In Memoriam: Martin Humphrey Moynihan, 1928-1996

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  • This somewhat scholarly article is written in memory of Martin Moynihan, a former director of the Canal Zone Biological Area/Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), who died of cancer on December 3, 1996. The author was a fellow ornithologist hired by Moynihan to work at STRI and knew Moynihan for 36 years. He briefly describes Moynihan's early years after his 1928 birth in Chicago and relates that at age 15, Moynihan became interested in birds at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he attended Horace Mann School. Moynihan was greatly influenced by Ernst Mayr and, after graduation from Princeton, by Niko Tinbergen at Oxford. His well-rounded education allowed him to explore avenues not usually taken by others in his profession; the author notes that evolution was Moynihan's consuming interest, and he was a three-dimensional thinker who loved to entertain socially.
  • The Smithsonian had taken over Barro Colorado Island in 1946; good research had been done there, but the site languished in its role as a tropical research station until Moynihan's 1957 appointment as Resident Naturalist by Smithsonian Secretary Leonard Carmichael. During his 17 years at STRI, Moynihan secured support from Carmichael and his successor as Secretary, S. Dillon Ripley, to build a research organization from almost nothing to one of the most productive in the world while also managing to generate great amounts of writings. Frustrated by the burdens of managing the enlarged organization, Moynihan departed STRI in 1974 after overseeing the appointment of his chosen successor. He returned to research and lived on a farm in France with his anthropologist wife when they were not travelling overseas for her work. Though formally absent from Barro Colorado, Moynihan remained an enormous influence on the STRI group.


  • Mayr, Ernst
  • Moynihan, M
  • Tinbergen, Niko 1907-
  • Ripley, Sidney Dillon 1913-2001
  • Carmichael, Leonard 1898-1973
  • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)
  • American Museum of Natural History


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Article contains one photograph of Moynihan and two of his pen-and-ink bird illustrations.

Contained within

The Auk Vol. 115, No. 3 (Journal)

Contact information

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


July 1998


  • Animals
  • Directors
  • Ethologists
  • Secretaries
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Birds
  • Employees
  • Ornithologists
  • Biography
  • Ornithology
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees


  • Barro Colorado Nature Monument (Panama)
  • Barro Colorado Island (Panama)

Physical description

pgs. 755-758

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