The Man Who Loved Birds is the extensively researched biography of Dr. Frank M. Chapman, a pioneering ornithologist from the late 19th century into the mid-20th century. Written by James T. Huffstodt, The Man Who Loved Birds is a fun read about a fascinating ornithologist that many birders may only know of him from starting Christmas Bird Counts. But, as Huffstodt shows, he was much more dynamic.
Born in 1864, Chapman lived in a time when ornithology meant collecting wild birds and collecting meant shooting. Before optics, guns were the only real way to study birds. Yes, collectors had a negative impact on birds, but it was unregulated hunting mixed with drastic habitat loss and alteration that led to species-wide declines (not ornithologists).
Chapman’s life is a fascinating travelogue across the United States and South America. He goes on expeditions to Florida and Texas as well as Peru and Columbia among other places. These chapters are the most interesting as we get to witness what Chapman saw when many locales, as well as their birds, were unknown or little known to science.
Living over 80 years, Chapman had a fascinating life, nearly all of which revolved around birds. It is fun to see how he evolves his views on conservation issues, but he was still a man of his time and believed birds would remain plentiful for years to come. Another interesting fact is that Chapman was directly involved in forming part of Theodore Roosevelt’s team to explore the River of Doubt.
Chapman worked for 54 years at the American Museum of Natural History, including many as “The Chief”. His huge number of contributions to the museum remain a great benefit to science. During his extensive career, he published numerous ornithological books as well as Bird-Lore Magazine. He sold Bird-Lore to the Audubon Society, which eventually evolved into Audubon Magazine.
Perhaps the most touching part of Chapman’s storied life was his marriage to Fannie Bates Embury. Fannie accompanied Frank on many of his birding trips and put up with his bird obsession. He even remarked how she was the best field assistant he could ask for.
A Few Things That Could Be Improved
My only real complaint with this book is there were quite a few typos/errors. Several times different ages or dates are given for events previously discussed, as well as different spellings of names.
The other point of contention is not specific to this book, but an ongoing complaint on bird names. Bird common names should always be capitalized. This is especially useful to new or non-birders but benefits anyone not familiar with bird names. There is a huge difference between, say a yellow warbler and a Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia).
Overall, The Man Who Loved Birds is an excellent biography of a great ornithologist, Frank M. Chapman.