|Spencer Fullerton Baird was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1823.
He attended West Nottingham Academy near Port Deposit, Maryland. He entered
Dickinson College at the age of 13 and received a bachelor's degree in
1840 and a master's degree in 1843. By 1842, he had collected 650 bird
skins representing 128 different species. While still a student at Dickinson,
he began corresponding with Audubon
and other leading ornithologists and naturalists of the day. In the fall
of 1846, he was appointed Professor of Natural History and Curator of the
Museum (natural history collection) at Dickinson. Baird was a pioneer in
the use of field trips for his students as part of a scientific education.
He collected specimens widely in Carlisle and the Cumberland Valley. He
sometimes worked with his older brother, William, on the the field study
and identification of new and disputed species. William Baird, who went
on to become a lawyer, contributed over 3,000 natural history specimens
to his brother's collection. Baird also helped to establish field and laboratory
research, as well as careful record keeping, as the basis of museum work
in natural history. He sent Audubon a yellow-bellied flycatcher that turned
out to be a new species. Audubon, in return, gave the greater part of his
collection of birds to Baird and also named Baird's bunting (now Baird's
sparrow) after him. Other naturalists with whom Baird worked included Louis
Agassiz, Asa Gray, George Newbold Lawrence, John Cassin, and Thomas M.
Brewer. In 1850, at the age of 27, Baird was appointed to a post as Assistant
Secretary at the recently formed Smithsonian Institution. When he departed
from Carlisle, Baird transported two boxcars full of specimens with him:
stuffed European and American mammals and skins, botanical specimens, vertebrate
skeletons, and fossils. The collection included over four thousand bird
skins, reptiles and fish in solution, and boxes filled with bird's nests
and eggs. Parts of this collection are still held by the Smithsonian in
Washington. In 1868, he published a four volume series that catalogued
all known North American bird species. Baird became one of the first naturalists
in America to argue for the careful study of the already vanishing natural
landscape of the United States. Even in the mid-nineteenth century, he
anticipated the potential for human destruction of natural habitats.