Get to Know Margaret Morse Nice, a Pioneer of Bird Study

Through her detailed observations of Song Sparrows, Nice had a huge influence on modern ornithology.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

Episode Transcript: ​

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

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. Her observations led her to create probably the most in-depth natural history of any North American animal at that time. 

The legacy of Margaret Morse Nice's work lies in her pioneering approach to the study of animal behavior. She helped shift the focus away from collection, description and distribution. The new thinking put an emphasis on bird behavior – and painstaking observation of living birds in the wild. 

Today, one of the most prestigious honors one can achieve in ornithology is the Margaret Morse Nice Medal. And it all started with that little brown bird with the melodious song. 

Today's show brought to you by The Bobolink Foundation. 



Written by Bob Sundstrom 

Narrator: Mary McCann 

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Song Sparrow song recorded by G A Keller; Song Sparrow song recorded by W L Hershberger. 

BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler. 

Producer: John Kessler 

Executive Producer: Dominic Black 

© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org    December 2016

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