Alexander Wilson

Alexander Wilson

The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology

Book - 2013
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Audubon was not the father of American ornithology. That honorific belongs to Alexander Wilson, whose encyclopedic "American Ornithology" established a distinctive approach that emphasized the observation of live birds. In the first full-length study to reproduce all of Wilson s unpublished drawings for the nine-volume "Ornithology, " Edward Burtt and William Davis illustrate Wilson s pioneering and, today, underappreciated achievement as the first ornithologist to describe the birds of the North American wilderness.

Abandoning early ambitions to become a poet in the mold of his countryman Robert Burns, Wilson emigrated from Scotland to settle near Philadelphia, where the botanist William Bartram encouraged his proclivity for art and natural history. Wilson traveled 12,000 miles on foot, on horseback, in a rowboat, and by stage and ship, establishing a network of observers along the way. He wrote hundreds of accounts of indigenous birds, discovered many new species, and sketched the behavior and ecology of each species he encountered.

Drawing on their expertise in both science and art, Burtt and Davis show how Wilson defied eighteenth-century conventions of biological illustration by striving for realistic depiction of birds in their native habitats. He drew them in poses meant to facilitate identification, making his work the model for modern field guides and an inspiration for Audubon, Spencer Fullerton Baird, and other naturalists who followed. On the bicentennial of his death, this beautifully illustrated volume is a fitting tribute to Alexander Wilson and his unique contributions to ornithology, ecology, and the study of animal behavior."

Publisher: Cambridge, Massachusetts : The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013.
ISBN: 9780674072558
Characteristics: x, 444 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 25 cm
Additional Contributors: Davis, William E. Jr.,1936-


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Sep 17, 2015

Before there was Audubon, there was Alex Wilson, an early Romantic era Scotch poet who came to America to find freedom and found a continent full of an amazing array of birds. He traveled, observed, drew and became an expert in publication in his efforts to document and depict every American bird known in the early 1800s. He even knocked on the White House door and got Thomas Jefferson to subscribe to the series. Because his successor George Ord disparaged much-loved contemporary John Audubon's popularity, Wilson's legacy suffered. But this book brings him back to life for all who are interested in that era, how "ornithology" got it's start, and birds in particular.


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