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Seven women who have been important in the history of conservation of birdlife

Seven women who have been important in the history of conservation of birdlife.

There have been so many amazing women around the world who have helped preserve nature and birds. This International Women’s Day, we thought we would highlight a few of the women who have been integral to the bird world as we know it. From inventing the very first avian field guide to spending most of their lives in pursuit of birds, we think these women are just incredible! 


Genevieve Estelle Jones

1847 – 1879

Genevieve was born and raised in Ohio, USA and was a self-taught scientific illustrator. She was given the nickname the “other Audubon” after the famous artist.  After seeing some of Audubon’s paintings at an exhibition, Genevieve started to draw the nests and eggs of 130 bird species that were nesting in Ohio at the time. But unfortunately, Genevieve was never able to finish her drawings as she died from typhoid at the young age of 32. Her family then went on to complete her hand-coloured plates over the next seven years. 90 copies were made of these drawings but only 26 still exist.


Elianora de Arbaree

1340 – 1404


Elianora was a well-respected judge in Sardinia. In 1392, for the first time in history, she granted the protection of bird nests against illegal hunters. This was one of the first bird-protection laws known and soon after the ruling, the Eleonora Falcon was named after her.


Althea Sherman

1853 – 1943


Althea was an eccentric pioneer in the study of bird behaviour. She only began studying birds in her early fifties, after moving back home to her family in rural Iowa, USA. She turned her acre of land into a living laboratory on which she put up specially designed nest boxes and feeding areas for the birds so she could observe them. She then went on to publish 70 articles on 38 different species.

In 1915, Althea commissioned the building of a 28-foot-tall tower in Iowa which was designed to attract nesting chimney swifts for observation. A staircase ran right through the centre and there were doors and peepholes all through the tower so Althea was able to observe and document the life cycle of the chimney swifts. Nowadays, the remastered building – the one and only of its kind, is visited by many tourists. 


Barbara Snow

1921 – 2007


Barbara Snow and her husband, David, were highly influential Ornithologists whose studies on neotropical bird biology earned them a prestigious medal from the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1972. Barbara trained as a geologist but quit her job in 1954 to become a warden of Lundy Bird Observatory. She was unafraid to clamber down steep rocky slopes to monitor nests, she amassed a huge volume of data on cormorant courtship and nesting behaviour. Barbara and David then moved from the UK to Trinidad, where she went on to research specifically fruit-eating birds. She has also produced studies which have become iconic in behavioural ecology.


Phoebe Snetsinger 

1931 – 1999


When faced with the grim diagnosis of melanoma, 50-year-old Phoebe Snetsinger turned her life upside down. She went from being a homemaker to racing around the world as a competitive birder. In 1995 she broke a world record by being the first person to spot more than 8,000 species of birds. A short time later she died in a car crash while birding in Madagascar, but she will always be celebrated for living life with absolute fearlessness.


Florence Merriam Bailey

1863 – 1948


American nature writer and ornithologist, Florence Merriam Bailey was a ‘Jane of all trades’. Not only did she work with the National Audubon Society during its early years, she is also credited with writing the first known bird guide, Birds Through an Opera Glass which was published in 1889. Florence who was a true pioneer in her field, protested the mistreatment, killing, and trade of feathered animals. Her legacy still remains in the form of a subspecies of the Californian Mountain Chickadee that was named in her honour.


Pauline Reilley

1918 – 2011


Paula Neura Reilly was described as a “truly remarkable amateur, who among her many achievements, made an outstanding contribution to the study of birds in Australia”. She played a leading role in the Royal Australian Ornithologists Union, one that included being its president from 1972 to 1975 and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1994.

She also instigated and led the project that eventually resulted in the first Atlas of Australian Birds. Published in 1984, the Atlas has since become an invaluable resource for the assessment of long-term changes to the habitats, species and distribution of birds in Australia. The fairy penguins who make their way home in Victoria were the major research focus of Pauline’s fieldwork, which she conducted for over 20 years.


These women are just a few of the heroes who helped forge a path for the modern-day bird conservation movement. Today’s ornithologists, birders and activists certainly match their passion and dedication. At Metalbird we love reading about people who share our love for birds, and today we thought we would highlight the incredible women who have played an integral part in the bird world.


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