Wilson, Alexander, 1766–1813, American ornithologist, b. Scotland. He came to the United States c.1794, taught in rural New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and became a citizen in 1804. Encouraged by William Bartram, he studied the birds of his adopted country, learned to portray them, and began his encyclopedic American Ornithology (9 vol., 1808–14), a work that is noted for its accuracy and sensitive draftsmanship. Wilson broke with earlier conventions, observing and describing birds in their habitats and naming birds according to the Linnaean binomial method; the beauty and accuracy of his depictions inspired Audubon and other later naturalists. The last two volumes of this series of books were completed by his friend and biographer (1829), the naturalist George Ord, after Wilson's death. In all, the books illustrated and described 264 birds, 48 of them previously unknown. Wilson is also known for his poems and essays on nature.
E. H. Burtt, Jr. and W. E. Davis, Jr., Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology (2013).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.