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BirdNote: Margaret Morse Nice And The Song Sparrow

Tyler Ingram

Few backyard birds in North America are more widespread than the Song Sparrow. But it was the study of this seemingly unremarkable bird that helped shape modern ornithology.

In 1928, Margaret Morse Nice began carefully observing Song Sparrows near Columbus, Ohio, where she lived. For eight years, Nice banded and made detailed accounts of the birds' lives and behavior.

The emphasis on bird behavior — and painstaking observation of living birds in the wild — helped shift the focus away from collection, description, and distribution. And it all started with that little brown bird with the melodious song.