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Charles Darwin's Life with Birds: His Complete Ornithology

By: Clifford B Frith(Author)

531 pages, 32 plates with colour & b/w photos and colour illustrations; b/w illustrations

Oxford University Press

Hardback | Aug 2016 | #227887 | ISBN-13: 9780190240233
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £52.99 $69/€60 approx

About this book

Much of Charles Darwin's groundbreaking work as an evolutionary biologist stemmed from his study of birds. It is universally acknowledged that Darwin's observation of bird groups and species like the Galapagos finches, mockingbirds, and rock doves was critical to the development of his theories on natural selection, evolution, and sexual selection. The significant number of diverse birds that Darwin covered in his published works represents a most substantial ornithological contribution. His major books alone contain reference to and consideration of almost 500 bird species, as well as interesting and pertinent discussion of over 100 ornithological topics.

Charles Darwin's Life with Birds is a comprehensive treatment of Darwin's work as an ornithologist. Clifford Frith discusses every ornithological topic and bird species that Darwin researched, providing a complete historical survey of his published writing on birds. Through this, we learn how Darwin became an increasingly skilled and eventually exceptional ornithologist, and how his relationships grew with contemporary scientists like John Gould. It examines how Darwin was influenced by birds, and how the major themes of his research developed through his study of them. Charles Darwin's Life with Birds also features 4 appendices, which contain brief accounts of every bird species Darwin wrote about, basic ornithological information about each of the species, and a listing of where the species appears in Darwin's work.

"[...] For anyone interested in Darwin, birds, or the history of ornithology, this book is not just a reference but a fascinating read. Although detailed, it is very readable, interesting and insightful about not only the work of Charles Darwin, but also the ‘modest’ ornithologist himself."
– Ruth Walker, BTO book reviews

"This is an original work that has never been attempted before, and is unique in coupling Darwin with birds. I am familiar with his Birds of Paradise book, so I know the author is capable of presenting fascinating information to the public. There is a huge and perpetual appetite for this subject. I would recommend it to others seeking an understanding of the role played by birds in the development of Darwin's thinking."
– Peter Grant, Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University


Chapter 1 The fledgling bird watcher
Chapter 2 The voyaging bird observer
Chapter 3 The bird collector returns and writes about them
Chapter 4 The sedentary ornithologist thinks of origins
Chapter 5 The variation of birds under domestication
Chapter 6 The ornithologist thinks about avian sex
Chapter 7 More thoughts on sex, and emotions, in birds
Chapter 8 Charles Darwin as a fully fledged ornithologist

Appendix 1 The complete published ornithology of Charles Darwin
Appendix 2 Birds named after Charles Darwin
Appendix 3 Birds collected by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle
Appendix 4 John Gould as an anti-Darwinian visual propagandist

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Clifford B. Frith is an ornithologist and wildlife photographer. He has held appointments at The Natural History Museum in London and has performed ornithological research for the Royal Society of London, as well as the Bird Department of the British Museum. Frith has also researched and professionally photographed birds in Australia, New Guinea, the South Pacific, the Galapagos, and many other locations. He is the author of six books, including two titles in OUP's Bird Families of the World series (1998 and 2004).

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