History of Ornithology

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History of Ornithology

Frederick II

  1. Francis of Assisi supplied an emotional basis for embracing nature in its own right

  2. It fell to one of his contemporaries, Frederick II, to supply an objective basis for a new science of nature 

  3. Created the fledgling science of ornithology

  1. The two men are an interesting contrast

  2. Both possessed tremendous spiritual qualities

  3. Both transformed themselves from licentious, drunken youths into responsible adults

  1. But Frederick was a notorious skeptic

  2. He established a democracy of the intellect

  3. All races could find respect for the power of their minds 

  1. Unlike Francis, Frederick found no democracy in nature 

  2. Merely a reflection in the natural order of his own sense of nobility

  1. He even ranked birds, with the eagle as king and lesser birds of prey as noble lords  

  2. He once executed his favorite hunting falcon because it attacked an eagle, a bird of higher rank

  1. He was an aristocrat, the most accomplished soldier, swordsman, hunter, and horseman of his day

  2. He was also a womanizer, with a harem of Saracen dancing girls in addition to his many wives and concubines

  1. Frederick II was born in Iesi, Italy in the year 1194

  2. Grandson of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa and son of Emperor Henry VI and Constance of Sicily

  1. His life has been compared to a meteor, flaming briefly across the sky, illuminating the world for an instant, then vanishing as quickly as it appeared

  1. He was heir to two crowns, those of Germany and of Sicily 

  2. Crowned king of Sicily in 1198, following his father's death

  1. Four year old king was plunged into a morass of medieval politics 

  2. German princes and feudal barons were constantly squabbling over the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire

  1. Frederick's mother died four months after his father

  2. Young king was placed under the protection of Pope Innocent III

  1. Pope placed a pretender, King Otto of Brunswick, on the German throne

  2. Thought Otto would be easier to control than Frederick

  1. Frederick retired to Sicily, placed under a series of indifferent regents

  2. He ran wild in the streets, would have starved to death were it not for the pity of the townspeople

  1. Sicily in the 13th Century was the crossroad of the civilized world

  2. Jews, Greeks, Arabs, and Europeans living in peace and harmony

  1. Here Frederick learned to speak nine languages, and write in seven

  2. He paid lip service to Catholicism, but also attended mosque with his Arabian friends

  3. He learned to live by his wits, and take nothing for granted that he had not seen with his own eyes

  1. At the age of 15, Frederick rose to the throne of Germany

  2. Disastrous chain of events unseated the unfortunate King Otto

  1. Lifetime filled with constant warfare, intrigue, and assassination

  2. Somehow found the time to become one of the greatest scholars of his age

  1. His father, King Roger, had made his court a center of learning

  2. Frederick continued that tradition

  3. His court was filled with the most brilliant minds of the day

  1. In many ways prefigured the Italian Renaissance

  2. He commissioned hundreds of scholarly works

  3. Attempted to restore the Roman legal code

  1. Even installed modern plumbing in his castles

  2. Radical move in an era which one historian described as "a thousand years without a bath"

  1. Led a successful Crusade in 1229 that temporarily restored Jerusalem to the West

  2. Crowned himself King of Jerusalem

  1. Didn’t help his ongoing feud with the papacy

  2. Had to return home to defend against a papal invasion

  1. Had mixed success in an endless series of battles with northern Italy (Lombardy) and papal forces

  2. Died unexpectedly in 1250, after a brief illness

  1. Most of his reforms died with the Emperor

  2. Within 18 months of his demise, his son Manfred and all his living relatives had been killed

  3. Ended the Hohenstaufen line forever

  1. Frederick translated and preserved the wisdom of past ages

  2. Commissioned his court astrologer, Michael Scot, to translate the 19 volumes of Aristotle's zoology, thus introducing those works into western science

  1. Best remembered, however, for his unwavering commitment to the truth

  2. Relied on scientific research rather than accepting the wisdom of earlier authorities

  1. Frederick was also intensely interested in mathematics

  2. Consulted with the European mathematician Fibonacci

  3. Constantly sent lists of questions to other courts, lists that show the broad scope of his inquiring mind

  1. Frederick was interested in medicine

  2. Had an extensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology

  3. He laid down strict requirements for medical education, included five years of surgery and a year of internship

  1. He commissioned the first manual of veterinary medicine, "De Medicina Equorum", by Giordano Ruffo

  2. Remained the authoritative text for treating horses for several centuries

  1. He founded the University of Naples

  2. Even presented its arch-rival, the University of Bologna, with a generous donation of library books

  1. Frederick has been called the patron saint of ecologists

  2. He was the first to institute cultivation of game

  3. First to declare fixed hunting seasons based on the reproductive cycles of the prey

  1. Kept a menagerie that included monkeys, camels, and cheetahs

  2. Near one palace he laid out a large marsh

  3. Had it stocked with cranes, herons and other waterbirds so he could study them more closely

  1. He refused to accept the word of any earlier authority, even the revered Aristotle

  2. Pretty radical words in the 13th Century!

  3. Frederick's refusal to accept hearsay as truth led to his debunking the myth of the barnacle goose

  1. Not content with the words of others, Frederick performed many experiments on his own

  2. In an age in which dogma reigned supreme, Frederick's pursuit of science was widely viewed as the work of the devil!

  1. To determine whether vultures hunted by sight or by smell, he stopped their noses or sewed their eyes shut

  2. He was able to demonstrate that vultures relied primarily on eyesight to locate carrion (new world vultures rely on smell)

  1. He placed metal rings through the gills of fishes to determine how long they lived

  2. Legend has it that a pike caught 250 years later still bore in his gills a ring with the inscription "I am the fish that the Emperor Frederick put in the lake with his own hands on the 5th October 1230"

  1. Unfortunately for his subjects, his pursuit of the truth could be quite ruthless

  2. To test whether children had natural language, or acquired speech from others, he had several infants raised in complete silence and isolation

  1. Results were inconclusive…

  2. All the children died!

  1. He shut someone up in a barrel, hoping to capture their soul inside when the subject died

  2. Again, however, the results were inconclusive

  1. Upon the victim's death, the soul was not to be found

  2. But the victims moans and cries, also invisible, had clearly escaped the barrel

  1. To study the effects of exercise upon digestion, he fed two men

  2. Sent one out hunting while he entertained the other at the palace

  3. He then had both men disemboweled to study the effects of their respective activities

  1. Love of hunting, especially the royal sport of falconry, and great regard for birds

  2. Culminated in his magnum opus "De Arte Venandi Cum Avibus", The Art of Hunting With Birds”

  3. Often translated as simply "The Art of Falconry"

  1. Representing over twenty years of work and research

  2. Magnificently illustrated work is a milestone in the history of biology

  1. The greatest book ever written on falconry, still in use today

  2. It is also one of the first scientific works in zoology

  3. The very first textbook of ornithology

  1. It is also one of the first serious studies of animal behavior, and examines all aspects of bird behavior

  2. It contains the first mention of the phenomenon of "imprinting", by which young birds become attached to their parents

  1. Published and edited by his son, King Manfred, nearly lost in the turmoil that surrounded Frederick's final defeat

  2. The Vatican Library preserved most of the manuscript

  3. The section on the diseases of hawks remains lost to this day

  1. The work is divided into six books, including

  2. detailed discussions on the various types of predators and their prey

  3. accessories of falconry

  4. capture, nurture, and training of birds of prey

  5. behavior of birds of prey

  1. Spraying, for example, is an interesting technique to quiet a nervous falcon…

  1. It includes meticulous instructions on the housing of birds of prey

  2. Correct methods of carrying them

  3. Correct height and construction of their perches

  1. The text is profusely illustrated with hundreds of drawings, probably from the Emperor's own hands

  1. The first of its five books is of greatest interest to us

  2. Contains a complete analysis of bird biology and behavior

  3. Includes courtship rituals, reproduction, nesting, flight mechanics, feather design, and migration

  1. He considers various methods by which birds protect their young

  1. Frederick even speculates on why birds sleep with one foot raised and one in the water

  1. Studies the various ways by which birds can defend themselves

  1. He was somewhat less successful when it came to taxonomy

  2. He intended to write a book on the genera and species of birds, but never lived to complete it

  1. His initial attempt to classify birds as water birds, land birds and neutral birds is not especially useful

  2. More successful is his division of birds into raptors, or birds of prey, and non-raptors

  1. Raptors are described as having hooked beaks, bent claws, a strong back toe, and short necks and legs

  2. His discussions of anatomy are more precise

  3. He differentiates between birds, for example, on the basis of their beaks

  1. The standard translation of The Art of Falconry runs to 400 pages of two-column text

  2. Staggering output from a man so deeply involved in the affairs of his troubled empire

  1. His treatise stands as a beacon of reason in the medieval night of zoological fantasy

  2. Passion for observing, exploring, and understanding

  3. Reflects his deep love of learning, and his desire to know the how and why of every aspect of life on earth

  1. It’s no surprise that Nietzsche compares him with Leonardo da Vinci

  2. Frederick’s contemporaries called him "Stupor Mundi", the wonder of the world

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