William A Searcy


(305) 284-2065
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Research Interests

My principal research interest is in animal communication. I have for many years investigated functional aspects of bird song in collaboration with Steve Nowicki and Susan Peters of Duke University. One focus of this work has been on exploring the implications of proximate mechanisms of song development and song neurobiology for ultimate questions concerning the function of song in male-female communication. This focus has led to investigations of the effects of early nutritional stress on the development of the brain nuclei that control song and on the quality of song learning, using song and swamp sparrows as study organisms. We have also examined, using song sparrows, the preferences of females for well-learned over poorly-learned songs and for local over foreign songs. Another focus of our song work has been on how singing behaviors are used in aggressive signaling between male birds. We have examined a variety of possible aggressive signals in song sparrows, including song type matching, partial matching, song type and variant switching frequencies, and the use of low amplitude "soft song." We are especially interested in determining which behaviors are reliable indicators of attack and in elucidating the mechanisms that maintain reliability.

Teaching Interests

Evolution (a course for graduate students and senior undergraduates, covering topics such as natural selection, speciation, macroevolution, and extinction); Animal Behavior (a course for undergraduates in mechanisms and evolution of animal behavior); Biology of Birds (a course for undergraduates with field, laboratory, and lecture components, emphasizing ecology, evolution, and natural history of birds); and various graduate seminars (including Animal Communication, Sexual Selection, Sensory Ecology).


1977Ph.D. Zoology University of Washington, Seattle
1972B.A. 1972 University of California, Berkeley
1969 University of California, Davis

Professional Experience

1994 - Professor and Maytag Chair, University of MIami
1988 - 1994Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh
1982 - 1988Assistant Professor, University of PIttsburgh
1981 - 1982Assistant Professor, Rockefeller University
1978 - 1981Postdoctoral Fellow, Rockefeller University

Honors & Acknowledgements

President of the Animal Behavior Society, 2016
The Examplar Award, Animal Behaviour Society, 2014
National Science Foundation Grant 2012-2015. Collaborative research: Cognition and signaling in songbirds.
Allen L. Edwards LEcturer, Department of Psychology, University of Washinton 2008
Virginia Merill Bloedel Hearing Research Center (University of Washington) Visiting Scholar
National Science Foundation Grant 2003-2007. Collaborative research: Developmetal receiver-dependent costs of avian signals.
National Science Foundation Grant. 1999-2002. Collaborative research: complexity and information in avian signals.
National Science Foundation Grant. 1995-1998. Perception, function and development of complex vocal signals.
National Science Foundation International Program Grant. 4/90 - 8/90. Origin of polygyny in a polyterritorial system.
National Science Foundation Grant. 12/89 - 11/92. Experimental studies of male-female communication.
National Science Foundation Grant. 6/86 - 11/89. Comparative studies of vocal communication.
National Science Foundation Grant. 10/83 - 3/86. Functions and consequences of female-female interactions.
Public Health National Research Service Traineeship. 8/78 - 6/81.
National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Support Grant. June, 1975. Sexual selection and red-winged blackbirds
Phi Beta Kappa
Fellow, American Ornithologists' Union
Fellow, Animal Behavior Society

LIST OF SPECIALTIES: Behavior and Behavioral Ecology | Evolutionary Biology


Mothes, C.C., L. Stemle, T. Fonseca, S.L. Clements, H.J. Howell & C.A. Searcy Protect or perish: quantitative analysis of state-level species protection supports preservation of the Endangered Species Act (In Press).

Mothes, C.C., H.J. Howell & C.A. Searcy Habitat suitability models for the imperiled Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) raise concerns for the species’ persistence under future climate change (In Press).

Searcy, W. A. "Birdsong learning, avian cognition, and the evolution of language" Animal Behaviour 217-227 (2019).

Searcy, W. A., D. Ocampo, and S. Nowicki. "Constraints on song type matching in a songbird." Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 102 (2019).