Bird lovers may be surprised to discover that the original, real, James Bond, after whom Ian Fleming’s character was named, was one of their own. Bond was born in 1900 in Philadelphia, but when his mother died in 1914, he moved to England with his British-born father. There he went to private school and then to Cambridge.
His interest in ornithology was sparked by his ornithologist father’s expedition to the Orinoco Delta right after graduation. He returned to the US and spent three years as a banker, but his interest in natural history led him to take on a role in an expedition sponsored by the Academy of Natural Sciences by surveying the birds of the West Indies. He travelled extensively through the islands for many decades, spending long periods in Cuba and Hispaniola
He led a series of trips to document avian species throughout the Caribbean. One island that fascinated him was Jamaica, where he noticed that many of the bird species native to that island originated from North America and not South America as had been originally assumed. Later trips to Jamaica and other Caribbean islands led him to the theory that the boundary between North and South American species lay off the northeast coast of Venezuela and Columbia, now called the Bond Line. Bond wrote the seminal book of Caribbean bird watching, Birds of The West Indies, originally published in 1936 and for many years the only definitive bird identification book of the area. He visited more than 100 islands and collected 294 of the 300 bird species there. He ultimately wrote more than 100 scientific papers on Caribbean birds.
His Birds of the West Indies was widely read by bird watchers in the Caribbean area. One such bird watcher, Ian Fleming, had an estate on the north coast of Jamaica and used Bond’s book as a guide for his birding forays. His selection of Bond’s name for the hero of his spy novels made the name if not the man famous. Fleming figured that the real Bond had no objections, although he was not asked; Bond did not even notice for several years.
In 1964 James and his wife Mary were in the Caribbean to continue research on bird species and decided to pay a surprise visit to Ian Fleming, who had on the first exchange of letters invited them to his estate in Jamaica. Fleming was very ill at this time, with about six months to live. At first Fleming was somewhat suspicious, asking Bond to identify some of the birds they saw on the premises. But once Bond passed the test, this was probably the best day Fleming would have for the rest of his life.
Bond was a curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, a ellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union, and a member of the British Ornithologists’ Union. In 1952 he was awarded the William Brewster Memorial Award, the most prestigious in American ornithology, by the American Ornithologists’ Union for his work on West Indian birds. He died in Philadelphia at age 89.