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A Love Affair With Birds: The Legacy of Thomas Sadler Roberts

Date: 06/17/2013 - 07/01/2013

Time: 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Location: Bell Museum of Natural History

Cost: $125


This three-session short course is offered by the College of Continuing Education's LearningLife program.


First, imagine a Minneapolis when Passenger Pigeons roosted in neighborhood oak trees and the roar of St. Anthony Falls could be heard "in town." Now picture a professor conducting his ornithology class (the University of Minnesota's first) on a streetcar bound for Lake Harriet for a morning of bird-watching. The professor was Thomas Sadler Roberts (1858-1946): a doctor, a bird lover, the father of Minnesota ornithology, and the man who, perhaps more than any other, promoted the study of the state's natural history. 

This course will highlight Roberts's lifelong love affair with birds, from his boyhood accounts of the state's rich avian life that was to become the basis for his landmark book, The Birds of Minnesota, to his departure from his lucrative medical practice to take an unpaid job teaching ornithology and launching the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota.

The class also will visit the Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary, an oasis for breeding songbirds in the Twin Cities' urban core, where we will identify common bird songs and learn the characteristics of bird families that make identification easier. Possible sightings include nesting Redstarts, Green Herons, and Baltimore Orioles.

The final session will include a tour of the University's working museum of bird skins from throughout the state. We will learn how ornithologists use skins to document change in species range, change in coloration over the range, and differences in size between sexes and sub-species. Roberts' earliest skins are included in the collection, and we will see the Passenger Pigeons collected by the young man to eat at the family table!

Recommended: Sue Leaf, A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at a discount at the first session.

Offered in cooperation with the Bell Museum of Natural History.

Sue Leaf, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, is the author of Potato City: Nature, History and Community in the Age of Sprawl (Borealis Books, 2004) and The Bullhead Queen: A Year on Pioneer Lake (University of Minnesota Press, 2009), which was a finalist for the 2010 Minnesota Book Award. Her most recent book, A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts, was published by the University of Minnesota Press this spring. The keeper of a life-list of birds since she was in her teens, Leaf is the president of Wild River Audubon of east central Minnesota and a mentor for the Youth Mentorship Program of the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union. 


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LearningLife is a program of the University of Minnesota College of Continuing Education. Established in 1913, the College provides high-quality continuing education and lifelong learning opportunities for professional development, personal enrichment, career transitions, and academic growth.


  • Name: College of Continuing Education Information Center
  • E-mail: cceinfo@umn.edu
  • Phone: 612-624-4000
  • Sponsored by: College of Continuing Education

More information: http://z.umn.edu/dc7

Disability Options:

To request diability accommodations, please contact the College of Continuing Education Information Center at 612-624-4000 or at cceinfo@umn.edu.

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