New Stuff Tuesday – October 15, 2013

Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology

Alexander Wilson:
The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology
by Edwart H. Burtt, Jr. and William E. Davis, Jr.
QL31 .W7 B87 2013
New Arrivals, 2nd floor

Alexander Wilson first caught my attention when was when I was doing a literature review of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. In 1806 Wilson was in Kentucky when he witnessed a flock of passenger pigeons overhead that he calculated at more than 2 billion birds (pp. 325-326). This staggering figure was repeated continually in the literature.

But I didn’t realize it was Wilson, rather than the more famous John James Audubon, who founded the field of ornithology in the United States. And although Wilson was a journalist rather than a scientist, he is even credited with creating the scientific approach to the study of ornithology (p. 333) and with putting the United States on par with Europe in the study of natural history (p. 331).

This volume chronicles Wilson’s far too brief, but incredibly productive life as he travelled across the North American continent to study, draw, and document its birds.

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