Edward Wilson was a great ornithologist

5 Apr

David Saunders has written in the March 2012 edition  of ‘ Birdwatching’ to draw attention to Edward Wilson’s legacy in relation to ornithology. He points out that an enthusiasm for natural history was ‘in Wilson’s blood’, his grandfather and great uncle were  keen naturalists and benefactors of the Pittsburg Museum. They advanced, Saunders says, the study of natural sciences in the United States.

Wilson kept a diary from the age of 17 on his natural history observations: cloud formation, birds, rain etc, of no obvious interest to anyone but himself, but although his bent was in natural history, he trained to be a doctor. He went on the ‘Discovery’ expedition as junior doctor and zoologist and made a  huge collection of drawings and paintings of the flora and fauna and topography of Antarctica.

His work on the Grouse Commission is not well known. The sport brought £1,000,000 annually to the Scottish economy, so the death of thousands of red grouse was a serious worry. Wilson worked on the problem for four years travelling endlessly and dissected almost 2,000 grouse. He definitively found the cause and suggested remedies. He did not live to see the published report, a large tome, most of the illustrations were done by him.

He illustrated ‘British Mammals’ with 27 colour plates, 54 black and white and 250 small illustrations.

His legacy to the ornithological world is large and should be remembered. He was Scott’s friend and confident and interested Scott in natural sciences. Scott’s last words to Kathleen his wife, was to ask her to make their son interested in natural sciences. Peter Scott fulfilled this hope magnificently.


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