To celebrate International Migratory Bird Day on May 9th, we will be releasing recently digitized specimen drawings by ornithologist Robert Ridgway (1850-1929.) Ridgway's career with the Smithsonian began in 1864 when he wrote asking for help identifying a bird. As they say, the rest is history. Starting in 1869, Ridgway became curator at the Smithsonian's United States National Museum and remained in that job until his death in 1929 (more about Ridgway's life here.)
Ridgway's work is still significant today. He is considered one of the iconic figures in color dictionaries that gave people studying the natural world a common vocabulary for describing the color of flora and fauna. This was very important work prior to photographic technology, and looks remarkably similar to the Pantone books graphic designers use today! Ridgway wrote a short color dictionary in 1886 at the same time as he completed work on a set of rules and guidelines for naming birds. In 1912, he self-published "Color Standards and Color Nomenclature," a compilation of 1,115 colors.
Throughout May, we will release 509 newly digitized scans of his incredibly rich specimen drawings of North American birds to the Flickr Commons. There are even more on this website. We will also be asking for your help in transcribing some of the notes found on his drawings so we can make all the information contained in these works useful and findable to admirers and researchers today.
- Record Unit 7167: Robert Ridgway Papers, circa 1850s-1919, Smithsonian Institution Archives