Everyone interested in birds should discover the magnificent work of Arthur Cleveland Bent (1866-1954), one of America's greatest ornithologists. His extraordinary Life Histories of North American Birds, published in a twenty-one volume series (1919-1968), provided behavioral information not available in the standard field guides. These pioneering studies are the durable foundation on which almost all other compilations of North American bird biology (including the contemporary Birds of North America) rest. In them Bent and his collaborators present, in enthusiastic, readable prose, comprehensive information about courtship, nesting, eggs, young, plumages, food, behavior, voice, enemies, and more. Readers who supplement their field guides with these delightful accounts acquire a deeper understanding of both the birds and their observers (as well as an interesting cultural history lesson).
Arthur Cleveland Bent was a successful businessman who became interested in birds during his childhood in Massachusetts. A dedicated amateur ornithologist, he traveled extensively throughout North America and acquired a thorough knowledge of the avifauna. In 1901 he began submitting papers to The Auk, the journal of the American Ornithologists' Union, making important contributions on distributions and nesting habits.
In 1910, at the request of the Smithsonian
Institution, Bent commenced work on the monumental series of Life
Histories of North American Birds. He devoted the remaining
forty-four years of his life to the project, gathering information
from, and supplementing his own observations with the published
literature and unpublished notes of volunteer contributors and
collaborating authors throughout North America. (All told, he
acknowledged contributions and help from over 800 individuals.)
Bent organized the material and presented it, together with his own commentary, in a series of National Museum Bulletins. For decades these works were unsurpassed and remained the most comprehensive and interesting collection of field observations of North American birds available. His encyclopedic Life Histories established Bent as the chief biographer of North American birds. They are literary landmarks, classics in the field of ornithology.
When he died at the age of 88, Bent had published
nineteen volumes and completed work on the twentieth volume
(which was seen through publication in 1958 by Wendell
Taber, his close friend and literary executor). He had also
finished or begun to arrange numerous histories for the
final, twenty-first volume (compiled and edited by Oliver L.
Austin, Jr. and published in 1968).
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