Frank Chapman (ornithologist)

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Frank Chapman
Portrait of Frank Chapman.jpg
Frank Michler Chapman

(1864-06-12)June 12, 1864
Died November 15, 1945(1945-11-15) (aged 81)
Nationality US
Known for Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Awards Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal (1917)
John Burroughs Medal (1929)
Scientific career
Fields Ornithology
Institutions American Museum of Natural History

Frank Michler Chapman (June 12, 1864 – November 15, 1945) was an American ornithologist and pioneering writer of field guides.[1]


Chapman was born in West Englewood, New Jersey and attended Englewood Academy.[2] He joined the staff of the American Museum of Natural History in 1888 as assistant to Joel Asaph Allen. In 1901 he was made associate Curator of Mammals and Birds and in 1908 Curator of Birds.

Chapman came up with the original idea for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. He also wrote many ornithological books such as, Bird Life, Birds of Eastern North America, and Life in an Air Castle. Chapman promoted the integration of photography into ornithology, especially in his book Bird Studies With a Camera,[3] in which he discussed the practicability of the photographic blind and in 1901 invented his own more portable version of a blind using an umbrella with a large 'skirt' to conceal the photographer that could be bundled into a small pack for transport along with the other, at the time very bulky, paraphernalia of the camera gear.[4] For his work, Distribution of Bird-life in Colombia, he was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1917.[5]

In the winter seasons, starting from his mother's home in Gainesville, Florida, he made numerous field trips to collect small mammals and birds; thus he went to various localities in Florida, Texas, Cuba, Trinidad, B. W. I., Yucatan and Vera Cruz, Mexico, and later to many countries in South America. The story of his local expeditions in the United States and of his one visit to England is told in his Camps and Cruises of an Ornithologist (1908) and much later his many expeditions to Mexico, Central and South America are dealt with in his all too brief, authentic Autobiography of a Bird Lover (1933).[6]

Chapman fathered one child, Frank Chapman, Jr., who first married playwright Elizabeth Cobb and had a daughter, actress and TV personality Buff Cobb,[7] and after divorcing married mezzo-soprano opera singer Gladys Swarthout.

Chapman was interred at Brookside Cemetery.


As well as numerous papers in scientific journals and magazines such as the National Geographic Magazine, books and major reports authored by Chapman include:

  • (1894). Visitors' Guide to the Local Collection of Birds in the American Museum of Natural History.
  • (1895). Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America.
  • (1897). Bird-Life: A Guide to the Study of Our Common Birds.
  • (1898). Four-Footed Americans and Their Kin.
  • (1899). Descriptions of five apparently new birds from Venezuela. Bull. of the American Museum of Natural History 12 ( 9): 153-156
  • (1900). Bird Studies with a Camera.
  • (1901). The Revision of the Genus Capromys.
  • (1903). Color Key to North American Birds
  • (1903). The Economic Value of Birds to the State.
  • (1907). Warblers of North America.
  • (1908). Camps and Cruises of an Ornithologist.
  • (1910). The Birds of the Vicinity of New York City: A guide to the Local Collection.
  • (1915). The Travels of Birds.
  • (1917). The Distribution of Bird-life in Colombia.
  • (1919). Our Winter Birds.
  • (1921). The Habit Groups of North American Birds.
  • (1921). The Distribution of Bird Life in the Urubamba Valley of Peru. A report of the birds collected by the Yale University - National Geographic Society's expedition.
  • (1926). The Distribution of Bird-life in Ecuador.
  • (1929). My Tropical Air Castle.
  • (1931). The Upper Zonal Bird-Life of Mts Roraima and Duida.
  • (1933). The Autobiography of a Bird-Lover.
  • (1934). What Bird is That?.
  • (1938). Life in an Air Castle: Nature Studies in the Tropics.


  1. ^ Vuilleumier, François (2005). "Dean of American Ornithologists: The Multiple Legacies of Frank M. Chapman of the American Museum of Natural History," The Auk, Vol. 122, No. 2, pp. 389-402.
  2. ^ Chapman, Frank Michler (United States 1864-1945), Western Kentucky University. Accessed March 12, 2008. "born in West Englewood, New Jersey, on 12 June 1864."
  3. ^ Frank M. Chapman (1900), Bird studies with a camera with introductory chapters on the outfit and methods of the bird photographer, New York D. Appleton and company
  4. ^ Brower, Matthew (2010), Developing animals : wildlife and early American photography, University of Minnesota Press, p. 124, ISBN 978-0-8166-5478-9
  5. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  6. ^ Gregory, William King (1947). "Frank Michler Chapman 1864–1945". Biographical Memoirs V.25—Fifth Memoir (PDF). National Academy of Sciences (NAS). pp. 111–143.
  7. ^ Hevesi, Dennis. "Buff Cobb, Actress and TV Host, Dies at 82", The New York Times, July 21, 2010

Further reading

  • Sterling, Keir B., ed. (1997). "Chapman, Frank Michler". Biographical Dictionary of American and Canadian Naturalists and Environmentalists. Greenwood Press.
  • Vuilleumier, François (2005). "Dean of American Ornithologists: The Multiple Legacies of Frank M. Chapman of the American Museum of Natural History". The Auk. 122 (2): 389–402.
  • "Frank M. Chapman," in Tom Taylor and Michael Taylor, Aves: A Survey of the Literature of Neotropical Ornithology, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Libraries, 2011.

External links

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