A History of the Birds of Europe


A History of the Birds of Europe, Including all the Species Inhabiting the Western Palearctic Region is a nine-volume ornithological book published in parts between 1871 and 1896. It was mainly written by Henry Eeles Dresser, although Richard Bowdler Sharpe co-authored the earlier volumes. It describes all the bird species reliably recorded in the wild in Europe and adjacent geographical areas with similar fauna, giving their worldwide distribution, variations in appearance and migratory movements. The pioneering ornithological work of John Ray and Francis Willughby in the seventeenth century had introduced an effective classification system based on anatomical features, and a dichotomous key to help readers identify birds. This was followed by other English-language ornithologies, notably John Gould's five-volume Birds of Europe published between 1832 and 1837. Sharpe, then librarian of the Zoological Society of London, had worked closely with Gould and wanted to expand on his work by including all species reliably recorded in Europe, North Africa, parts of the Middle East and the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira, the Canary Islands and the Azores. He lacked the resources to undertake this task on his own, so he proposed to Dresser that they work together on this encyclopaedia, using Dresser's extensive collection of birds and their eggs and network of contacts. The Birds of Europe was published as 84 quarto parts, each typically containing 56 pages of text and eight plates of illustrations, the latter mainly by the Dutch artist John Gerrard Keulemans, and bound into volumes when all the parts were published. 339 copies were made, at a cost to each subscriber of £52 10s. Sharpe did not contribute after part 13, and was not listed as an author after part 17. Birds of Europe was well received by its contemporary reviewers, although a commentator in 2018 considered that Dresser's outdated views and the cost of his books meant that in the long run his works had limited influence. The Birds of Europe continued a tradition dating from the seventeenth century whereby the study and classification of specimens operated largely independently of those field observers who studied behaviour and ecology, a rift that continued until the 1920s, when the German naturalist Erwin Stresemann integrated the two strands as part of modern zoology.
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