By Caspar Beckers, Junior Researcher, Institute for Science in Society, Radboud University
Click here to read in Dutch
Our research concerns the historical ‘citizen’ in ornithological citizen science. Who were these people? How did they get involved in ornithology? What are some of the characteristics of these volunteer birdwatchers? Those are some of the questions we want to answer. By understanding the history of amateur birdwatchers we can make citizen science within ornithology even more inclusive and appreciated.
So where do you start if you want to study Dutch non-professional ornithologists? Luckily the professional ornithologist Karel H. Voous started to write a book about the history of ornithology in the Netherlands around 1990. However, he quickly shifted his approach and started writing about the ornithologists themselves in the 20th century. It became a biographical dictionary of around 550 ornithologists, both professionals and amateurs. In other words: a perfect starting point for our research!
What we’ve found so far: almost all amateur birdwatchers were male and well educated. Most of them had a career in the broad field of biology, some managed to make ornithology their work. But not all of them had a background in biology. Willem Kraak, for instance, was a teacher of classical languages who used his birdwatching skills to determine that Homer wrote about different birds from those originally assumed.
In the early 20th century, birdwatching became more popular. Amateur ornithologists across the Netherlands found like-minded people near them and set up local birdwatching societies. Some of these were very loosely organised, just a group of friends with the same hobby. Over time these groups became more organised, some even started to cooperate with universities. The group on the photo (Club van Haagse Trekwaarnemers) was asked by a Swiss university if they could ring common starlings. They accepted and began to ring more than 4000 starlings in twelve nights.
The history of citizen science in ornithology in the Netherlands is rich in such individuals and groups. The amateur ornithologists were very committed and caring persons with a profound love for birds in the wild.