I'm organizing stuff in my study, and it's slow going because I keep
running into odd stuff I've saved. One item was a copy of a short piece
in American Birds, "An annotated bibliography of the founding of the
American Ornithologists' Union," by Peter Cannell (Am Bds 37(4):355-7),
which led to some ruminations. The author cites some interesting
accounts of the organization of bird studies in America. Most of the 21
birdmen who came to the first AOU meeting in 1883 are well-known to
scholars, and many of their names came to be enshrined in the scientific
names of birds. All of us benefit from their work in organizing,
describing, and ultimately naming birds.
Many were physicians, who employed their skills in dissecting and
preserving specimens to document and organize North American birds by
their characteristics. More than a few served in the military as
surgeons, often in remote frontier spots where there were opportunities
to find and describe new species. Many others were amateurs, for whom
bird study was not a source of livelihood, and their ornithological
interests were at times more diverse. Among the physicians was J. M.
Wheaton of Ohio, director of the Starling Medical College in
Columbus--later to become the Ohio State University Medical
School--whose bulky work "Report on the Birds of Ohio" was published
just the year before, earning the praise of eminent ornithologists along
with an invitation to the meeting founding the AOU.
The article features a montage of photographs of 25 AOU founders.
Unsurprisingly, they are all male, all white, all with Anglo-Saxon
names, and all with carefully-tended but often extravagant facial hair
(see Wheaton's chops, for example, at
http://beesfirstappearance.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/wheaton/ . You may
find their names--Mearns, Ridgway, Allen, Baird, Brewster, Coues,
Shufeldt, Merriam, Bendire, Bicknell, etc--enshrined in the scientific
names of North American birds. Their names once more often appeared in
those even for common birds, but fewer remain today--the greater pewee,
for example, was "Coues' Flycatcher" until just a few decades ago. Only
a few of the men appear to be in their twenties. Only two wear
spectacles, at least for their photos, and as befits birdmen, most
maintain a fiercely attentive gaze aimed away from the camera, as if
confirming a tough field identification.
As for common bird names, I was surprised to find that 39 species on
our Ohio list share humans' names, with three for Swainson, four for
Wilson, and two for Ross, Townsend, and Baird (Spencer Fullerton Baird
[1823-1887] appears in the photo montage from the first AOU meeting).
Many names of other people, even such as "Anna," persist in scientific
names of Ohio birds as well, recalling the names of humans involved in
ornithology, however indirectly, rather than any characteristic of the
birds in question. Admittedly, some of the quite descriptive names are
nearly as obtuse to mere observers from a distance, such as
"sharp-shinned," and "rough-winged." All of this history leaves a lot of
room for future changes in the ever-changing nomenclature of birds.
Ohio-birds mailing list, a service of the Ohio Ornithological Society.
Our thanks to Miami University for hosting this mailing list.
Additional discussions can be found in our forums, at www.ohiobirds.org/forum/.
You can join or leave the list, or change your options, at:
Send questions or comments about the list to: [log in to unmask]