Today we here at Nature Travel Birding celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s most famous ornithologists, Coenraad Temminck.
He was born on 31 March 1778 in Amsterdam in the then Dutch Republic. He became interested in birds and nature from an early age. From his father, Jacob Temminck, who was treasurer of the Dutch East India Company with links to numerous travellers and collectors, he inherited a large collection of bird specimens. He also had an aviary with living birds. His father was a good friend of another very famous ornithologist, Francois Levaillant, who also guided Coenraad later in his life.
Temminck was the first director of the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden from 1820 until his death. In 1831, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1836 he became member of the Royal Institute, predecessor of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Temminck’s Manuel d’ornithologie, ou Tableau systématique des oiseaux qui se trouvent en Europe (1815) was the standard work on European birds for many years. He was also the author of Histoire naturelle générale des Pigeons et des Gallinacées (1813–1817), Nouveau Recueil de Planches coloriées d’Oiseaux (1820–1839), and contributed to the mammalian sections of Philipp Franz von Siebold’s Fauna japonica (1844–1850).
He gained his contemporary’s respect thanks to the description of many new species and to his detailed monographs on birds. He also published a small number of works on biogeography describing the fauna of the Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia and Japan. These works are remarkable for two reasons. First, in them Temminck accurately described the species composition of poorly explored regions, like the Sunda Islands and Japan. Secondly, he formulated a new law on the geographical distribution of animals around the globe, based on the parallels he observed between the fauna from Europe, Asia and Japan. The underlying ideas that lead Temminck to this law were the type-concept, which he understood as the ideal morphological plan behind animal form, the unchanging character of the species and a strong belief in nature’s divine design.
Temminck died on 30 January 1858, at the age of 79, in Leiden, Netherlands.
A large number of animals were named for Temminck in the 19th century. Among those still in use are 11 species of fish and sharks, 2 reptiles, 14 different mammals and 20 species of birds.
Some of the bird species named after him are highly sought after and can be seen on many of our Nature Travel Birding tours across the globe. This includes, amongst many others, the globally threatened Temminck’s Tragopan of northeast India, the dainty Temminck’s Courser of sub-Saharan Africa, the mouse-like Temminck’s Stint that breeds in the Arctic north of Europe and Asia, and the highly social Temminck’s Hornbill, endemic to Sulawesi, Indonesia.