Tuesday, August 15, 2006

John Bull Dies at 92

John L. Bull, an ornithologist based in New York City, died this past Friday. Among other accomplishments, he wrote the first guide to the birds of New York State, and co-authored the bird guide for the eastern region in the National Audubon Society's series of photographic field guides.

A research assistant at the American Museum of Natural History, Mr. Bull led popular birding tours of Long Island and Central Park in the 1960’s and 70’s and meticulously kept track of the species and the state of their habitat.

In 1964, he wrote a book, “Birds of the New York Area,” intended for would-be birders living in the suburbs of New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut and for those in Manhattan itself, a prime birding destination. It covered the mourning doves of Central Park to the horned grebes off Montauk Point.

Mr. Bull later expanded his reach and wrote about all of the 410 bird species that had been recorded throughout New York State. That book, “Birds of New York State,” which was published in 1974, was the first exhaustive survey of the subject in 60 years. Another researcher, E.H. Eaton, had recorded only 366 bird species in 1914.

In Mr. Bull’s book, he noted the new or increased counts of species usually found at more southerly latitudes — like the snowy egret — and suggested that a milder climate might be at work in changing migration patterns.

Joel L. Cracraft, curator in charge of the ornithology department at the American Museum of Natural History, said the guidebook was “a first-rate state bird book.”

“At the time,” Dr. Cracraft said, “there was not a high-quality and professional account of the great diversity of New York’s species and their distributions.”

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