Monday, August 13, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt: Our Birdingist President

I'm reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt called The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley and I'm delighted to learn that our 26th president was a list-making, skywatching bona fide birdwatcher.   He caught the bug at a young age but was completely taken: in a passage that rings familiar to many young birders, Brinkley talks about Roosevelt's first summer after a year at Harvard, where he shunned the "normal" collegiate pursuits for birds:

"Because Edith [Roosevelt's girlfriend] had been excited about spending time with Theodore at Oyster Bay, the news that birds came first may have bruised her feelings.  As the historian Edmund Morris joked in The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edith 'could compete with the belles of Boston, but what were her charms compared to those of the Orange-throated Warbler, the Red-bellied Nuthatch, and the Hairy Woodpecker?'"
More than just a hobbyist, Roosevelt was a passionate collector and author.  In the days before field guides, Roosevelt was a serious contributor to American ornithological knowledge, publishing a booklet based on his personal observations called The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, N.Y. in 1878 (when he was 20!).  The booklet was a great success, earning a glowing review from one of the eminent ornithologists of the day, C. Hart Merriam, in the Bulletin of the Nuttall Ornithological Club.

A copy of The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks can be found here.  It isn't tremendously exciting to our modern eyes (except for the challenge of playing "what's that bird called now?" and the sad passage about Wild (Passenger) Pigeons being "undoubtedly found here at times"), but it was a useful tool back then.

Bully, Theodore Roosevelt!  You are a role model for young birders everywhere!

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