A Passion for Birds - American Ornithology After Audubon

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  • A history of American ornithology from the early 1850's until World War II, this book traces the growth of interest in the subject of birds during that period of time and describes how ornithology grew from a state of mainly being descriptive bird watching and specimen collecting into a widely-respected separate field of scientific study. Even before the mid-1800's, individuals and museums had competed with each other to establish ornithological collections. In this book, the author does not write to a great extent on the Smithsonian Institution in its connection with bird collections, but states that Spencer F. Baird was hired as Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry's assistant in 1850 and by the time he became Secretary himself in 1878, had vastly expanded the U. S. National Museum's holdings by developing an extensive collecting network.
  • The author relates how rapid population growth and a shrinking landscape toward the end of the 19th century encouraged many individuals to experience nature by becoming bird enthusiasts. Over the years, however, strains were apparent between collectors who wanted to take a great number of specimens, and the followers of John James Audubon, who espoused the conservation of birds in their natural habitat. The author also suggests that Alexander Wetmore, an ornithologist who revised the classification of birds while heading the U. S. National Museum and later as sixth Secretary of the Smithsonian, was not a friend of conservationists. The author demonstrates that while ornithology had become a respected science by the 1940's, it was unlike so many others in that it depended to a great extent on observations and input from non-professional bird enthusiasts.


  • Wetmore, Alexander 1886-
  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • United States National Museum


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


326 pages with 33 illustrations; Index and extensive Notes and Bibliography Sections.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu




  • Animals
  • Secretaries
  • Birds
  • History
  • National Collections
  • Ornithology--History
  • Ornithology


United States

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