Robert Ridgway: When Amateur Bird Watching Became a Rigorous Science

A Road Scholar Program by Brian “Fox” Ellis

Fox as Ridgway Nature Preserve scaled

Apr 16, 2024


Somonauk Public Library
700 E Lasalle St
Somonauk, IL 60552



Join Illinois’ most pre-eminent bird man as he recalls the history of the Audubon Society and the evolution of bird watching as it grew from a hobby to a scientific discipline. 

Hear stories that illuminate our legacies as bird watchers, namely creating a cadre of citizen scientists, encouraging the next generation of conservationists, and protecting habitat for future generations of birds.

Brian “Fox” Ellis becomes Robert Ridgway, telling the story of his transect of the western wilderness when he was still a teenager, his life-long work at the Smithsonian Institution, his birding trips into Central America, and his journey across Alaska with John Burroughs, Louis Agazziz Fuertes, and John Muir.

Ridgway was a student of Spencer Baird, who traveled with Audubon, creating a direct link to the lineage of America’s preeminent ornithologists. He helped to refine systematics and evolutionary theory, redefining the relationships between species, sub-species, and geography.

This dynamic program is equal parts storytelling and discussion about birds and preserving habitat. Participants are invited to discuss and plan direct actions to improve the ecological health of their community. They will be given tools to become citizen scientists and encouraged to use art as part of their appreciation of birds and Illinois ecology.

Robert Ridgway sitting

Robert Ridgway

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Kathleen Legner at

Learn more about Brian “Fox” Ellis, this program, and how to book it here.