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Top 10 Famous Ornithologist Who Have a Bird Named After Them

Famous Ornithologist

Alexander Wilson (1766 – 1813): Wilson’s Warbler
Along with Audubon, one of the fathers of North American ornithology. His work started before Audubon and he authored the Natural History of the Birds of the United States. He was a poet, ornithologist, and illustrator.

William Clark (1770 – 1838): Clark’s Nutcracker – (Clark’s Grebe was named after J.H. Clark who collected the first specimen.)
William Clark is well know as the Clark of Lewis and Clark.  Along with Meriwether Lewis, Clark helped lead the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803 to 1806 across the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Ocean. Before the expedition, he served in a militia and the United States Army.

John James Audubon (1785 – 1851):  Audubon’s Shearwater (Audubon’s Warbler was changed to a race of the Yellow-rumped Warbler)
Audubon was the son of a sea captain and was born in Haiti.  He trained as an artist in France and came (dodging being drafted into Napoleon’s army) to the United States in 1803.  He is considered the artistic father of American ornithology.  (Alexander Wilson was the scientific father.)

William Cooper (1798–1864): Cooper’s Hawk
This bird was named after the naturalist William Cooper, one of the founders of the New York Lyceum of Natural History (later the New York Academy of Sciences in New York. Bonaparte named the Cooper’s hawk for him, after Cooper collected a specimen of it in 1828.  He was the father of Dr. James G. Cooper.

The Cooper Ornithological Society (COS) commemorates the early western naturalist, Dr. James G. Cooper.

Another William Cooper is a famous Australian illustrator of birds.

William Swainson (1789 – 855): Swainson’s Thrush
Swainson’s thrush was named after William Swainson, an English ornithologist.
Swainson became the first illustrator and naturalist to use lithography, which was a relatively cheap means of reproduction and did not require an engraver. He began publishing many illustrated works, mostly serially. Subscribers received and paid for fascicles, small sections of the books, as they came out, so that the cash flow was constant and could be reinvested in the preparation of subsequent parts.

Thomas Nutall (1786 – 1859): Nutall’s Woodpecker
Nutall was a colleague of Audubon.  He wrote the first “field guide” to North American birds, illustrated with woodcuts, which was still in print in the 20th century. In 1825 he became curator of the botanical gardens at Harvard University.

Charles Lucien Jules Laurent Bonaparte (1803 – 1857): Bonaparte’s Gull
Napoleon’s nephew, spent 5 years in U.S. (1823-28), when he produced supplements to Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology.

John Cassin (1813 – 1869): Cassin’s Finch
Cassin was the first preeminent American-born ornithologist.  He was curator of birds at the Academy of Natural Sciences (Philadelphia) and author of the first comprehensive study of western birds.  He described 193 species of birds.

Thomas Brewer (1814 – 1880): Brewer’s Sparrow, Brewer’s Blackbird
Brewer had a strange occupation, serving as both a physician and reporter for a Boston newspaper. He graduated from Harvard College in 1835 and from Harvard Medical School three years later. He gave up medicine to work with birds. He is perhaps best best known as the joint author, with Baird and Ridgway, of A History of North American Birds (3 volumes, 1874)

Charles Bendire (1836 – 1897): Bendire’s Thrasher
Bendire worked as a collector for Spencer Baird of the Smithsonian.  He collected specimens (especially eggs) in the west, where he was a major in the Indian wars.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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