Today’s Google Doodle (right now only in on UK Google, but presumably it’ll appear later on the U.S. Google page) celebrates the 224th birthday of William John Swainson (1789-1855), ornithologist, naturalist, and artist.
I have to admit that I’d never heard of the guy, though I immediately thought he might have given his name to the Swainson’s Hawk, Looking him up, I discovered that, like many naturalists of his era, he made his name by collecting, describing and drawing many animals and plants. That was sufficient to make his name and get him elected to the Royal Society.
Clicking on the doodle (on the Google page, not here) will take you to a page of information about him.
Later in his life he moved to New Zealand and collected widely in the Antipodes, but his work seems to have gone downhill when he went down under. as the Guardian reports (this seems to have been lifted from Wikipedia):
He later travelled in New Zealand and Australia. During his time in the latter, he was hit by some of the most strident criticism aimed at him by contemporaries.
The Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) noted that much of his work as a botanist – not his usual discipline – was never published by the Royal Society of Tasmania.
Another botanist William Hooker wrote of Swainson’s attempts to define species there: “In my life I think I never read such a series of trash and nonsense. There is a man who left this country with the character of a first rate naturalist (though with many eccentricities) and of a very first-rate Natural History artist and he goes to Australia and takes up the subject of Botany, of which he is as ignorant as a goose.”
The ANBG noted that another Joseph Maiden described Swainson’s efforts as “an exhibition of reckless species-making that, as far as I know stands unparalleled in the annals of botanical literature”.
There are at least nine species of birds named after him:
- John James Audubon named Swainson’s Warbler Limnothlypis swainsonii
- Charles Lucien Bonaparte named Swainson’s Hawk Buteo swainsoni
- Thomas Nuttall named Swainson’s Thrush Catharus ustulatus
- Swainson’s Francolin Francolinus swainsonii
- Swainson’s Sparrow Passer swainsonii
- Swainson’s Antcatcher Myrmeciza longipes
- Swainson’s Fire-eye Pyriglena atra
- Swainson’s Flycatcher Myiarchus swainsoni
- Swainson’s Toucan Ramphastos swainsonii
Swainson’s Hawk is indeed named for William Swainson, as is Swainson’s Warbler. I’ve never been fortunate enough to see the warbler, but here’s a photo of a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk in the Sulphur Springs Valley of southeastern Arizona. This one was hawking grasshoppers, stacking up the calories for its upcoming flight to the Argentine Pampas. Swainson’s is a common summer resident and abundant migrant in Arizona.