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A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts

Biography / Memoir
The father of Minnesota ornithology, whose life story opens a window on a lost world of nature and conservation in the state's early days

By: Sue Leaf(Author)

296 pages, 30 b/w plates

University of Minnesota Press

Hardback | May 2013 | #204124 | ISBN-13: 9780816675647
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £22.50 $29/€25 approx

About this book

Imagine a Minneapolis so small that, on calm days, the roar of St. Anthony Falls could be heard in town, a time when passenger pigeons roosted in neighborhood oak trees. Now picture a dapper professor conducting his ornithology class (the university's first) by streetcar to Lake Harriet for a morning of bird-watching. The students were mostly young women – in sunhats, sailor tops, and long skirts, with binoculars strung around their necks. The professor was Thomas Sadler Roberts (1858–1946), a doctor for three decades, a bird lover virtually from birth, the father of Minnesota ornithology, and the man who, perhaps more than any other, promoted the study of the state's natural history. A Love Affair with Birds is the first full biography of this key figure in Minnesota's past.

Roberts came to Minnesota as a boy and began keeping detailed accounts of Minneapolis's birds. These journals, which became the basis for his landmark work The Birds of Minnesota, also inform A Love Affair with Birds, affording a view of the state's rich avian life in its early days – and of a young man whose passion for birds and practice of medicine among Minneapolis's elite eventually dovetailed in his founding of the beloved Bell Museum of National History.

Bird enthusiast, doctor, author, curator, educator, conservationist: every chapter in Roberts's life is also a chapter in the state's history, and in his story acclaimed author Sue Leaf – an avid bird enthusiast and nature lover herself – captures a true Minnesota character and his time.

"For those of us who spend a lifetime helping preserve and encourage the conservation of birdlife, one of the greatest gifts we can receive is the chance to enter the 'conservation time machine' provided by books like Sue Leaf's A Love Affair with Birds. It transports us back more than a hundred years to experience the diversity and abundance of the birdlife that once existed in Minnesota. It allows us to sense Roberts's passion for birds, his detailed powers of observation, and his thoroughness in documenting his lifetime of bird observations."
– Carrol Henderson, Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources




1. A Fledgling Start
2. Acquiring an Eagle Eye
3. The Young Naturalists’ Society
4. College Boy
5. A Gypsy Life
6. The Medical Student
7. A Family Man
8. The Busy Physician
9. The Empty Day
10. A Florida Interlude
11. The Associate Curator
12. Gains and Losses
13. Writing the Book
14. Building Mr. Bell’s Museum
15. The Cardinal Hour



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Sue Leaf is the author of Potato City: Nature, History, and Community in the Age of Sprawl and The Bullhead Queen: A Year on Pioneer Lake (Minnesota, 2009), a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards. She is the president of the Wild River Audubon Society of east-central Minnesota. 

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