William Brewster

Notes from William Brewster: Summer Thrushes

This post is part of a series on the collection of ornithologist William Brewster (1851-1919) at the Ernst Mayr Library, written by Elizabeth Meyer, library project assistant.

William Brewster’s summertime journals are filled with birdsong: he noted which species were singing, when, and, to the best of his ability, what those songs sounded like. This left us some beautiful nature writing that also provides some insight on the scientist's emotional connection to his work and study sites. Here are two passages...

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Digging into the personal writings of a 19th century ornithologist

This post is part of a series on the collection of ornithologist William Brewster (1851-1919) at the Ernst Mayr Library, written by Elizabeth Meyer, Library Project Assistant. It is also published on the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog.

Tuesday, June 12, 1866 
A.M. pleasant P.M. cloudy. Studied part of P.M. Went to circus in evening & saw a...

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Notes from William Brewster: Ornithologists in the Courtroom

In March 1886, one deacade before the Massachusetts Audubon Society for the Protection of Birds had organized, William Brewster wrote three letters to fellow ornithologist George Sennett, describing an early attempt to pass bird protection legislation in Massachusetts.

Brewster, who would become the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s first president and a co-founder of the American...

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Notes from William Brewster: Signs of Spring

Here in the Greater Boston area we’ve had a week or so of beautiful spring weather. Robins are out foraging over soft ground, Red-winged Blackbirds flash their wings in wetland areas, and Song Sparrows are singing again. While we’re still likely to have more cold snaps and snow, we're definitely feeling the season shift.

For ornithologist William Brewster, a productive day’s work often looked like a long ramble outside with a notebook and a gun, or later on, a notebook and a pair of binoculars. His daily journal entries often run many pages long as he notes the places he visited and every natural detail that stood out to him.... Read more about Notes from William Brewster: Signs of Spring

Notes from William Brewster: Winter Irruption

For a few days in January of 1893, Cambridge was abuzz with an unfamiliar sight: a sudden ‘irruption’ of red and gold birds that drew lots of attention.

William Brewster recognized them as Pine Grosbeaks. They’re beautiful birds: the males a have a soft red head and breast that fades to light gray underneath, and dark wings with two white stripes or ‘wing bars’. In females and juveniles, the red head is replaced with a gold color. Large finches, they have stubby, thick, seed-cracking in beaks, similar in shape to a Northern Cardinal’s. In the winter, large foraging flocks of Pine Grosbeaks often strip entire trees of their fruits, crushing through pulp and seeds and moving on when the food source has been exhausted.

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Notes from William Brewster: A Day on a Boston Harbor Garbage Scow

On a bitter January morning in 1893, amateur ornithologist William Brewster took an excursion out past the Boston Harbor Islands, intending to take notes on marine birds and to collect a few if any caught his interest.

What better way to find Gulls and other seabirds than to hop onto a maritime garbage truck? The day’s bird notes are detailed and definitely an intriguing read for birders, but it's his description of the city’s garbage disposal that make this...

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Notes from William Brewster: American Robin

“It is sunset and as I sit in my study in the Museum a Robin is singing in an elm in the garden. What a hopeful, earnest strain! It always cheers and encourages me. Our Robin must have a brave heart and a pure conscience.”

– William Brewster, in correspondence to his friend, ornithologist Frank Michler Chapman. March 26, 1893. Cambridge, Mass.

William Brewster (1851-1919) grew up in a Cambridge of...

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A Bridge to the Past: The Writings of William Brewster

William Brewster was a self-educated ornithologist who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From the mid-1800s until his death in 1919, he amassed a tremendous specimen collection and became one of the foremost experts on birds in the northeastern United States. In 1906, the Nuttall Ornithological Club published The Birds of the Cambridge Region of Massachusetts, Brewster’s exhaustive work on the avian fauna of his own backyard. While the book is a valuable historical resource, it is Brewster’s journals and diaries—spanning over 50 years of his life—that contain the goldmine of his recorded observations. Last year, the Ernst Mayr Library made these journals and diaries available on BHL.... Read more about A Bridge to the Past: The Writings of William Brewster

Transcribing the Field Notes of William Brewster

William Brewster (1851-1919) was a renowned American amateur ornithologist, first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and a president of the American Ornithologists' Union. He was an avid collector of birds and their nests and eggs, and collected over forty thousand specimens from 1861 until his death in 1919. His collection, bequeathed to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, is considered one of the finest private collections of North American birds ever assembled. Though Brewster collected throughout North America, his collection is especially...

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