The wonder women of ornithology

Writing by Dr Jo Wimpenny

“One of the most influential amateur ornithologists of all time, Margaret Morse Nice pioneered a new form of ornithology in the USA, uniting bird-banding techniques with new behavioural theories emerging from Europe, and her own background in child psychology.

Despite abandoning the prospect of a PhD to accompany her husband to Ohio and raise a family, Nice went on to publish three landmark monographs on the life history of the song sparrow, based on 14 years of data on the lives of ‘her’ backyard sparrows. The American Ornithologists’ Union recognised her work by awarding her the coveted Brewster Medal.

Nice corresponded with hundreds of people and played a central role in promoting the exchange of scientific information between US and European ornithologists. She published 250 research articles (seven of which were book length) and, as editor of Bird-Banding, a staggering 3,313 book and article reviews.”

“While others observed living birds, Annie Meinertzhagen was a skilled collector, who shot and skinned most of her birds herself. She was particularly interested in plumage and moulting of ducks and waders, and chick mouthpart colouration. For her expert knowledge, Henry Witherby invited her to author the relevant sections of his highly influential Handbook of British Birds, a work that became the standard authority on British birds for over a decade.

Indeed, to prevent publication delays, on marrying ornithologist Richard Meinertzhagen, she chose to spend part of her honeymoon studying birds at Lord Rothschild’s Museum in Tring. Her husband’s work was recently found to be largely fraudulent, and his role in her death – considered a tragic shooting accident at the time – remains suspicious.”

Read the full Discover Wildlife Article here

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