Biology 4242 - Ornithology:  Handout No. 1

 Some Important Names in North American Ornithology
   This is clearly an incomplete list. There is a very large flock of very preeminent ornithologists who have made important contributions to ornithology that are not included here. Lots of them are included in The Birder's Handbook.

 (Page numbers refer to slightly less brief biographies in The Birder's Handbook, Ehrlich et al.)

 Carolus Linnaeus  (p. 629)  1707 - 1778   

            The father of biological taxonomy.  A Swedish professor of botany and medicine at Uppsala University, Linnaeus developed the hierarchical taxonomic system used today, culminating in the binomial (genus and species) name which uniquely identifies all known biological species.  Although he never travelled to North America, Linnaeus named a large number of species from specimens shipped back to Europe from North America.

 William Bartram  (p. 129)  1739 - 1823   

            The grandfather of North American ornithology.  Travelled extensively in the southeast.

 Alexander Wilson  (p. 277)  1766 - 1813   

            Along with Audubon, one of the fathers of N.A. ornithology.  Started before Audubon (collecting a Red-headed Woodpecker the day he arrived from England), produced American Ornithology; or, the Natural History of the Birds of the United States.  His observations and taxonomic work proved more lasting than Audubon's.   

 John James Audubon  (p. 413)  1785 - 1851   

            Son of a sea captain, born in Haiti, trained as an artist in France and came (dodging being drafted into Napoleon's army) to the U.S. in 1803.  The artistic father of American ornithology.  (Alexander Wilson was the scientific father.) [See much more detail about Audubon on another page.]

 Thomas Nuttall  (p. 357)  1786 - 1859   

            Colleague of Audubon, wrote the first "field guide" to North American birds, illustrated with woodcuts, which was still in print in the 20th century.

 Charles Bonaparte  (p. 463)  1803 - 1857   

            Napoleon’s nephew, spent 5 years in U.S. (1823-28), when he produced supplements to Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology.  “The father of systematic ornithology”.  (Bonaparte's Gull)

 Charles Darwin  (p. 475)  1809 - 1882   

            The most important scientist in the history of biology.  He "discovered", along with Alfred Russell Wallace, the theory that species evolve through differential survival of offspring based on natural variation between individuals.  Birds played an important role in developing this theory.  He saw the variation that had been introduced by selective breeding in domestic pigeons and recognized the same patterns in the finches of the Galapagos Islands.  His concept provided a framework for virtually all our observations of the natural world.  (Darwin's Finches)

 John Cassin (p. 515)  1813 - 1869 

            First preeminent American-born ornithologist, curator of birds at the Academy of Natural Sciences (Philadelphia), author of the first comprehensive study of western birds.  Described 193 species of birds.  (Cassin’s Finch)

 Thomas Brewer  (p. 647)  1814 - 1880   

            A physician and reporter for a Boston newspaper, Brewer was an important amateur ornithologist, who provided much information on avian biology to Audubon.  Like Spencer Baird, Brewer bridged the gap between the early (Audubon & Alexander Wilson) and modern eras of North American ornithology.  Bears the somewhat ignominious burden of having been a supporter of the introduced House Sparrow (English Sparrow).  (Brewer's Blackbird, Brewer's Sparrow).

 Spencer Fullerton Baird  (p. 569)  1823 - 1887   

            After studying Alexander Wilson's Ornithology, and corresponding with Audubon, Baird went on to begin the modern era of North American ornithology.  He was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, adding greatly to its collections by encouraging military escorts to railroad exploration teams to bring back specimens, and one of the first American supporters of Darwin's theory of natural selection.  (Baird’s Sandpiper)

 Charles Bendire  (p. 439)  1836 - 1897   

            Worked as a collector for Spencer Baird (Smithsonian) collecting specimens (especially eggs) in the west, where he was a major in the indian wars.  (Bendire's Thrasher)

 Joel Asaph Allen  (p. 343)  1838 - 1921   

            First curator of birds at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, founder of the AOU, and first editor of the Auk (AOU's journal).  Believed Lamarckian, rather than Darwinian explanation for inherited differences.  Known for Allen's Rule.

 Elliot Coues  (p. 565)  1842 - 1899 

            An army surgeon in the Indian wars, he used his time in the west to collect specimens and learn about the natural history of the birds of the region.  His Key to North American Birds broke tradition and made information that had previously been available only in technical journals accessible to the lay public.

 Robert Ridgway  (p. 119)  1850 - 1929   

            Curator of birds at Smithsonian (Later U.S. National Museum of Natural History) for 60 years!  Helped produce the first AOU Checklist of North American Birds, and 8 volumes of the monumental Birds of North and Middle America (1901-1919).

 Frank M. Chapman  (p. 43)  1864 - 1945   

            Curator of bird collections at the American Museum of Natural History AMNH, started Bird-Lore (which became Audubon), developed museum displays with birds in habitats.

 Arthur Cleveland Bent  (p. 637)  1866 - 1954   

            An amateur ornithologist, he edited and wrote most of the monumental, 26-volume series, "Life Histories of North American Birds" (1919-1968).  Nine years after his papers began appearing in the Auk in 1901, the Smithsonian asked him to continue the life history series begun by Charles Bendire.  Bent started from scratch and spent the next 44 years working on the project.  A few sections of the last volume had to be written after his death and the final installment in the series was published in 1968.

 Joseph Grinell (p. 411)  1877 - 1939   

            Instrumental in establishing the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Univ. Cal.  Published over 500 papers.  Recognized (and stated explicitly) the importance of isolation in the process of speciation.

 Margaret Morse Nice  (p. 579)  1883 - 1974 

            Despite having done graduate work in ornithology, when her husband took a job at Ohio State, she was unable to get a job at the University, instead becoming in Tinbergen's words, "an American housewife [who] was the greatest scholar of them all."  Nice was the most important woman in the history of North American ornithology, most well-known for her studies of territoriality and population dynamics in a color-banded population of Song Sparrows.

 Waldo Lee McAtee  (p. 539)  1883 - 1962   

            Inspired by a lecture given by Frank Chapman, he went on to become an expert in the food habits of birds and other vertebrates, based on his analyses of stomach contents - a technique he pioneered.  His Curriculum Vitae (résumé) lists over 1,200 publications!

 Alexander Wetmore  (p. 95)  1886 - 1978   

            Sixth Secretary of the Smithsonian, published on a wide variety of topics, supported Bent as he produced the "Life Histories" series.  The preeminent ornithologist in North America at one time.

 Robert Cushman Murphy  (p. 215)  1887 - 1973   

            Worked under Frank Chapman at the AMNH, became the world's authority on marine birds.

 George Miksch Sutton  (p. 87)  1898 - 1982   

            Talented artist and prolific ornithologist (ca. 250 papers published), especially interested in northern birds.

 Konrad Lorenz  (p. 57)  1903 - 1989           

            Viennese, most famous for his work with imprinting and the nature of displays.  Co-founder, with Tinbergen, of the field of ethology.  Argued that behavior evolved in the same way as morphological features.

 Ernst Mayr  (p. 389)  1904 - 2005                    

            German, started studying birds in South Pacific, written influentially on Animal Species and Evolution, preeminent in the "Neodarwinian evolutionary synthesis".  While beginning his work with birds, his influence on biology was far more widespread.  Finished his career at the MCZ (Harvard).

 Alden H. Miller  (p. 267)  1906 - 1965   

            A preeminent ornithologist while the focus of this science shifted from systematics and biogeography to behavior, ecology and physiology.  Director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley, following his mentor, Joseph Grinnel.

 Roger Tory Peterson  (p. 563)  1908 - 1996  

            Invented the modern field guide, a skilled artist who probably did more than any living person to get people outdoors, involved in the living world around them.

 Nikolaas Tinbergen  (p. 71)  1907 - 1988    

            Dutch, Co-founder, with Lorenz, of the field of ethology.  Best known for work with Herring Gulls.

 Rachel Carson  (p. 511)  1907 - 1964   

            Not an ornithologist per se, (she was a marine biologist) but as author of Silent Spring, she drew our attention to the misuse of pesticides, which were causing catastrophic declines in populations of Peregrine Falcons, Ospreys, and Bald Eagles.  “Silent Spring” refers to a spring without birdsong.

 David Lack  (p. 187)  1910 - 1973 

            British, helped develop radar in WWII then used it to study migration.  Long-time director of the Edward Gray Institute of Ornithology at Oxford, especially interested in island faunas and the evolution of reproductive strategies in birds.

 Robert MacArthur  (p. 525)  1930 - 1972 

            A student of the great ecologist, G. Evelyn Hutchinson, MacArthur was a brilliant birder and theoretician.  He pioneered the use of mathematical models in ecological studies.  His Ph.D. thesis on the division of ecological niches between 5 species of warblers in the Maine conifer forests is a classic - it was published almost in its entirety in the journal Ecology and only took 20 pages!  We can only dream of what he might have contributed to science had he not died of cancer at such an early age.

 Theodore A. Parker, III   1953 - 1993

            Ted Parker, the world’s authority on Neotropical birds and their conservation, died at a tragically early age in a plane crash on a cloud-covered forest mountain in Ecuador.  He pioneered Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program for identifying target areas for conservation.  One is tempted to say that “Ted forgot more about Neotropical birds than anyone else ever knew”, but I don’t think Ted ever forgot anything - he certainly never forgot a bird call.  Few would dispute that he was the greatest field ornithologist of all time.


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