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Books about bird collectors and collections

This page lists books about the history of bird collecting and the collections that have been passed down to the modern era.

The list is arranged by publication date with the most recent at the top.

Related pages:

- Catalogue Of The Birds In The British Museum

- History of ornithology


Warriors, Dilettantes and Businessmen: Bird Collectors During the Mid-19th to Mid-20th Centuries in Southern Africa

W.R.J. Dean

Voelcker Publications


"Dr Richard Dean explores the collections, and their collectors, of bird specimens between 1850-1950 in southern Africa, a period when museum collections were growing rapidly. He highlights how humans' fascination with birds led to studies of birds and the science of ornithology. Ornithologists working in museums and other institutions began to rely on collections of birds for their studies. There are interesting snippets of information in Warriors, Dilettantes and Businessmen did you know that birds were used for decoration and magic charms, that their earliest recorded use was related to cultural significance, that mummified birds were used as grave goods by the ancient Egyptians and that a rather strange use of large, preserved birds was as food covers at banquets? Warriors, Dilettantes and Businessmen is a reassuring read for bird lovers highlighting that bird collections are being cared for in a century where we are facing climate change, the disappearance of large bird species and other habitat losses. Dr Dean, through his book, keeps these collections alive."

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Aves: A Survey Of The Literature Of Neotropical Ornithology

Tom Taylor

Louisiana State University Libraries


"This book was originally prepared in conjunction with an exhibition of books from the E.A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection displayed at the Hill Memorial Library in 2011, showcasing Four centuries of illustrated books on the birds of Mexico, the Caribbean, and South and Central America. The book is far more than an exhibition catalogue as it contains biographies of many eminent collectors and ornithologists who worked and traveled in the New World tropics. A commentary on the principal works produced by these individuals accompanies the biographical sketches."

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All Creatures: Naturalists, Collectors, and Biodiversity, 1850-1950

Robert E. Kohler

Princeton University Press


"Here a distinguished historian of science tells the story of the modern discovery of biodiversity. Robert Kohler argues that the work begun by Linnaeus culminated around 1900, when collecting and inventory were organized on a grand scale in natural history surveys. Supported by governments, museums, and universities, biologists launched hundreds of collecting expeditions to every corner of the world. Kohler conveys to readers the experience and feel of expeditionary travel: the customs and rhythms of collectors' daily work, and its special pleasures and pains. A novel twist in this story is that survey collecting was rooted not just in science but also in new customs of outdoor recreation, such as hiking, camping, and sport hunting. These popular pursuits engendered a wide scientific interest in animals and plants and inspired wealthy nature-goers to pay for expeditions. The modern discovery of biodiversity became a reality when scientists' desire to know intersected with the culture of outdoor vacationing. General readers as well as scholars will find this book fascinating."

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Why Museums Matter: Avian Archives In An Age Of Extinction

Editor: Nigel J. Collar, Clemency T. Fisher and Chris J. Feare

Papers from a conference of this title held at Green Park, Aston Clinton, and workshops at the Natural History Museum, Tring, 12-15 November 1999

Supplement to the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club

British Ornithologists' Club


From the introduction: "My desire to plan the conference 'Why Museums Matter: Avian Archives in an Age of Extinction and its associated workshop 'Increased Co-operation between Museum Bird Collections, especially in Europe' arose out of two interrelated facts which had become apparent to me in my role as collection manager of one of the world's largest bird collections. First, in an era of ever-rising threats to ever more bird species worldwide, it was increasingly important to improve cooperation between museums in collating and making available information about the bird specimen resources they look after. Second, such cooperation would most easily arise out of personal contact, but at the time no forum existed, at least within Europe, to facilitate the meeting and exchange of views among bird collection management staff."

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The Bird Collectors

Barbara Mearns and Richard Mearns

Poyser Natural History



"This book examines the history and uses of bird skin collections and the many colorful explorers involved in their development. It is the first and only treatment of the subject, and appeals to a worldwide audience. The book covers all parts of the world, with particular focus on Europe, USA, and Africa. The Bird Collectors contains more than 160 period photographs, many never before published, showing famous collectors and ornithological expeditions."

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Type Specimens Of Bird Skins In The University Museum Of Zoology, Cambridge, UK

C.W. Benson

Occasional Publications Series No. 4

British Ornithologists' Club


"Constantine ('Con') Benson, 1909-1982, was editor of the Bull. BOC 1968-1974, and the author of some 300 papers on ornithology. Invited to arrange and catalogue the bird collections in the University Museum at Cambridge, which includes the Swainson and Strickland collections, and appreciative of their historical importance, he completed a catalogue of the type material just before his death. The Introduction gives brief but valuable biographies of the authors of the types and, in the Catalogue, each entry is annotated giving the original name with full references, the modern name following Peters' Check-list, and a careful review of the status of the type, often with reference to accounts of type material in other collections. Also listed are taxa for which type status is not claimed, but which are of particular historical interest. A wealth of detail is to be found in the notes. The collections hold the only two known skins of the extinct Newton's Parakeet Psittacula exsul, and eight Geospiza and Camarhynchus skins collected in the Galapagos by Beagle crew member Henry Fuller and catalogued by Captain Fitzroy."

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Extinct And Endangered Birds In The Collections Of The Natural History Museum

Alan Knox & Michael Walters

Occasional Publications Series No. 1

British Ornithologists' Club


"This detailed catalogue gives the factual data for over 3000 specimens of extinct and endangered species from the collections of the Natural History Museum at Tring UK, including full label and register data for each specimen."

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The Literature of Australian Birds: A History and a Bibliography of Australian Ornithology

Hubert Massey Whittell

Paterson Brokensha


A single volume that comprises two parts:

  • Part 1, A History of Australian Ornithology 1618 to 1850 (116 pages)
  • Part 2, A Bibliography Of Australian Ornithology 1618 To 1950, With Biographies Of Authors, Collectors And Others (788 pages)
A facsimile edition was published in 1993.

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Last updated August 2017