The Bird Collectors by Barbara and Richard Mearns

A library for ornithologists…

The Bird Collectors

Barbara and Richard Mearns

This is an engrossing and fascinating book, detailing the early ornithologists from the late eighteenth century to the present. Many of these collectors, early scientists, carried out practices frowned upon today but their collections formed the base on which most of our current knowledge is founded.

While many birds were shot as food or trophies, or even simply as ‘sport’, those who actively collected birds were doing so for knowledge; so that their skins could be studied and specimens stuffed or measurements taken. There was an old adage- ‘what’s hit is history, what’s missed is mystery’. This book makes no attempt to justify the killing, it sets out, and I believe succeeds, to increase our awareness and appreciation of those, often brave, early explorers and seekers of knowledge.

A page relaying part of the story of 'The Worst Journey in the World', an expedition in the dead of winter to collect eggs of the Emperor Penguin

A page relaying part of the story of ‘The Worst Journey in the World’; an expedition in the dead of winter to collect eggs of the Emperor Penguin. Dr ‘Bill’ Wilson returned to the Antarctic with Scott in 1910 and persuaded the leader to allow him, accompanied by Henry Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrade, to attempt to visit the penguin colony sixty-seven miles from their base. Setting off on 27 June 1911, they succeeded in collecting three eggs. It was hoped that the eggs and their intact embryos would reveal truths as to the origin of birds. These were subsequently delivered to the British Museum (Natural History) by Cherry-Garrard in 1913. Wilson and Bowers had perished with Scott on the return journey from the South Pole. The eggs were received without thanks

 

Book in featured image:

The Bird Collectors, Barbara and Richard Mearns. Academic Press, 1998. ISBN 0 12 487440 1

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