This work has two distinct aspects, as suggested in its title: an outline of the history of Central European ornithology, concluding with the worldwide influence of the “New Avian Biology” of Erwin Stresemann, and an account of development in the knowledge of European bird species illustrated by extracts from the works of selected ornithologists up to the 19th century. How this increased knowledge was reflected and refined in the gradual rise in the number of species identified and named is shown in three chronological online Appendices and many illustrations. These tables of German vernacular names will be a most useful resource for scholars studying early texts. The major figures considered regarding bird names are Hans Sachs (1495–1576), Marcus zum Lamm (1544–1606), Conrad Gessner (1516–1565), Caspar Schwenckfeld (1563–1609), John Ray and Francis Willughby (1627–1705) and (1635–1672), H.F. von Göchhausen (1663–1733), J.L. Frisch (1666–1743), J.T. Klein (1685–1759), J.H. Zorn (1698–1748), J.A. Naumann (1744–1826), J.M. Bechstein (1757–1822), and J.F. Naumann (1780–1857). As an illustration of one man’s detailed knowledge of field ornithology, special emphasis is given to a detailed description of J.A. Naumann’s little-known first book Der Vogelsteller [The Bird-Trapper] of 1789.
The two great research traditions in the discipline – systematic ornithology and field ornithology – arose from the works of John Ray in England, but after almost three centuries of separate development were only reunited from the early 1920s, principally in the work and influence of Erwin Stresemann (1889–1972), especially following the publication of his Aves in 1927–1934. This could perhaps have taken place earlier, since the “Golden Age” of ornithology in Central Europe from ca. 1820 to 1850 (J.F. Naumann, C.L Brehm, F. Faber) provided an excellent foundation on which to build further scientific research, especially after the publication of Charles Darwin’s epochal On The Origin of Species in 1859. But ornithologists became “distracted” by dealing with the flood of exotic species from the colonies and from sponsored expeditions to the remotest places. Only in the early 20th century did the momentum pick up again with the late acceptance of Darwin’s ideas and the work of Stresemann in Berlin. The resulting concentration on avian biology rather than systematic-faunistic studies meant that gradually the two research traditions came together again. The spread of this New Avian Biology to the U.S. and U.K. is examined in the lives and work of Ernst Mayr (1904–2005) and David Lack (1910–1973), respectively.
"[...] Some topics are perhaps dealt with too briefly (e.g. the influence of bird illustrations and aviculture on ornithological progress) but there is far too much to admire for this to detract from the review’s enormous merits. To have it in English, thanks to Brian Hillcoat’s translating skill, is a great bonus, as it will appeal to a much wider readership across Europe and elsewhere."
– Richard Mearns, Ibis (158), 2016