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Prof. David DeSante [biology 1975–77]

October 18, 2022, while hiking near Rodeo Lagoon in Marin County, California, from an apparent heart attack.

A beloved Reed professor of ecology in the ’70s, Prof. David DeSante founded the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP) in Petaluma, California.

He earned his PhD from Stanford University and held assistant professorships at Stanford and Reed, where he was a young assistant professor of biology. Having been one of the pioneers of modern birding in California, he introduced many of the concepts to young Oregon birders and started a Reed College birding club of enthusiastic Reedies. “He inspired many a bird-watcher in our classes,” said C. Mirth Walker ’79.

One of DeSante’s legacies is the “Winter Bird Species Likely to be Found in the Reed College, Crystal Springs Garden and Canyon Area” on the Reed website. In the early ’80s, he returned to California to serve as a biologist at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory.

Founding IBP in 1989, David was its executive director until 2008. The nonprofit corporation studies the causes of bird population decline, and collaborates with individuals, government agencies, and NGOs to assess the effects of land management actions, climate change, and other ecological stressors on bird populations and prescribe practical solutions.

His research interests included population dynamics, winter ecology, biogeography, and migration and navigation. He published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers, monographs and books, and more than 160 technical reports. He won numerous national conservation awards, including the Partners in Flight Investigator’s Award, Conservationist of the Year from the Western Chapter of the Wildlife Society, the Chandler Robbins Conservation and Education Award from the American Birding Association, and the Lifetime Achievement Awarfrom Partners in Flight.

He died suddenly of an apparent heart attack while hiking near Rodeo Lagoon in Marin County to view a willow warbler that had recently been found.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2023

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