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Birds of a Feather

March 17, 2022

Birds of a Feather

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Amanda Hackett Amanda Hackett

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I’d like to take this opportunity to show appreciation for some outstanding women who paved the way for the future of women in ornithology.

The early study of birds was populated by the opposite sex, and it wasn’t until the early 20th century that some of the barriers came down. Before that time, discrimination was highly present, but despite that, some women were able to persevere and hold jobs in the field.

One of the first pioneers of ornithology was Eleanor d’Arborea (Eleanor of Arborea, 1340-1404). d’Arborea was known as a great heroine and powerful judge of Sardinia. Not only did she support women’s integrity, she also had a special passion for falconry. d’Arborea was the first person in history to initiate a protection law against the illegal hunting of hawk and falcon nests. Because of her fight to protect these birds of prey, the Eleanora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae) was rightfully named after her. These migratory falcons can currently be found along the Mediterranean Sea during breeding season, but winter mainly in Madagascar. The species conservation status is listed as Least Concern.

Another leading lady in the bird world was Florence Merriam Bailey (1863-1948). Bailey had a knack for birds at a very young age. She has been referred to by many as the “First Lady of Ornithology.” Most of her work took place in western America where she studied all types of birds that are native to the area. She combined her love for ornithology and writing by producing over 100 articles and 10 books in her career. Her highlighted works include Handbook of Birds of the Western United States and Birds of New Mexico. Bailey also played an important role in US legislature passing the Lacey Act in 1900 that protects the environment by restricting trade as well as starting chapters of the famous Audubon Society.

Pauline Neura Reilly (1918-2011) was another captivating woman in ornithological studies. She had an outstanding career path with the Royal Australian Ornithologist Union (now Birdlife Australia) starting as a field officer, followed by Chair of the Atlas Committee, and then becoming President of the RAOU. One of her biggest achievements included the initiation of RAOU’s first Atlas of Australian Birds. The atlas became an indispensable resource for the assessment of long-term changes to the habitats, species distribution, and diversity of birds in Australia. She was also known for her huge contribution of studying little penguins (Eudyptula minor) in Australia.

Throughout history, women have fought with passion, desire, and perseverance. These role models are just a few of the many that have facilitated a path for women in ornithology. As a female ornithologist, I can’t help but admire all the hard work that has been done before me and what still is to come. It has inspired me to overcome obstacles, follow instinct, and be innovative (above, with little penguin chick).

Here’s to celebrating all women around the world for this year’s Women’s History Month.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Women’s History Month, Wild View is featuring posts by and about women and their contributions to science and conservation throughout March.

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