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Car-crash victim was 'best avian anatomist'

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Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011
 

From the songs of birds to the structure of their DNA and anatomy, Bradley C. Livezey knew nearly everything about them. He never gave up researching unsolved mysteries of the world's 20,000 or so avian species.

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History's curator of birds died Tuesday morning in an automobile crash in Pine, where he lived. He was 56.

"He was arguably the best avian anatomist in the world. He has published more papers on the subject than anybody else and made significant contributions to understanding of the relationships of all species of birds," said Joel Cracraft, curator of ornithology at New York City's American Museum of Natural History. He knew Livezey for 25 years.

Livezey died in a two-car crash on Route 910, authorities said. An autopsy revealed he died from injuries to the head and trunk, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said. Northern Regional Police are investigating.

Livezey's death is a loss to friends and his profession. It also poses a challenge to the Carnegie, which will need up to a year to find a replacement, said Stephen P. Rogers, collection manager.

"You cannot find world-class ornithologists in a matter of weeks," Rogers said.

Tributes to Livezey came from as far away as Europe, from people who never met him.

"Brad was a leading ornithologist," Darren Naish, a science writer and paleozoologist affiliated with the University of Portsmouth in England, wrote on his zoology blog. "His papers are extraordinary for the amount of data and analysis he packed into each of his studies."

A Carnegie curator since 1993, Livezey oversaw a collection of nearly 195,000 specimens of birds, the country's ninth largest.

Livezey's research included studies of the evolution of flightless birds, ecology and behavior of steamer ducks, and genetic analysis of birds and avian disorders.

Livezey is survived by a brother, Kent Livezey of Puyallup, Wash., and a sister, Alyson Hartmann of Flossmoor, Ill. He also leaves behind his dog, Bailey, Rogers said.

Growing up in Chicago, Livezey and his brother, now a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an expert on the spotted owl, developed a passion for wildlife, hitchhiking and camping, Rogers said. They took a trip to Ecuador two years ago to look at birds and other wildlife, he said.

He was a graduate of Oregon State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Kansas.

"Few people knew the evolutionary literature of birds as well as Brad," Cracraft said. "Much of his work is a foundation for paleontology."

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