The Forgotten Story of Genius and Naturalist Francis Willughby

New book profiles 1st person to pioneer methods we now take for granted in science.

Francis Willughby
Francis Willughby (Wikipedia)

British naturalist Francis Willughby is often overlooked, despite being a genius who was the first to actually describe species, including the measurements of birds, fish and insects — something we now take for granted. Author Tim Birkhead decided to bring the trailblazing, 17th century scientist to a new audience with his new book, The Wonderful Mr. Willughby. 

Birkhead explains that Willughby was “a pioneer of the scientific revolution,” and was the first ornithologist to systematically classify birds. He was a wealthy man who went to the University of Cambridge as a 17-year-old. While studying there, he met John Ray, and the two of them embraced a new way of thinking about the natural world.

Considering his impact, Birkhead deserves more recognition all these years later.

“We should also be interested in him because he is a forgotten figure. He died young and a lot of his papers were lost, so he slipped to the sidelines, while John Ray, who spent a lot of time and effort trying to promote Willughby, ended up eclipsing him,” said Birkhead to Nat Geo. 

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