Professor Bumpus and His Sparrows

Guest Post by Ted Anderson Possibly the most influential ornithological paper published inNorth America in the 19th century was actually written by an invertebrate embryologist who was not even a member of the American Ornithologists’ Union.  The paper “The elimination of the unfit as illustrated by the introduced sparrow, Passer domesticus” was written by Professor …

Galápagos Sojourn

26 February 2018 Mr Charles Darwin Westminster Abbey UK My Dear Charles My apologies for not writing last Monday as I had suggested I might when I wrote to you on your birthday. We were still on the Santa Cruz II ‘steaming’ from Floreana to Baltra on Monday morning and there was no way yo …

Birthday Wishes

Mr Charles Darwin Westminster Abbey 20 Deans Yd Westminster London SW1P 3PA UK My Dear Charles (if I may) Happy 209th birthday! I know that a few people have written to you [1] in the 132 years since you shuffled off this mortal coil, but I thought it high time we brought you up to …

Lives Lived

Ornithologists are people too! When Bob Montgomerie, Jo Wimpenny and I wrote Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin (2014) our aim was to make the history of ornithology interesting, or at least more interesting than is usually the case, by focusing on the lives of ornithologists, with all their foibles, enthusiasms and idiosyncrasies. And what …

Eats Birds and Leaves

Probably my most memorable feast reflecting the title of this post is an ornithological lunch I had with Tim Birkhead at Restaurant Gilles-Simonet in St Girons in the French Pyrenées a few years ago. I had a superb Magret du Canard (the bird) with salad (the leaves) while Tim had the Tartine Pigonneau (pigeon sandwich) …

Books about Books about Birds

Before Google Scholar and similar search engines, most ornithologists that I know trundled off to the library from time to time to search the current literature on birds. As a graduate student at McGill, I was lucky enough to have the Blacker-Wood Library close at hand and they subscribed to something like 300 bird journals, …

Time Travel

For historians, travel to museums, libraries and historic sites is a way to get in touch with times past and seems, somehow, to improve understanding. I vividly remember the days I spent at Down House poring over Darwin’s artifacts, getting a feel for his working conditions, and supposing that somehow this made me a better …

“An Egg Is Always an Adventure”

Birds’ eggs can bring out the worst in people. In the UK, for example,  the avaricious collecting of birds’ eggs more than 60 years ago threatened or hastened local extinctions of rare raptors and the endangered red-backed shrike Lanius collurio, whose beautifully marked eggs seemed irresistible to collectors. Egg collecting, or öology as it was …

2017: A Historic Year for Ornithology

The year that ended yesterday was an historic one for ornithology, with the first meeting of the newly formed American Ornithological Society (AOS) in East Lansing, Michigan. As a student of the history of ornithology, I know how hard it is to predict the future of our discipline (i.e. impossible), or to even guess correctly …

Four Calling Birds

As this will be posted on Christmas day, I thought a post about my favourite Christmas song—and my second favourite song about birds [1]—would be in order. I particularly like The Twelve Days of Christmas because the words are secular, it originated in an 18th century memory game, the period celebrated is (or was) all …