Sandra Vehrencamp

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Sandra Lee Vehrencamp
BornFebruary 11, 1948
ResidenceIthaca, New York
Alma materUniversity of California at Berkeley, Cornell University
Spouse(s)Jack Bradbury
ChildrenKristin Nobel (1975), Katrina Bradbury (1979)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of San Diego, Cornell University

Sandra Lee Vehrencamp (born February 11, 1948 in Glendale, California), is a scientist, teacher, and mentor that specializes in Ornithology, with a geographical focus on the avian population of Costa Rica.[1][2] She served as a faculty member of Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology and Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and taught graduate students while conducting research until retiring as of October 2010.[2][3][4] She currently resides in Ithaca, New York, with her husband, Jack Bradbury.[2]


She graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta, California, in 1965.[5] She went on to receive her bachelors in Zoology with honors from the University of California at Berkeley in 1970, and her Ph.D in Animal Behavior from Cornell University in 1976.[1][2] After her extensive education, she started her career in research.[3]

Personal and early life[edit]

Dr. Vehrencamp grew up in La Crescenta, California, and attended Crescenta Valley High School.[5] During the time period Sandra Vehrencamp was born, women’s scientific talents were substantially under-appreciated. She received her high-school diploma in 1965 and went on to pursue a higher education from there. However, before 1950, women earned less than 10% of Bachelor’s in the STEM fields and less than 5% of the PhDs in these fields.[6][7] She grew up with this stigma surrounding her and still managed to attend the University of California at Berkeley for her bachelors and Cornell University for her doctorate.[1][2] The percentages of women receiving bachelors and PhDs were steadily rising throughout her young life, although the year she graduated from Cornell University still less than 10% of doctorates were received by women.[6][7] Scientific women of the time were quite rare, and this fact highlights her dedication and passion for science, as is noted by other scientists.[4][8] While in the midst of her education at Cornell University, she met her spouse-to-be, Jack Bradbury.[5] They had their first child in 1975, just a year before Vehrencamp received her PhD and started her career.[5] Their second child was born in 1979, when Vehrencamp was just beginning to settle into a career path.[5] These few starting years were hectic for Vehrencamp, and it has been noted how impressive it is that she managed to keep furthering her career the way she did.[4][5] Her oldest daughter, Kristin Nobel, is currently married and has two kids, her family living in San Diego.[5] Her youngest, Katrina Bradbury, lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is a Nutrition and Wellness Coach at The Sacred Healing Room at Your Natural Solutions LLC.[5]


Since 1976 she worked with University of California at San Diego and Cornell University conducting intensive research about birds and their behavior, specifically song patterns and mating habits.[2][3][4] She taught animal communication research methods in animal behavior to graduate students during her time at Cornell University, and currently holds a professor emerita position there.[2] Vehrencamp is said to have been an outstanding mentor, teacher, and scientist by her graduate students.[4] Additionally, she worked with the Laboratory of Ornithology Bioacoustics Research Program and contributed to the bird call section, specifically that of Costa Rican wrens; she still holds an emerita professor appointment there as well.[1][2] Throughout her career she published over 65 papers, which have been cited more than 2,400 times, and wrote 19 book chapters.[3][4] She collaborated with her husband, Jack Bradbury - an ornithologist as well - consistently during her time as a scientist. They co-wrote a textbook, Principles of Animal Communication, published in 1998.[9] It is a widely used work that combines physics, chemistry, neurobiology, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, behavioral ecology, and economics to delve deeply into animals and how they signal and communicate with one another. Its importance is highlighted by the fact that it has been cited more than 1,000 times.[3][4] This textbook is highly regarded in the scientific community and is revered as the standard reference of the animal behavior world.[4]

Notable research ventures[edit]

  • 1989: Vehrencamp conducted an extensive study, finding that the dispersion of the male sage grouse depends on the traffic patterns of females traveling in groups.[10] This behavior is termed hotspot settlement. Other pertinent findings include that the energy expenditure for displaying males is high, and creates problems when too much energy is spent displaying and body heat regulation isn't maintained.[10] Through careful observation she discovered information that was completely new to her field, such as specific behaviors males and females exhibit during mating display, and created new conversations about avian mating.[4]
  • 1991: Vehrencamp studied dispersal in a color-banded population of the Groove-billed Ani in Costa Rica, finding that all of the males and 28% of the females that bred the year after they hatched were living within three territories of their birthplaces.[11] By identifying several factors that had previously been left out of the equation of cooperative breeding, including community dynamics and division of labor, she changed the whole existing body of research regarding this type of avian behavior.[4] She also made changes to how scientists regarded the reproductive competition of the ani, and called attention to behavioral conflicts within social groups that had not yet been addressed.[11] Vehrencamp wrote two theoretical papers on her work that proved particularly influential, changing the way scientists viewed the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds and other animals as well.[4]
  • 2005: The results of an intensive observational study she conducted show that rufous-and-white Wrens have pronounced sex differences in song structure, singing activity, repertoire size, repertoire sharing, and duetting behavior.[12] Through careful observation she brought to light aspects of wrens that had previously been overlooked, such as the fact that male wrens have a much larger song repertoire and are far more likely to start a duet, while females use less songs and usually only engage in a duet after one bird has started.[4]

Vehencamp spent decades of her life studying ornithology, and retired fully accomplished in 2010.[2] Her detailed work earned several awards soon after.


  • In 2004 she received the Faculty Research Mentor Award from Cornell University for her outstanding performance conducting research while mentoring graduate students on bird song in Costa Rica.[2]
  • She won the William Brewster Memorial Award in 2011 for her discoveries surrounding the reproductive ecology and competition of groove-billed anis and sage-grouse.[3][4] This award is presented to an author or coauthors of an exceptional body of work on the birds of the Western Hemisphere.[4] The American Ornithologists’ Union stated that they, “honored Dr. Sandra Vehrencamp for her thorough and insightful body of work on social evolution and animal communication”.[4] The award means significantly more when the fact that the overwhelming majority of recipients have been male is considered: out of 83 years, only 7 recipients have been female.[4]
  • Vehrencamp and her husband co-received the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society, recognizing a “major long-term contribution in animal behavior,” in 2012.[13] This is the second most prestigious award given out by the ABS, and Vehrencamp's success is highlighted by the fact that the organization has been giving out exemplar awards since 1993 but only 4 out of 18 awards have been presented to women contributors.[13]
  • She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a fellow in the Biological Sciences in 2013, recognized as “a founder of the field of behavioral ecology.”[8] It is well known in the scientific community that being appointed a fellow in this organization is considered a great honor.[8] Notably, her husband did not receive the same honor, demonstrating that her accomplishments are her own and are independent of his.

Recent publications[edit]

  • Hall, M.L.; Rittenbach, M.R.D.; Vehrencamp, S.L. (2015). "Female song and vocal interactions with males in a neotropical wren". Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 17: 12.
  • Vehrencamp, S.L.; Ellis, J.M.; Cropp, B.F.; Koltz, J.M. (2014). "Negotiation of territory boundaries in a songbird". Behavioral Ecology. 25 (6): 1436–1450. doi:10.1093/beheco/aru135. PMC 4235583. PMID 25419086.
  • Kovach, K.A.; Hall, M.L.; Vehrencamp, S.L.; Mennill, D.J. (2014). "Timing isn't everything: Responses of tropical wrens to coordinated duets, uncoordinated duets, and alternating solos". Animal Behaviour. 95: 101–109. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.06.012.
  • Bradbury, J.W.; Vehrencamp, S.L. (2014). "Complexity and behavioral ecology". Behavioral Ecology. 25 (3): 435–442. doi:10.1093/beheco/aru014.
  • Vehrencamp, S.L.; Yantachka, J.; Hall, M.L.; de Kort, S.R. (2013). "Trill performance components vary with age, season, and motivation in the banded wren". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 67 (3): 409–419. doi:10.1007/s00265-012-1461-x. PMC 3608479. PMID 23543812.
  • Sakata, J.T.; Vehrencamp, S.L. (2012). "Integrating perspectives on vocal performance and consistency". Journal of Experimental Biology. 215 (2): 201–209. doi:10.1242/jeb.056911. PMC 3244338. PMID 22189763.
  • Shen, S-F.; Vehrencamp, S.L.; Johnstone, R.A.; Chen, H-C.; Chan, S-F.; Liao, W-Y.; Lin, K-Y.; Yuan, H-W. (2012). "Unfavorable environment limits social conflict in Yuhina brunneiceps". Nature Communications. 3: 885. doi:10.1038/ncomms1894. PMID 22673912.


  1. ^ a b c d "Sandra L Vehrencamp". Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Vehrencamp, Sandra L." Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Vehrencamp, Sandra (2012). "William Brewster Memorial Award, 2011 on JSTOR". The Auk. 129 (1): 185–186. doi:10.1525/auk.2012.129.1.185#full_text_tab_contents (inactive 2019-02-05). JSTOR 10.1525/auk.2012.129.1.185#full_text_tab_contents.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Sandra L. Vehrencamp: 2011 recipient of the William Brewster Memorial Award - Awards - Articles - Articles". Ornithology Exchange. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "C.V.H.S. Alumni - Class of 1965". Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  6. ^ a b " - Data Tables: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering - NCSES - US National Science Foundation (NSF)". Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  7. ^ a b "Digest of Education Statistics-2009 Digest Tables Directory". Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  8. ^ a b c "Press Releases - American Academy of Arts & Sciences". Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  9. ^ Bradbury, Jack; Vehrencamp, Sandra (2011). Principles of Animal Communication. Sinauer Associates, Inc. ISBN 978-0-87893-045-6.
  10. ^ a b Bradbury, J. W.; Vehrencamp, S. L.; Gibson, R. M. (1989-01-01). "Dispersion of displaying male sage grouse". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 24 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1007/BF00300112. ISSN 0340-5443.
  11. ^ a b Bowen, Bonnie S.; Koford, Rolf R.; Vehrencamp, Sandra L. (1989-02-01). "Dispersal in the Communally Breeding Groove-Billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris)". The Condor. 91 (1): 52–64. doi:10.2307/1368148. JSTOR 1368148.
  12. ^ Mennill, Daniel J.; Vehrencamp, Sandra L. (2005-01-01). "Sex Differences in Singing and Duetting Behavior of Neotropical Rufous-and-White Wrens (Thryothorus rufalbus) (Diferencias entre Sexos en el Canto y Comportamiento de Dueto en Thryothorus rufalbus)". The Auk. 122 (1): 175–186. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0175:sdisad];2. JSTOR 4090357.
  13. ^ a b "Animal Behavior Society". Retrieved 2015-12-01.