In Conservation With… interview

James Van Remsen

The discussion against the eponymous name changes for North America’s birds

“What I would say about myself is that I’ve been passionate about birds and all other aspects of natural history since I was 5 or 6, started a life list when I was 11, and started keeping daily field notes on birds obsessively starting at age 13. When I was 15 I called my coach and lied to him that I was too sick to play in the Colorado state lacrosse championship semifinals because I wanted to go birding that day during a May fallout. (But we won anyway, and I did play in the state championship match, which we won). When I went to college, I chose Stanford University over Princeton because the birding was better in California. When I set off for 6 months of dissertation field research on kingfishers in the Amazon, my fiancee broke off our engagement. When I got the job as curator of birds and professor at LSU, I considered myself the luckiest person on the planet and continue to do so today. I have learned so much about birds from my great colleagues and students at LSU that I never could have on my own. I actually got paid to do research on birds in exotic places. I think my most important contribution was a paper co-authored with the late Ted Parker outlining how Bolivia could create the world’s richest park for fauna and flora and then to see that park established, at lest in part.”

Van has won the American Ornithologists’ Union’s William Brewster Medal, the highest distinction in American ornithology. He is in the LSU College of Science Hall of Distinction. He is a recipient of the LSU Alumni Association Distinguished Faculty Award, the LSU College of Basic Sciences Graduate Teaching Award, and the LSU Foundation Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award. He is one of only 20 Honorary Inductees of the Nuttall Ornithological Club of Cambridge, Massachusetts in the last 150 years. He sat on the classification committees for both North American and South America. And LOS is proud to have awarded him the George H. Lowery Award. But in my opinion, the highest praise I can say for Van is that he is so overwhelmingly supportive of the birding community in Louisiana and has taken untold hours giving advice to new birders. Many people have no idea how many experienced birders email Van when they get stumped, knowing that he will uncomplainingly provide help and advice. For decades, he was the self-titled “grumpy list manager” for the LABIRD list-serve, and he was the only eBird reviewer for the entire state of Louisiana up until a few years ago, and in both capacities provided so much training and feedback and advice for birders of all backgrounds and levels.