Under The Sun

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


On May 11, 1935, at 4:44 AM (EDT), the song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) known as 4M began to sing. He sang until seven minutes after sunset, nearly 15 hours, repeating his call 2,305 times.

Margaret Nice counted, notebook in hand. Her children brought her breakfast and lunch out to the "wild neglected piece of flood plain" behind their house. It was by no means the only time Nice took meals outdoors. She was a mother and a homemaker, but she also had a master's degree in ornithology. The amateur birding club in Columbus, OH, refused to accept a female member, but the American Ornithological Union had better sense. Fluent in French and German, Nice reviewed foreign publications for American journals, and later edited the journal Bird-Banding. A French colleague called her work on song sparrows "perhaps the most important contribution yet published to our knowledge of the life of a species". And the Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz called Mrs. Margaret Nice the founder of ethology--the study of natural animal behavior.

(Hat tip: Darwin's Orchestra, by Michael Sims.)

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