Famous Ornithologists

 

jjaudubonAlthough John James Audubon had met Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) in 1810 and had seen Wilson’s great work American Ornithology, it was not until ten years later that Audubon arrived at the idea of publishing his own illustrations of birds and began collecting and drawing specifically toward that end. With his assistant Joseph Mason, a young artist specializing in plants and insects, he journeyed from Cincinnati to New Orleans and Natchez. In 1822 Audubon took lessons in oil painting from an itinerant artist named John Stein (or Steen). This is his only recorded training in this medium. He had been working primarily in pastels, but about this time he began increasingly to use watercolors. Audubon visited Philadelphia in 1824 and arranged to show his work at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He won no sponsorship in that city, however, because of his rough manner and the threat his project posed to the work of the favored Alexander Wilson.

Although John James Audubon had met Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) in 1810 and had seen Wilson’s great work American Ornithology, it was not until ten years later that Audubon arrived at the idea of publishing his own illustrations of birds and began collecting and drawing specifically toward that end. With his assistant Joseph Mason, a young artist specializing in plants and insects, he journeyed from Cincinnati to New Orleans and Natchez. In 1822 Audubon took lessons in oil painting from an itinerant artist named John Stein (or Steen). This is his only recorded training in this medium. He had been working primarily in pastels, but about this time he began increasingly to use watercolors. Audubon visited Philadelphia in 1824 and arranged to show his work at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He won no sponsorship in that city, however, because of his rough manner and the threat his project posed to the work of the favored Alexander Wilson.

Alexander Wilson (1766-1813). He was a Scottish-American poet, ornithologistnaturalist, and illustrator. Identified by George Ord as the “Father of American Ornithology”, Wilson is regarded as the greatest American ornithologist prior to Audubon. With a nephew, Wilson left Scotland in May 1794 at the age of 27, and settled in Pennsylvania. Opportunities were scarce for weavers in the Philadelphia area, and Wilson turned to teaching.Wilson taught at the Milestown School in Bristol Township, the present-day East Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia, for five years from 1796 to 1801.He then moved on to teach briefly in New Jersey.Eventually, Wilson settled into a position at Gray’s Ferry, Pennsylvania, and took up residence in nearby Kingsessing. There, he met the famous naturalist William Bartram, who encouraged Wilson’s interest in ornithology and painting.

Resolved to publish a collection of illustrations of all the birds of North America, Wilson traveled widely, collecting and painting. He also secured subscribers to fund his work, the nine-volume American Ornithology (1808–1814). Of the 268 species of birds illustrated in its pages, 26 had not previously been described.

John Gould, 1804 – 1881, English ornithologist whose ornithologistslarge, lavishly illustrated volumes on birds command ever-mounting prices among collectors. Gould learned taxidermy at Windsor Castle, where his father was foreman of gardeners. In 1827 he became taxidermist to the Zoological Society of London. The arrival in 1830 of a collection of exotic bird skins from the Himalayas enabled him to produce the first of many folio volumes, A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1831-32). Gould’s sketches were transferred to the lithographer’s stone by his wife, the former Elizabeth Coxon, whose artistic talents were to enhance many of his works until her death in 1841. The five-volume Birds of Europe (1832-37) and Monograph of the Ramphastidae (Toucans) (1834) were so successful that the Goulds were able to spend two years (1838-40) in Australia, where they made a large collection of birds and mammals.

ornithologistsThomas Brewer (1814 – 1880): Brewer’s Sparrow, Brewer’s Blackbird
Brewer had a strange occupation, serving as both a physician and reporter for a Boston newspaper. He graduated from Harvard College in 1835 and from Harvard Medical School three years later. He gave up medicine to work with birds. He is perhaps best best known as the joint author, with Baird and Ridgway, of A History of North American Birds (3 volumes, 1874)

Ornithologists, scientists who study ornithology, the science of birds, have changed over the years, as has the science. Once just observers of birds, then collectors of birds, eggs, and nests, ornithologists have incorporated the tools of ecology to study bird populations and the interaction among individuals between and within species. New tools such as radios, infrared, GPS,  and microwaves have allowed scientists to track and observe birds from long distances. In addition, sophisticated laboratory tools and techniques have allowed ornithologists to delve more deeply into the senses of birds to discover what they are able to perceive and how they react to stimuli.

Frank Chapman. (1864-1945) joined the staff of the American Museum of Natural History in 1888 as assistant to Joel Asaph Allen. In 1901 he was made associate Curator of Mammals and Birds and in 1908 Curator of Birds.

Chapman came up with the original idea for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. He also wrote many ornithological books such as, Bird Life, Birds of Eastern North America, and Life in an Air Castle. Chapman promoted the integration of photography into ornithology, especially in his book Bird Studies With a Camera,[3] in which he discussed the practicability of the photographic blind and in 1901 invented his own more portable version of a blind using an umbrella with a large ‘skirt’ to conceal the photographer that could be bundled into a small pack for transport along with the other, at the time very bulky, paraphernalia of the camera gear.[4] For his work, Distribution of Bird-life in Colombia, he was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1917.[5]

Ornithologists have been the leaders of nature study and many have birds named after them. Here is a short list of some of the more famous ornithologists f rom the past and a link to present day well-known ornithologists (from Wikipedia).

Audubon Watercolors of North American Birds
Alexander Wilson Biography
Alexander Wilson Galleries
Alexander F. Skutch
John James Audubon
Spencer Fulton Baird
Thomas Bewick
Thomas Nuttall
John Kirk Townsend
American Ornithologist’s Union
British Ornithologist’s Union
English Ornithologists

LIST OF ORNITHOLOGISTS

 

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