David Snow

For the composer, see David Snow (composer). For the sociologist, see David A. Snow. For the American football player, see David Snow (American football).
David & Barbara Snow. At the home of Dr. William Beebe, Simla, Trinidad, c. 1959.

David William Snow (30 September 1924 4 February 2009) was a celebrated English ornithologist born in Windermere, Westmorland.

Career and personal life

Dr. Wilbur Downs and wife "Babbie" with baby of Barabara & David Snow. Trinidad c. 1961

He won a scholarship to Eton and started there in 1938 just before his 14th birthday. He won a scholarship to study classics at New College, Oxford but was called up to serve in the navy in April 1943 and served on several ships including destroyers, frigates, and sloops. After the end of World War II, he spent a year sailing through the Far East and to Australia. In 1946 he returned to Oxford and switched from classics to the study of zoology, earning a D.Phil degree in 1953.[1][2]

In 1958, David married Barbara Kathleen Whitaker, who was the warden of Lundy Island. Barbara Snow was also a noted ornithologist and a geologist. From 1957 to 1961 the Snows worked for the New York Zoological Society at the society's research centre in Trinidad. Here they made detailed studies of the oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis) and the fascinating and very complex courtship dances of the white-bearded manakin (Manacus manacus) and the golden-headed manakin (Pipra erythrocephala).

From 1963 to 1964 he was the Director of the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) in the Galapagos Islands. He was Director of CDRS during the landmark expedition mounted from the University of California at Berkeley called the Galápagos International Scientific Project (GISP).[3][4] He was also Director of Research for the British Trust for Ornithology from 1964 to 1968, and from 1968 to 1984 he worked at the Natural History Museum. From 1987 to 1990 he was president of the British Ornithologists' Union.

David Snow edited The Ibis, Bird Study and the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club.

Snow is commemorated in the name of the cotinga genus Snowornis and the critically endangered Alagoas antwren (Myrmotherula snowi).

"With his wife, Barbara, Snow made a huge contribution to our understanding of the evolutionary consequences of fruit-eating in birds. In a series of studies of tropical birds, he theorised that the colourful plumage and elaborate mating rituals of male manakins and similar species derived from the fact that copious supplies of fruit enabled the birds to secure adequate daily calories with only a small percentage of their time devoted to feeding. This left them plenty of opportunity to develop elaborate rituals to impress the dowdier females. In England, the Snows spent five years carrying out systematic observations of fruit-eating birds in a small area on the Hertfordshire-Buckinghamshire borders, publishing their results in the seminal Birds and Berries (1988)."[5]

Following Barbara's death in 2007, he published Birds in Our Life, an account of their lives and their close ornithological partnership.

Snow died at age 84 and is survived by two sons.


In 1972 David and his wife Barbara were joint recipients of the American Ornithologists' Union's Brewster Medal.[6]

He was elected president of the British Ornithologists' Union and in 1982 was awarded its Godman-Salvin Medal for outstanding contributions to ornithology.


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Further reading

External links

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