Famous birders

There are many famous birders, some renowned for their birding accomplishments, others simply because of their non-birding accomplishments. Todays famous birder is Phoebe Snetsinger, a birder who had a remarkable story; and a strong will.

Phoebe Snetsinger was born June 9, 1931 in Lake Zurich, Illinois. One of three children of Naomi Geddes and the powerful advertising baron, Leo Burnett, she inherited a small fortune, thanks to her father. Upon seeing a Blackburnian Warbler in 1965 at her home in Webster Groves, Missouri, Phoebe was inspired to start birding. Birding remained a hobby for Phoebe until the moment in 1981 that would reshape her life; a doctor diagnosed her with terminal melanoma and told her she didn’t have long to live.


Photo courtesy Wikipedia

This news motivated Phoebe to observe birds; as many species as she could. It all started with one trip to Alaska. Phoebe returned home after the trip to Alaska and from then on, traveled the world seeing as many species as she could. Phoebe lived much longer than doctors thought she would and, in 1999, 18 years after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Phoebe was still going strong. Unfortunately, Phoebe’s travels were brought to an abrupt end. While in Madagascar looking for a Red-shouldered Vanga, a species discovered by science only two years earlier, the van Phoebe and her group were traveling in, overturned on the decrepit roads, killing Phoebe instantly.

This remarkable woman was very dedicated and persevering in her travels and still has one of the biggest life lists ever recorded. Phoebe’s last lifer on a list that totaled more than 8,400 species of birds, was the Red-shouldered Vanga.

Posted by Matthew Sim


One thought on “Famous birders

  1. There is a recent biography of Phoebe Snetsinger called Life List by Olivia Gentile. She was a careful and thorough birder who made sure to learn a lot about each species she saw. I have read the book and enjoyed it. Phoebe’s own book, Birding on Borrowed Time, is available from Amazon or directly from the American Birding association, who published it in 2003.

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