The First Textbook of Ornithology?

Despite their association with school courses, and the ready availability of information online, textbooks have long been—and still are—useful for working ornithologists. The OED says that a textbook is : A book used as a standard work for the study of a particular subject. By that definition, textbooks of ornithology have been with us for almost …

Red Eggs

The cover or frontispiece of almost every book about birds’ eggs is adorned with a picture of a common guillemot (Common Murre [1]) egg. Why? There are several reasons—the common guillemot’s egg is an extraordinary shape, it’s brightly coloured, and the variation in the colour and maculation seems almost infinite. Egg collectors, or oölogists as …

Serendipity 101

The more I read about the history of ornithology, the more it strikes me how important serendipity—blind luck—has been to that history. Ernst Mayr’s career, for example, was a long series of fortunate events. No question that Mayr was brilliant, ambitious and creative, but the goddess of fortune was definitely smiling on him. One hundred …

A Bird’s Eye View

When I started my PhD at McGill University, in 1973, I was thrilled to discover that the university had a library devoted just to ornithology: the Blacker-Wood Library of Zoology and Ornithology. This library was a primarily large room located in the basement of the university’s  immense Redpath Library just down the road from the …

The Utmost Harmony

I gave my first research talk at a ‘big’ international conference at the AOU meeting at Haverford College (Pennsylvania) in 1976. I talked about my work on Mexican hummingbirds and I was nervous, in part because Frank Gill—who was then doing great work on hummingbirds—was talking right before me. The chair of our session was …

¿Hay Huevos?

I did my PhD field work in Nayarit, Mexico, mainly in the coastal town of San Blas. On our first long drive there from Montreal, my fellow PhD student—Neil Brown—and I attempted to learn some basic Spanish, using a small Berlitz guide. Neil dropped me off just outside town, then headed off to his own …

Ornithology, March 1918

Unpublished manuscript dated March 26th, 1918 by Lloyd Kerswill, King City, Ontario [1] It’s nearly the end of March and I have in front of me the first issues for 1918 of the world’s major ornithological journals—The Ibis, The Auk, The Condor, The Wilson Bulletin, The Emu, and Journal für Ornithologie. Even though there are …

The Peculiar Etymologies of Ross’s Birds

When I was first starting to learn about birds, I was particularly intrigued (and delighted) with the peculiar names that had come from old English (dunlin, cormorant) and other languages (guillemot, eider), and those that were onomatopoeic (cuckoo, chickadeee). I also assumed that those birds named after people (Audubon’s Warbler, Temminck’s Stint, Townsend’s Warbler) were …

A Century Ago

As you might suspect, I find the history of ornithology in particular—and the history of science in general—pretty interesting. But even I am not sure why. In high school, history was my least favourite subject, taught by Dr A. S. H. Hill—our only teacher with a PhD (and in Political Science)—who insisted on having us …

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 …