER REVIEW
- Editor of Cassinia, journal of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (2016–present).
- Assistant Editor of Cassinia Vols. 74–75 (2015)
- Reviewer for Wilson Journal of Ornithology, Ornitología Neotropical, Biodiversity Data Journal
Shaver’s Creek Raptor Center—Petersburg, Pennsylvania, August 2003 – December 2003. Provided primary care to 15 diurnal and nocturnal raptor species, 4 snake species, and 8 turtle species. Medicated ill birds. Fed resident animals daily. Cleaned and maintained enclosures. Handled and jessed birds for public education programs.
Macaw Landing Foundation—Portland, Oregon, August 2004 – December 2004. Assisted with care of over 90 captive macaws, representing >10 species. Cleaned and maintained enclosures. Assisted in medication of ill birds.
MUSIC AWARDS & SELECTED PERFORMANCES
- 2013 – Halley/McKeever/Palko — nominated for Best Folk/Americana Artist and Best Collaboration at the Homey Awards (93.7 WSTW); Wilmington, DE.
- 2012 – “Let There Be Snow” (Halley/McKeever) nominated for Best Collaboration at the Homey Awards (93.7 WSTW); Wilmington, DE.
- 2012 – Halley & McKeever, Delmarva Folk Hero Contest finalists; Delaware Friends of Folk.
- 2008 – Live solo performance on the Folk Show w/ Gene Shay (88.5 WXPN Philadelphia)
- 2006 – Solo piano performance at the Dji Sam Soe Jazz Festival, Sukabumi, Indonesia.
- 2004 – Moab Arts Festival, Moab, UT.
SELECTED AUDIO/PRODUCTION CLIENTS
- Dave Holland Big Band
- Zakir Hussain
- Niladri Kumar
- Miguel Zenón
- Ned Rothenberg
- Spoken Hand Percussion Orchestra
- Amir ElSaffar
- Lenny Seidman
- Adam Rudolph