Bowdoin Graduate Nathan Brown, Class of 1877

Nathan Clifford Brown, courtesy of The Library of Congress

Nathan Clifford Brown (1856-1941) grew up surrounded by birds, both in the orchards on his father’s estate in Portland, Maine and at his father’s summer home in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. At the age of 15, Brown shot his first game. In the same year, his parents demonstrated their approval of his interest in ornithology by giving him the new edition of The Birds of New England and Adjacent States by E. A. Samuels, and he made his first attempt at taxidermy.

Brown entered Bowdoin in 1873, where he became more determined to pursue ornithology. That winter, he traveled to Massachusetts to study taxidermy, specifically the preparation of bird skins, with veteran New England ornithologist J. Maynard. When he returned to Bowdoin in the fall, he met Robert E. Peary, later to become Admiral Peary, and the two began practicing taxidermy and preparing specimens in Brunswick. Brown was a perfectionist when it came to the preparation of bird skins, and he collected thousands of samples.

In January of 1878, Brown began work cataloging bird populations in Alabama; in the process, he captured two specimens of Swainson’s Warbler, a relatively unknown and unobserved species at the time. He then published what was described by zoologist Arthur Howell as “the first modern list of the birds in Alabama.” Brown was elevated to the status of Founder in the American Ornithological Union in 1883. Over his lifetime, he published 104 ornithological titles.