Charles R. Brown

Charles R. Brown

ProfessorOH 330D

My research centers broadly on the behavioral and disease ecology of birds, with a specific emphasis on (1) the evolution of social behavior and (2) how arboviruses affect the ecology of birds. Most of my work has been with a single population of cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota), highly social birds that breed in large colonies throughout most of western North America. My long-term project (currently 27 years) at a field site in western Nebraska is among the longest running, continuous field studies on birds in North America, and the number of individuals marked (currently over 187,000 swallows) is the largest of any mark-recapture study of birds in the world.

The cliff swallow project has sought to identify the causes of group living and to understand why breeding colonies vary in size. This has required measuring the costs and benefits of coloniality, which remains one of my major research emphases. My coworkers and I have investigated many of the major questions in behavioral ecology with cliff swallows, and we have used a variety of approaches. Our swallow work has included classical behavioral ecology observations and experiments, a large-scale mark-recapture project and associated demographic analyses, quantitative-genetic estimates of the heritability of behavioral traits, field endocrinological research on hormone levels, studies of selection, and analyses of alternative reproductive tactics including parentage studies. More recently, we have been studying how an RNA arbovirus, Buggy Creek virus (Togaviridae), affects the ecology of cliff swallows and house sparrows (Passer domesticus) that are associated with swallow colonies. Thus, while I work primarily on cliff swallows, my research is conceptually broad.

Education and Degrees Earned

  • Ph.D., Biology, Princeton University, 1985
  • B.A., Biology, Austin College, 1981

Areas of Research Focus

  • Behavioral Ecology
  • Ornithology
  • Disease Ecology

Previous Teaching Experience

  • 1985–1989, Assistant professor of biology, Yale University
  • 1988–1989, Visiting scholar, Department of Zoology, University of Washington
  • 1989–1993, Associate professor of biology with term, Yale University
  • 2001 (summer), Visiting associate professor, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Previous Relevant Work Experience

  • 1986–1993, Curator of ornithology, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University

Professional Affiliations

  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • American Ornithologists’ Union
  • Animal Behavior Society
  • Association of Field Ornithologists
  • British Ornithologists’ Union
  • Waterbird Society
  • Cooper Ornithological Society
  • International Society of Behavioral Ecology
  • Wildlife Disease Association
  • Wilson Ornithological Society

Courses Taught at TU

  • Advanced Field Ornithology
  • Field Ecology (BIOL 3164)
  • Ornithology (BIOL 3174)

Awards & Recognition

  • 1998, American Ornithologists’ Union travel award for International Ornithological Congress
  • 1998, Associate Fellow, Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • 1993, Award for Interpretation of Research (“Mixed Blessings” exhibit, Peabody Museum of Natural History), American Association of Museums Curator's Committee Exhibit Competition
  • 1981, Benedict Fellowship, Alpha Chi
  • 1991, Distinguished Alumnus Award, Austin College
  • 1980, Edwards Prize for best paper published in Wilson Bulletin
  • 1985, Elective Member, American Ornithologists' Union
  • 1995, Faculty Development Summer Fellowship, University of Tulsa
  • 1999, Fellow, American Ornithologists’ Union
  • 2003, Harry R. Painton Award (for best paper published in the Condor 1999-2002), Cooper Ornithological Society


  • Brown, C. R., M. B. Brown, and K. R. Brazeal. 2008. Familiarity with breeding habitat improves daily survival in colonial cliff swallows. Animal Behaviour 76: 1201-1210.

  • Padhi, A., A. T. Moore, M. B. Brown, J. E. Foster, M. Pfeffer, K. P. Gaines, V. A. O’Brien, S. A. Strickler, A. E. Johnson, and C. R. Brown. 2008. Phylogeographical structure and evolutionary history of two Buggy Creek virus lineages in the western Great Plains of North America. Journal of General Virology 89: 2122-2131.

  • Brown, C. R., M. B. Brown, A. Padhi, J. E. Foster, A. T. Moore, M. Pfeffer, and N. Komar. 2008. Host and vector movement affects genetic diversity and spatial structure of Buggy Creek virus (Togaviridae). Molecular Ecology 17: 2164-2173.

  • Brown, C. R., M. B. Brown, A. Moore, and N. Komar. 2007. Bird movement predicts Buggy Creek virus infection in insect vectors. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 7: 304-314.

  • Moore, A. T., E. A. Edwards, M. B. Brown, N. Komar, and C. R. Brown. 2007. Ecological correlates of Buggy Creek virus infection in Oeciacus vicarius, southwestern Nebraska, 2004. Journal of Medical Entomology 44: 42-49.

  • Brown, C. R., M. B. Brown, S. A. Raouf, L. C. Smith, and J. C. Wingfield. 2005. Steroid hormone levels are related to choice of colony size in cliff swallows. Ecology 86: 2904-2915.

  • Brown, C. R., and M. B. Brown. 2005. Between-group transmission dynamics of the swallow bug, Oeciacus vicarius. Journal of Vector Ecology 30: 137-143.

  • Brown, C. R., M. B. Brown, S. A. Raouf, L. C. Smith, and J. C. Wingfield. 2005. Effects of endogenous steroid hormone levels on annual survival in cliff swallows. Ecology 86: 1034-1046.

  • Brown, C. R., and M. B. Brown. 2004. Group size and ectoparasitism affect daily survival probability in a colonial bird. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 56: 498-511.

  • Brown, C. R., and M. B. Brown. 2004. Empirical measurement of parasite transmission between groups in a colonial bird. Ecology 85: 1619-1626.