A History of British Birds

A History of British Birds is a natural history book by Thomas Bewick, published in two volumes. Volume 1, "Land Birds", appeared in 1797. Volume 2, "Water Birds", appeared in 1804. A supplement was published in 1821. The text in "Land Birds" was written by Ralph Beilby, while Bewick took over the text for the second volume. The book is admired mainly for the beauty and clarity of Bewick's wood engravings, which are widely considered his finest work, and among the finest in that medium.

British Birds has been compared to works of poetry and literature. It plays a recurring role in Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre. William Wordsworth praised Bewick in the first lines of his poem "The Two Thieves": "Oh now that the genius of Bewick were mine, And the skill which he learned on the banks of the Tyne."

The book was effectively the first "field guide" for non-specialists. Bewick provides an accurate illustration of each species, from life if possible, or from skins. The common and scientific name(s) are listed, citing the naming authorities. The bird is described, with its distribution and behaviour, often with extensive quotations from printed sources or correspondents. Those who provided skins or information are acknowledged. The species are grouped into families such as "Of the Falcon", using the limited and conflicting scientific sources of the time. The families of land birds are further grouped into birds of prey, omnivorous birds, insectivorous birds, and granivorous birds, while the families of water birds are simply listed, with related families side by side.

Each species entry begins on a new page; any spaces at the ends of entries are filled with tail-pieces, small, often humorous woodcuts of country life. British Birds remains in print, and has attracted the attention of authors such as Jenny Uglow. Critics note Bewick's skill as a naturalist as well as an engraver.

A History of British Birds
History of British Birds by Thomas Bewick title page Vol 1 1847 edition
Title page of 1847 edition
AuthorThomas Bewick
IllustratorThomas Bewick and workshop
GenreNatural history
Published1797-1804 (Bewick, Longman)


Foot of the Red-necked Grebe woodcut in Bewick British Birds 1797
"Foot of the Red-necked Grebe"

The preface states that "while one of the editors [Thomas Bewick] of this work was engaged in preparing the cuts, which are faithfully drawn from Nature, and engraved upon wood, the compilation of the descriptions .. (of the Land Birds) was undertaken by the other [Ralph Beilby],[1] subject, however, to the corrections of his friend, whose habits had led him to a more intimate acquaintance with this branch of Natural History", and goes on to mention that the compilation of text was the "production of those hours which could be spared from a laborious employment", namely the long hours of work engraving the minutely detailed wood printing blocks.[a] What the preface does not say is the reason for this statement about the "editors", which was an angry stand-off between Bewick and Beilby, caused by Beilby's intention to have an introduction which merely thanked Bewick for his "assistance", and a title page naming Beilby as the sole author. Bewick's friend (and his wife's godfather) Thomas Hornby heard of this, and informed Bewick. An informal trade panel met to judge the matter, and the preface was the result; and Beilby's name did not appear on the title page.[3]

Each species of bird is presented in a few pages (generally between two and four; occasionally, as with the mallard or "Common Wild Duck", a few more). First is a woodcut of the bird, always either perched or standing on the ground, even in the case of water birds – such as the smew – that (as winter visitors) do not nest in Britain, and consequently are rarely seen away from water there.[4] Bewick then presents the name, with variations, and the Latin and French equivalents. For example, "The Musk Duck" is also named on the line below as "Cairo, Guinea, or Indian Duck", and the next line "(Anas moschata, Linn.—Le Canard Musque, Buff.)" provides the scholarly references to the giving of the Latin binomial by Linn[aeus] and a French description by Buff[on].[5]

The text begins by stating the size of the bird. Bewick then describes the bird, typically in one paragraph, naming any notable features such as the colour of the eyes ("irides"), the bill, the legs, and plumage on each part of the body. Next, the origin and distribution of the species are discussed, with notes or quotations from authorities such as John Ray, Gilbert White and Buffon.

Bewick then mentions any other facts of interest about the bird; in the case of the musk duck, this concerns its "musky smell, which arises from the liquor secreted in the glands on the rump". If the bird hybridizes with other species, this is described, along with whether the hybrids are fertile ("productive").

Sabine's Snipe woodcut Bewick's British Birds 1847
"Sabine's Snipe", added to later editions, was described by Vigors in 1825.[6]
Shooting from Hide tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1804
One of Bewick's uncaptioned tail-pieces, miniature woodcuts showing country life. Here, shooting from a hide, at end of "Sabine's Snipe"

Finally, Bewick acknowledges anyone who helped. The musk duck is stated to have been drawn from a "living specimen" which was however "excepting the head, entirely white", unlike the "general appearance" shown in the woodcut; the bird "was lent to this work by William Losh, Esq., of Point Pleasant, near Newcastle". Losh, one of Bewick's many collaborators, was a wealthy partner in Losh, Wilson and Bell, manufacturers of chemicals and iron.[7] Many of the birds, especially the rarer species, were necessarily illustrated from skins rather than from life. For example, for the Sabine's snipe, "The author was favoured by N. A. Vigors, Esq., [who had described the supposed species] with a preserved specimen, from which the above figure is taken."[b] In A Memoir (posthumously published in 1862), Bewick states that he intended to "stick to nature as closely as I could", but admits that he had "in several cases" to rely on the stuffed "preserved skins" of his neighbour Richard Routledge Wingate.[10][11]

The grouping of species gave Bewick difficulty,[12] as the scientific sources of the time did not agree on how to arrange the species in families, or on a sequence or grouping of those families. Bewick for example uses family groups like "Of the Falcon", in which he includes buzzards and sparrowhawks as well as what are now called falcons. The families of land birds are further grouped into birds of prey, omnivorous birds, insectivorous birds, and granivorous birds, while the families of water birds are simply listed, with what seemed to be related families, such as "Of the Anas" (ducks) and "Of the Mergus" (sawbill ducks), side by side.

In this way the book takes the form of, and sets a precedent for, modern field guides.[4][13] Indeed, the French naturalist François Holandre (1753–1830) assembled a field guide using Bewick's woodcuts as early as 1800.[14]

Each account is closed with a miniature woodcut known from its position in the text as a tail-piece.[15] These small artworks depict aspects of country life, often with humorous subjects, but all with Bewick's eye for detail, style, and precision.[16] Some add to the illustration of the bird in question, as for example the heron, where the tail-piece shows one heron catching an eel, and another flying away. The tail-piece for Sabine's snipe, a gamebird, shows a hunter firing, and a small bird falling to the ground. There is no exclusion of human life from the images: one tail-piece depicts a works complete with smoking chimney beside a river.[c]


Land birds

Hanging Washing with Pigs and Chickens tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1797
Hanging washing with pigs and chickens: an uncaptioned tail-piece in Volume 1: Land Birds. Like many others, this has a humorous touch, with a bird leaving muddy footprints on a newly laundered shirt.

The first volume "containing the History and Description of Land Birds" begins with a preface, an introduction, and a list of technical terms illustrated with Bewick's woodcuts. The introduction begins:

In no part of the animal creation are the wisdom, the goodness, and the bounty of Providence displayed in a more lively manner than in the structure, formation, and various endowments of the feathered tribes.

The birds are divided into granivorous (grain eating) and carnivorous groups, which are explained in some detail. The speed, senses, flight, migration, pairing behaviour and feeding of birds are then discussed, with observations from Spallanzani and Gilbert White, whose Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne was published in 1789. The pleasure of watching birds is mentioned:

To the practical ornithologist there arises a considerable gratification in being able to ascertain the distinguishing characters of birds as they appear at a distance, whether at rest, or during their flight; for not only every genus has something peculiar to itself, but each species has its own appropriate marks, by which a judicious observer may discriminate almost with certainty.[18]

Great Bustard woodcut in Bewick British Birds 1797
Woodcut of "The Great Bustard". A horseman and pair of greyhounds gallop after another bustard in the background.

Bewick also mentions conservation, in the context of the probable local extinction of a valuable resource:

"Both this and the Great Bustard are excellent eating, and would well repay the trouble of domestication; indeed, it seems surprising, that we should suffer these fine birds to be in danger of total extinction,[d] although, if properly cultivated, they might afford as excellent a repast as our own domestic poultry, or even as the Turkey, for which we are indebted to distant countries.[20]"

The 1847 edition, revised with additional woodcuts and descriptions, is organized as follows, with the species grouped into families such as the shrikes:

Water birds

Bird's Eggs from Sea-Cliffs tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1804
Bird's eggs from sea-cliffs: uncaptioned tail-piece in Volume 2: Water Birds. Bewick has chosen a seabird theme, but humans are closely involved, and the birds are a useful resource.

The second volume "containing the History and Description of Water Birds" begins with its own preface, and its own introduction. Bewick discusses the question of where many seabirds go to breed, revisits the subject of migration, and concludes with reflections on "an all-wise Providence" as shown in Nature.

Heron woodcut Bewick's British Birds 1847
"The Heron. Common Heron, Heronsewgh, or Heronshaw. (Ardea cinerea, Lath.—Héron cendré, Temm.)" woodcut

The 1847 edition is organized as follows:[e]

Foreign Birds

The 'foreign birds' are not grouped but just listed directly as species, from Bearded Vulture to Mino. Fifteen birds are included, with no description, and despite their placement in the table of contents, they appear at the front of the volume as an 'Appendix'.


The Sparrowhawk woodcut in Bewick British Birds 1797
"The Sparrow-Hawk" shows textures Bewick achieved with engraving tools on the end-grain of hard boxwood.

In 1805, the British Critic wrote that it was "superfluous to expatiate much on the merits of a work" that everyone liked because of "the aptness of its descriptions, the accuracy of its figures, the spirit of its wood engravings, and the ingenious variety of its vignettes."[21]

The 1829 Magazine of Natural History commented that "Montagu's Ornithological Dictionary and Bewick's Birds .. have rendered [the] department of natural history popular throughout the land".[22]

Ibis, reviewing the Memoir of Thomas Bewick, written by himself in 1862, compares the effect of Bewick and Gilbert White, writing "It was the pages of Gilbert White and the woodcuts of Bewick which first beguiled the English schoolboy to the observation of our feathered friends", and "how few of our living naturalists but must gratefully acknowledge their early debt to White's 'History' and to the life-like woodcuts of Bewick!" The reviewer judges that "Probably we shall not wrong the cultivated annalist of Selborne by giving the first place to Bewick." However, comparing them as people, "Bewick has not the slightest claim to rank with Gilbert White as a naturalist. White was what Bewick never was, a man of science; but, if no naturalist, Bewick was a lover of nature, a careful observer, and a faithful copier of her ever-varying forms. In this, and in this alone, lies his charm."[23]

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica's entry on Thomas Bewick describes "the British Birds" as "his great achievement, that with which his name is inseparably associated", observing that "Bewick, from his intimate knowledge of the habits of animals acquired during his constant excursions into the country, was thoroughly qualified to do justice to this great task."[24]

British Birds, reviewing a "lavishly illustrated" British Library book on Bewick, writes that "No ornithologist will ever regard Thomas Bewick, known primarily for The History of British Birds (1797–1804), as a naturalist of the same standing as contemporaries such as Edward Donovan, John Latham and James Bolton", noting however that Bewick helped to define "a certain English Romantic sensibility". More directly, the review notes that "Bewick was aware that his role was to offer a modest guide to birds that the common man not only could afford but would also want to possess." Bewick was not "a scientist, but he was a perfectionist". The book's text was written by "failed author" Ralph Beilby, but the text is "almost extraneous" given Bewick's masterpiece.[1]

The Tate Gallery writes that Bewick's " best illustrations ... are in his natural history books. The History of British Birds (2 vols, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1797–1804) reveals Bewick's gifts as a naturalist as well as an engraver (the artist was responsible for the text as well as the illustrations in the second volume)." The article notes that the book makes "extensive use of narrative tailpieces: vignettes in which manifold aspects of north-country life are expressed with affection, humour and a genuine love of nature. In later years these miniature scenes came to be more highly regarded than the figures they accompany."[16]

Dissenting from the general tone of praise for Bewick, Jacob Kainen cites claims that "many of the best tailpieces in the History of British birds were drawn by Robert Johnson", and that "the greater number of those contained in the second volume were engraved by Clennell. Granted that the outlook and the engraving style were Bewick's, and that these were notable contributions, the fact that the results were so close to his own points more to an effective method of illustration than to the outpourings of genius." Kainen argues that while competent, Bewick "was no Holbein, no Botticelli—it is absurd to think of him in such terms—but he did develop a fresh method of handling wood engraving."[25]

Yellow Wagtail woodcut in Bewick British Birds 1797
Bewick's woodcut of "The Yellow Wagtail" shows the bird in its habitat by fresh water, with a detailed illustration including figures in the background.

The Linnean Society writes that the History "shows that he was also an excellent naturalist, a meticulous observer of birds and animals in their habitats."[26]

The University of Maryland writes that "The Birds is specific to those species indigenous to Britain and is incredibly accurate due to Bewick's personal knowledge of the habits of birds in the wild acquired during his frequent bird-watching expeditions." It adds that "Bewick's woodcarvings are considered a pinnacle example of the medium."[27]

Jenny Uglow, writing in The Guardian, notes that "An added delight was the way he filled the blank spaces with 'tail-pieces', tiny, witty, vivid scenes of ordinary life." She describes the importance of Birds in Jane Eyre, and ends "He worked with precision and insight, in a way that we associate with poets such as Clare and Wordsworth, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Elizabeth Bishop. To Bewick, nature was the source of joy, challenge and perpetual consolation. In his woodcuts of birds and animals as well as his brilliant tail-pieces, we can still feel this today."[15] However, in her biography of Bewick, she adds that "The country might be beautiful but it also stank: in his vignettes men relieve themselves in hedges and ruins, a woman holds her nose as she walks between the cowpats, and a farmyard privy shows that men are as filthy as the pigs they despise."[28]

Hilary Spurling, reviewing Uglow's biography of Bewick in The Observer, writes that when Birds appeared, people all over Britain "became his pupils". Spurling cites Charles Kingsley's story of his father's hunting friends from the New Forest mocking him for buying "a book 'about dicky-birds", until, astonished, they saw the book and discovered "things they had known all their lives and never even noticed".[29]

John Brewer, writing in the London Review of Books, says that for his Birds, "Bewick had acquired national renown as the artist who most truthfully depicted the flora and fauna of the British countryside." He adds that "Bewick's achievement was both technical and aesthetic." In his view, Bewick "reconciled nature, science and art. His engravings of British birds, which represent his work at its finest, are almost all rendered with the precision of the ornithologist: but they also portray the animals in their natural habitat – the grouse shelters in his covert, the green woodpecker perches on a gnarled branch, waders strut by streams ..." He observes that "Most of the best engravings include a figure, incident or building which draws the viewer's eye beyond and behind the animal profile in the foreground. Thus the ploughboy in the distant field pulls our gaze past the yellow wagtail ..."[30]

In culture

Fiend pinning down Thief's Back tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1797
Uncaptioned tail-piece[31] mentioned in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Chapter 1: "The fiend pinning down the thief's pack behind him, I passed over quickly: it was an object of terror."

The History is repeatedly mentioned in Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel Jane Eyre. John Reed throws the History of British Birds at Jane when she is ten; Jane uses the book as a place to which to escape, away from the painful Reed household; and Jane also bases her artwork on Bewick's illustrations. Jane and Mr Rochester use bird names for each other, including linnet, dove, skylark, eagle, and falcon. Brontë has Jane Eyre explain and quote Bewick:[15][32]

I returned to my book--Bewick's History of British Birds: the letterpress thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank. They were those which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of 'the solitary rocks and promontories' by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape--[33]

Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides.[33][f]

Reaper and Partridge Nest tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1797
Uncaptioned tail-piece woodcut for the partridge, showing a reaper finding he has just killed a bird sitting on its nest; the image inspired a scene in Peter Hall's 1974 film Akenfield.

The English romantic poet William Wordsworth began his 1800 poem The Two Thieves; or, the Last Stage of Avarice with the lines[34][35]

Oh now that the genius of Bewick were mine
And the skill which he learned on the banks of the Tyne.
Then the Muses might deal with me just as they chose,
For I'd take my last leave both of verse and of prose.[34]

Peter Hall's 1974 film Akenfield (from the 1969 book by Ronald Blythe) contains a scene where the grandfather as a young man is reaping a cornfield. He weeps when he accidentally crushes a bird's egg, an image derived from Bewick's tail-piece woodcut for the partridge. The woodcut shows a reaper with a scythe, a dead bird and its nest of a dozen eggs on the ground under the scythe, which has just lifted. George Ewart Evans used the image on the title page of his 1956 book about Blaxhall (near Charsfield, on which 'Akenfield' is probably partly based).


A selection of tail-pieces from the book, where they have no captions.

Children in Runaway Cart tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1797

Children in runaway cart

Women Collecting Shellfish tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1804

Women collecting shellfish

Hunter Precariously Retrieving Duck from River tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1804

Hunter precariously retrieving duck from river

Old Woman with Ducks tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1804

Old woman with ducks

Industry on Riverside tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1804

Industry on a riverside, perhaps the Tyne near Newcastle

Toy Boats in River woodcut in Bewick British Birds 1804

Toy boats in river

Hunter in the Snow tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1804

Hunter in the snow[g]

That Pisseth Against a Wall tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1804

That pisseth against a wall

Polecat catching Eel in Winter tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1797

Polecat catching eel in winter

Pegleg and Peacock tail-piece in Bewick British Birds 1797

Pegleg and peacock

Principal editions

Great Auk Thomas Bewick 1804
The "Great Auk, Northern Penguin, or Gair-Fowl". Bewick records that the species was "not numerous any where";[37] it became extinct some decades later.

Volume 1 first appeared in 1797, and was reprinted several times in 1797, then again in 1798 and 1800. Volume 1 was priced 13s. in boards. Volume 2 first appeared in 1804 (price 11. 4s. in boards). The first imprint was "Newcastle : Printed by Sol. Hodgson, for Beilby & Bewick; London: Sold by them, and G.C. and J. Robinson, 1797–1804." The book was reprinted in 1805, 1809, 1816, and 1817.[38]

In 1821 a new edition appeared with supplements to both volumes and additional figures, with the imprint "Printed by Edward Walker, Pilgrim-Street, for T. Bewick: sold by him, and E. Charnley, Newcastle; and Longman and co., London, 1821." The book was reprinted in many subsequent versions with a 6th edition in 1826, another in 1832, an 8th edition in 1847, and a royal octavo 'Memorial Edition' in 1885.[38]

  • A History of British Birds. First Edition.
--- Bewick, Thomas; Beilby, Ralph (1797). Volume 1, Land Birds.
--- Bewick, Thomas (1804). Volume 2, Water Birds.

Selected modern versions

  • Bewick's British Birds (2010), Arcturus. (hardback) ISBN 978-1-84837-647-2
  • Bewick, Thomas; Aesop; Bewick, Jane (2012). Memorial Edition Of Thomas Bewick's Works: A History Of British Birds. (reproduced in original format) Ulan Press.


  1. ^ Bewick had a "strained" relationship with Beilby, who was first his tutor, then from 1777 his business partner. They produced A General History of Quadrupeds together in 1790, but after Land Birds in 1797 and "a period of dissatisfaction" they separated.[2]
  2. ^ The "Sabine's snipe" species described by Vigors was treated as a common snipe by Barrett-Hamilton in 1895[8] and by Meinertzhagen in 1926, but was thought to be probably a Wilson's snipe in 1945. The skin that Bewick worked from was presumably Vigors' type specimen; it was much darker than a typical common snipe.[9]
  3. ^ Bewick made dozens of woodcuts for coal certificates for collieries near Newcastle, in what is now Tyne and Wear. These depict buildings such as the Custom House with its smoking chimneys,[17] and one woodcut is boldly headed 'NEWCASTLE'.[2]
  4. ^ Bewick's prediction was correct. The great bustard became extinct in Britain in the 1830s.[19]
  5. ^ Some of the species in the book appear without any section heading.
  6. ^ This passage from Jane Eyre is quoting from Bewick's Introduction to Volume 2, Water Birds, which in turn is quoting a poem by James Thomson.
  7. ^ Jenny Uglow states that the boy is Bewick himself; the hunter Joe Liddell has wrapped the stock of his gun to keep the lock from freezing.[36]


  1. ^ a b "Thomas Bewick: the complete illustrative work, by Nigel Tattersfield". British Birds. 9 April 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  2. ^ a b "The Bewick Collection: About Thomas Bewick". Newcastle Collection. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  3. ^ Uglow, 2006. pp. 259–261.
  4. ^ a b Grant, Peter J. (2009). Collins Bird Guide. Svensson, Lars (text, maps); Mullarney, Killian and Zetterström, Dan (plates, captions) (2nd ed.). Collins. p. 42.
  5. ^ Bewick, 1797–1804.
  6. ^ Vigors, NA (May 1825). "XXVI. A Description of a new Species of Scolopax lately discovered in the British Islands: with Observations on the Anas glocitans of Pallas, and a Description of the Female of that Species". Transactions of the Linnean Society of London. 14 (3): 556–562. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.1823.tb00102.x.
  7. ^ "Low Fell – Additional Pages". Low Fell History: Part 1. Gateshead Libraries. 2011. Retrieved 21 March 2012.
  8. ^ Barrett-Hamilton, GEH (January 1895). "Sabine's Snipe. Gallinago Coelestis, var. Sabinii". The Irish Naturalist. 4 (1): 12–17. JSTOR 25584879.
  9. ^ "General Notes" (PDF). The Wilson Bulletin. 57 (1): 75–76. March 1945.
  10. ^ Bewick, Thomas (1979) [1862]. A Memoir. Oxford University Press.
  11. ^ Sly, Debbie (2005). "'With skirmish and capricious passagings': ornithological and poetic discourse in the nightingale poems of Coleridge and Clare" (PDF). University of Worcester. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  12. ^ Uglow, 2006. p. 249.
  13. ^ Bate, Jonathan (15 August 2004). "A bird in the bush is always best". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  14. ^ Jordan, Mary. "Searching the Skies, Searching the Stacks: Bird Field Guides in the Watkinson Library" (PDF). 2011. Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  15. ^ a b c Uglow, Jenny (14 October 2006). "The Guardian". Small wonders. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Thomas Bewick 1753–1828". Tate Gallery. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  17. ^ "The Bewick Collection (Pease Bequest): Coal certificates - Tyne". Newcastle Collection. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  18. ^ Bewick, volume 1, Land Birds, 1847 edition. "Introduction".
  19. ^ Cooper, Joanne (2013). "Otis tarda (great bustard)". Natural History Museum. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  20. ^ Bewick, volume 1, Land Birds, 2nd edition, 1847. "Little Bustard".
  21. ^ Anon (1805). "A History of British Birds by Thomas Bewick". British Critic. 26: 292–297.
  22. ^ Loudon, John Claudius; Charlesworth, Edward; Denson, John (1829). Magazine of natural history. printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green. pp. 360–364.
  23. ^ Anon (October 1862). "Review of the recently published Memoir of Bewick". Ibis. 4 (4): 368–378. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1862.tb07513.x.
  24. ^ Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bewick, Thomas" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 837.
  25. ^ Kainen, Jacob (1959). "Why Bewick Succeeded: A Note in the History of Wood Engraving". Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin. 218: 185–201.
  26. ^ "Thomas Bewick, Engraver and Naturalist". Linnean Society. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  27. ^ "Thomas Bewick". University of Maryland. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  28. ^ Uglow, 2006. p. 314.
  29. ^ Spurling, Hilary (24 September 2006). "The Observer". All about the birds and the bees. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  30. ^ Brewer, John (18 March 1982). "Progressive Agenda". London Review of Books. 4 (5): 18–19.
  31. ^ Bewick, vol 1, p. 232
  32. ^ Taylor, Susan B. (March 2002). "Image and Text in Jane Eyre's avian vignettes and Bewick's History of British Birds". Archived from the original on 2014-06-10.
  33. ^ a b Brontë, Charlotte (1847). "1". Jane Eyre. Smith, Elder & Co.
  34. ^ a b "The Two Thieves; or, the Last Stage of Avarice". Bartleby.com. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  35. ^ Gannon, Thomas C. (2009). Skylark Meets Meadowlark: Reimagining the Bird in British Romantic and Contemporary Native American Literature. University of Nebraska Press. p. 340.
  36. ^ Uglow, 2006. pp. 137–138.
  37. ^ Bewick, 1847. Volume 2, page 406.
  38. ^ a b History of British birds : the figures engraved on wood. WorldCat. OCLC 3958198.


  • Bewick, Thomas (1797–1804). A History of British Birds. Newcastle: Beilby and Bewick.
Volume 1: Containing the History and Description of Land Birds
Volume 2: Containing the History and Description of Water Birds
  • Uglow, Jenny (2009). Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick. University of Chicago Press.

External links

1850 in birding and ornithology

Deutsche Ornithologen-Gesellschaft founded

Charles Lucien Bonaparte publishes Conspectus Generum Avium (Leyden) ; Revue critique de l'ornithologie Européenne (Brussels) and Monographie des loxiens (crossbills, grosbeaks, and allied species) (Leyden)

Edward Smith-Stanley obtains a grey trembler specimen from the bird collector Jules Verreaux

John Gould commences The Birds of Asia (1850–83)

Francis Orpen Morris begins A History of British Birds (1850–1857)

Extinction of the spectacled cormorant

The Berlin Museum has a total of 13,760 bird specimens.Ongoing events

Fauna Japonica

A History of British Birds (1843)

William Yarrell's A History of British Birds was first published as a whole in three volumes in 1843, having been serialized, three sheets (=48 pages) every two months, over the previous six years. It is not a history of ornithology but a natural history, a handbook or field guide systematically describing every species of bird known to occur in Britain. A separate article of about six pages, containing an image, a description, and an account of worldwide distribution, together with reports of behaviour, is provided for each species.

It quickly became the standard reference work for a generation of British ornithologists, replacing Thomas Bewick's book of the same name through its increased scientific accuracy, but following Bewick in its mixture of scientific data, accurate illustrations, detailed descriptions and varied anecdotes, as well as in the use of small 'tail-piece' engravings at the ends of articles. This made the book attractive to the public as well as to specialists. Yarrell, a newsagent without university education, corresponded widely with eminent naturalists including Carl Linnaeus, Coenraad Jacob Temminck and Thomas Pennant to collect accurate information on the hundreds of species illustrated in the work.

The book is illustrated with over 500 drawings directly onto wood blocks, mostly by Alexander Fussell. These were then engraved by John Thompson. Publication was initially in 37 parts of three large folded sheets each; these were then collected and bound into volumes. Most of the copies were on octavo paper; some "large paper" format copies were printed in the larger royal octavo with just 50 copies in the very large imperial octavo format. Four editions were produced between 1843 and 1885.

British Birds (magazine)

British Birds is a monthly ornithology magazine that was established in 1907. It is now published by BB 2000 Ltd, which is wholly owned by The British Birds Charitable Trust (registered charity number 1089422), established for the benefit of British ornithology. Its circulation in 2000 was 5,250 copies; its circulation peaked at 11,000 in the late 1980s. The current editor is Roger Riddington.

It is aimed at serious birdwatchers and ornithologists, rather than the more casual birdwatchers catered for by some other magazines on the subject. It publishes the findings of the British Birds Rarities Committee.

Its mascot, and later logo, the Red Grouse, was chosen because at the time it was thought to be an endemic British species (it is now considered a sub-species of the Willow Grouse).

In 1916, it absorbed The Zoologist, due to the latter's shortage of subscribers.

Charlton Nesbit

Charlton Nesbit (1775–1838) was an English wood engraver.

Eurasian bittern

The Eurasian bittern or great bittern (Botaurus stellaris) is a wading bird in the bittern subfamily (Botaurinae) of the heron family Ardeidae. There are two subspecies, the northern race (B. s. stellaris) breeding in parts of Europe and Asia, as well as on the northern coast of Africa, while the southern race (B. s. capensis) is endemic to parts of southern Africa. It is a secretive bird, seldom seen in the open as it prefers to skulk in reed beds and thick vegetation near water bodies. Its presence is apparent in the spring, when the booming call of the male during the breeding season can be heard. It feeds on fish, small mammals, fledgling birds, amphibians, crustaceans and insects.

The nest is usually built among reeds at the edge of bodies of water. The female incubates the clutch of eggs and feeds the young chicks, which leave the nest when about two weeks old. She continues to care for them until they are fully fledged some six weeks later.

With its specific habitat requirements and the general reduction in wetlands across its range, the population is thought to be in decline globally. However the decline is slow, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed its overall conservation status as being of "least concern". Nevertheless, some local populations are at risk and the population of the southern race has declined more dramatically and is cause for concern. In the United Kingdom it is one of the most threatened of all bird species.

Francis Orpen Morris

Francis Orpen Morris (25 March 1810 – 10 February 1893) was an Irish clergyman, notable as "parson-naturalist" (ornithologist and entomologist) and as the author of many children's books and books on natural history and heritage buildings. He was a pioneer of the movement to protect birds from the plume trade and was a co-founder of the Plumage League. He died on 10 February 1893 and was buried at Nunburnholme, East Riding of Yorkshire, England.


The fulmars are tubenosed seabirds of the family Procellariidae. The family consists of two extant species and two extinct fossil species from the Miocene.

Fulmars superficially resemble gulls, but are readily distinguished by their flight on stiff wings, and their tube noses. They breed on cliffs, laying one or rarely two eggs on a ledge of bare rock or on a grassy cliff. Outside the breeding season, they are pelagic, feeding on fish, squid and shrimp in the open ocean. They are long-lived for birds, living for up to 40 years.

Historically, the northern fulmar lived on the Isle of St Kilda, where it was extensively hunted. The species has expanded its breeding range southwards to the coasts of England and northern France.

Great bustard

The great bustard (Otis tarda) is a bird in the bustard family, the only member of the genus Otis. It breeds in open grassland and farmland in southern and central Europe, and across temperate Asia. European populations are mainly resident, but Asian birds move farther south in winter. Portugal and Spain now have about 60% of the world's population. It became extinct in Great Britain when the last bird was shot in 1832. Recent attempts to reintroduce it into England have met with some success and there is a population of 40 birds on Salisbury Plain, a British Army training area. Here the lack of public access allows them the freedom needed as a large ground-nesting bird. It is classified by the IUCN as "vulnerable".

Great egret

The great egret (Ardea alba), also known as the common egret, large egret, or (in the Old World) great white egret or great white heron is a large, widely distributed egret, with four subspecies found in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and southern Europe. Distributed across most of the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world, it builds tree nests in colonies close to water.

Henry Seebohm

Henry Seebohm (12 July 1832 – 26 November 1895) was an English steel manufacturer, and amateur ornithologist, oologist and traveller.Henry was the oldest son of Benjamin Seebohm (1798–1871) who was a wool merchant at Horton Grange, Bradford. The family had moved to England from Bad Pyrmont in Germany. Henry's mother Estther Wheeler (1798–1864) was a granddaughter of William Tuke. The Seebohms were active in the Society of Friends and Henry schooled within the community in York. He worked initially in a grocery as an assistant but moved to Sheffield where he became a steel manufacturer. He married Maria, daughter of George John Healey, a merchant in Manchester on 19 January 1859.Henry became interested in natural history at school and continued to spend his spare time studying birds on his journeys. He travelled widely visiting Greece, Scandinavia, Turkey, and South Africa. His expeditions to the Yenisey tundra of Siberia were described in his two books, Siberia in Europe (1880) and Siberia in Asia (1882), which were combined in the posthumous publication The Birds of Siberia (1901). His expeditions included the lower Pechora River in 1875 along with John Alexander Harvie-Brown as well as a visit to Heligoland at the home of Heinrich Gätke. In 1877 he joined Joseph Wiggins to Siberia.He was one of the first European ornithologists to accept the American trinomial system to classify sub-species.

Seebohm's other publications included A History of British Birds (1883), The Geographical Distribution of the family Charadriidae (1887), The Birds of the Japanese Empire (1890) and A Monograph of the Turdidae (1902, completed by Richard Bowdler Sharpe).

Seebohm bequeathed his collection of bird-skins to the British Museum. The collection which was received in 1896 consisted of nearly 17,000 specimens. A number of birds were named after Seebohm, including the grey emutail (Dromaeocercus seebohmi) by Bowdler Sharpe. A portrait of Seebohm in oil by Hugh Ford Crighton is held by Sheffield Museums.

Little egret

The little egret (Egretta garzetta) is a species of small heron in the family Ardeidae. The genus name comes from the Provençal French Aigrette, "egret", a diminutive of Aigron," heron". The species epithet garzetta is from the Italian name for this bird, garzetta or sgarzetta.It is a white bird with a slender black beak, long black legs and, in the western race, yellow feet. As an aquatic bird, it feeds in shallow water and on land, consuming a variety of small creatures. It breeds colonially, often with other species of water birds, making a platform nest of sticks in a tree, bush or reed bed. A clutch of bluish-green eggs is laid and incubated by both parents. The young fledge at about six weeks of age.

Its breeding distribution is in wetlands in warm temperate to tropical parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. A successful colonist, its range has gradually expanded north, with stable and self-sustaining populations now present in the United Kingdom.In warmer locations, most birds are permanent residents; northern populations, including many European birds, migrate to Africa and southern Asia to over-winter there. The birds may also wander north in late summer after the breeding season, and their tendency to disperse may have assisted in the recent expansion of the bird's range. At one time common in Western Europe, it was hunted extensively in the 19th century to provide plumes for the decoration of hats and became locally extinct in northwestern Europe and scarce in the south. Around 1950, conservation laws were introduced in southern Europe to protect the species and their numbers began to increase. By the beginning of the 21st century the bird was breeding again in France, the Netherlands, Ireland and Britain. Its range is continuing to expand westward, and the species has begun to colonise the New World; it was first seen in Barbados in 1954 and first bred there in 1994. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed the bird's global conservation status as being of "least concern".

Nature writing

Nature writing is nonfiction or fiction prose or poetry about the natural environment. Nature writing encompasses a wide variety of works, ranging from those that place primary emphasis on natural history facts (such as field guides) to those in which philosophical interpretation predominate. It includes natural history essays, poetry, essays of solitude or escape, as well as travel and adventure writing.Nature writing often draws heavily on scientific information and facts about the natural world; at the same time, it is frequently written in the first person and incorporates personal observations of and philosophical reflections upon nature.

Modern nature writing traces its roots to the works of natural history that were popular in the second half of the 18th century and throughout the 19th. An important early figures was the "parson-naturalist" Gilbert White (1720 – 1793), a pioneering English naturalist and ornithologist. He is best known for his Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789).

William Bartram (1739 – 1823) is a significant early American pioneer naturalist who first work was published in 1791.

Ornithological Dictionary

The Ornithological Dictionary; or Alphabetical Synopsis of British Birds was written by the English naturalist and army officer George Montagu, and first published by J. White of Fleet Street, London in 1802.

It was one of the texts, along with Thomas Bewick's contemporaneous A History of British Birds (2 volumes, 1797 and 1804) that made ornithology popular in Britain, and, with the 1676 Ornithologia libri tres of Francis Willughby and John Ray, helped to make it the object of serious study. The book includes a description of the cirl bunting, discovered by Montagu in 1800 near his home in Kingsbridge, Devon.The first edition was admired by biologists including Charles Darwin and David Lack.

A second edition, extensively revised by James Rennie in 1831, was panned by scientific critics.


Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that comprises four families: the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, and 2 families of storm petrels. Formerly called Tubinares and still called tubenoses in English, they are often referred to collectively as the petrels, a term that has been applied to all Procellariiformes, or more commonly all the families except the albatrosses. They are almost exclusively pelagic (feeding in the open ocean), and have a cosmopolitan distribution across the world's oceans, with the highest diversity being around New Zealand.

Procellariiformes are colonial, mostly nesting on remote, predator-free islands. The larger species nest on the surface, while most smaller species nest in natural cavities and burrows. They exhibit strong philopatry, returning to their natal colony to breed and returning to the same nesting site over many years. Procellariiformes are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds that are formed over several years and may last for the life of the pair. A single egg is laid per nesting attempt, and usually a single nesting attempt is made per year, although the larger albatrosses may only nest once every two years. Both parents participate in incubation and chick rearing. Incubation times are long compared to other birds, as are fledging periods. Once a chick has fledged there is no further parental care.

Procellariiformes have had a long relationship with humans. They have been important food sources for many people, and continue to be hunted as such in some parts of the world. The albatrosses in particular have been the subject of numerous cultural depictions. Procellariiformes are one of the most endangered bird taxa, with many species threatened with extinction due to introduced predators in their breeding colonies, marine pollution and the danger of fisheries by-catch. Scientists, conservationists, fishermen, and governments around the world are working to reduce the threats posed to them, and these efforts have led to the signing of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, a legally binding international treaty signed in 2001.

Red crossbill

The red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) is a small passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae, also known as the common crossbill in Eurasia. Crossbills have distinctive mandibles, crossed at the tips, which enable them to extract seeds from conifer cones and other fruits.

Adults are often brightly coloured, with red or orange males and green or yellow females, but there is wide variation in colour, beak size and shape, and call types, leading to different classifications of variants, some of which have been named as subspecies.

Rock ptarmigan

The rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) is a medium-sized gamebird in the grouse family. It is known simply as the ptarmigan in the UK and in Canada, where it is the official bird for the territory of Nunavut, Canada, and the official game bird for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. In Japan, it is known as the raichō (雷鳥), which means "thunder bird". It is the official bird of Gifu, Nagano, and Toyama Prefectures and is a protected species nationwide.

The Bird-catcher and the Blackbird

The Bird-catcher or Fowler and the Blackbird was one of Aesop's Fables, numbered 193 in the Perry Index. In Greek sources, it featured a lark, but French and English versions have always named the blackbird as the bird involved.

Modern European retellings of the fable include Giovanni Maria Verdizotti's 1570 version, which has a lark as the bird. The nearly contemporary French edition of 1582 however features a blackbird, and this is followed in Roger L'Estrange's 1692 collection.

An alternative tradition dating back to the Greek Anthology maintains that the blackbird is under the special protection of the gods, and cannot be trapped in nets.

Thomas Bewick

Thomas Bewick (c. 11 August 1753 – 8 November 1828) was an English engraver and natural history author. Early in his career he took on all kinds of work such as engraving cutlery, making the wood blocks for advertisements, and illustrating children's books. He gradually turned to illustrating, writing and publishing his own books, gaining an adult audience for the fine illustrations in A History of Quadrupeds.

His career began when he was apprenticed to engraver Ralph Beilby in Newcastle upon Tyne. He became a partner in the business and eventually took it over. Apprentices whom Bewick trained include John Anderson, Luke Clennell, and William Harvey, who in their turn became well known as painters and engravers.

Bewick is best known for his A History of British Birds, which is admired today mainly for its wood engravings, especially the small, sharply observed, and often humorous vignettes known as tail-pieces. The book was the forerunner of all modern field guides. He notably illustrated editions of Aesop's Fables throughout his life.

He is credited with popularising a technical innovation in the printing of illustrations using wood. He adopted metal-engraving tools to cut hard boxwood across the grain, producing printing blocks that could be integrated with metal type, but were much more durable than traditional woodcuts. The result was high-quality illustration at a low price.

William Yarrell

William Yarrell (3 June 1784 – 1 September 1856) was an English zoologist, prolific writer, bookseller and naturalist admired by his contemporaries for his precise scientific work.Yarrell is best known as the author of The History of British Fishes (2 vols., 1836) and A History of British Birds featuring 564 original engravings (in 3 vols., first ed. 1843, second ed. 1845, third ed. 1856). The latter went into several editions and was the standard reference work for a generation of British ornithologists. He described Bewick's swan in 1830, distinguishing it from the larger whooper swan.


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