About the Author
Paul Johnsgard is a Foundation Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, where he taught for 40 years, from 1961 through 2001. He is listed in American Men & Women of Science, Who’s Who in the Midwest, Contemporary Authors, The Writer’s Directory, Who’s Who in Frontier Science and Technology, etc. Literary awards include the Wildlife Society’s 1973 annual award for the outstanding book or monograph in the field of terrestrial wildlife biology, awarded to Grouse and Quails of North America; the Library Journal’s selection of Waterfowl: Their Biology and Natural History as one of the most outstanding books of the year in science and technology, the selection of the same book by the Society of the English Speaking People’s Union as a title to be included in their society’s worldwide libraries. Named Outstanding Alumnus of North Dakota State University in 1996. He is an honorary life member of the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union since 1984, and an elected Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union since 1961. He has been a Guggenheim fellow, and has held postdoctoral fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Public Health Service.
In a 1994 interview with James Hayward for Living Bird , Johnsgard said that he had spent the first 30 years of his life learning how to become a scientist, and the next 30 trying to become a humanist and artist. Those efforts are reflected in his receipt of the Loren Eiseley Award from Omaha’s Clarkson Hospital in 1988, given for writings that attempt to blend science with humanism, and the Mari Sandoz Award, given by the Nebraska Library Association in 1984 for contributions to the literature of Nebraska.
Although Johnsgard has written for publication ever since he was an undergraduate at North Dakota State University in the early 1950s, it was not until twenty years later that he ventured into writing in a more literary style, and attempted to reach a much broader audience. This was marked by the publication of Song of the North Wind: A Story of the Snow Goose. This book, published by Doubleday & Co., has since been translated into three foreign languages. In the early 1980s he made another venture into the humanities, with the publication of Dragons and Unicorns, A Natural History, co-authored with his daughter Karin. This book is an allegorical and metaphorical view of humanity, as well as providing a conservation message. It has remained in print ever since its 1981 publication. Another popularly written book, Those of the Gray Wind: The Sandhill Cranes, has also remained in print since its publication in the 1980s, has been translated into Chinese, and also was made into a documentary film. In 1989 Nebraska Public Television produced a half-hour film on Johnsgard, titled “A Passion for Birds.“
Other books having a humanistic flavor as well as regional historical elements include The Platte, Channels in Time , This Fragile Land: A Natural History of the Nebraska Sandhills, and The Nature of Nebraska: Ecology and Biodiversity. Earth, Water and Sky: A Naturalist’s Stories and Sketches (1999) includes several nature-oriented essays. A children’s book, Prairie Children, Mountain Dreams, addresses the different and similar views of the natural world by children of two different cultures, namely European-American and Native American. Collectively, Johnsgard’s 43 books occupy over four feet of bookshelf space. They are distributed throughout the world and, through translations, are accessible to nearly half of the world’s population.
He has just (2002) published his 42nd book, and several more are in press or in preparation. He is by far the most prolific writer of non-fiction or fiction books in Nebraska’s history, and also correspondingly the world’s most prolific author of ornithological literature. In 2001 he was honored by the Nebraska section of the National Audubon Society with their Fred Thomas Nebraska Steward Award,, and in the same year the Nebraska Wildlife Federation presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He was the first university faculty member to win all three major faculty awards, the Distinguished Teaching Award, the Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award, and a Regent’s Professorship. He was listed by the Lincoln Journal Star (July 15, 1999) as one of “100 people who have helped build Nebraska... the past 100 years.” He was also chosen by the Omaha World Herald (Nov. 29, 1999) as one of 100 “Extraordinary Nebraskans” of the past century. Only 30 persons (only six of whom were then still alive) were included in both these lists.
For the past four decades, Johnsgard has concentrated his research on the comparative biologies of several major bird groups of the world, having published nine world monographs (waterfowl; grouse; cranes; shorebirds; pheasants; quails, partridges & francolins; bustards, hemipodes & sandgrouse; cormorants, darters & pelicans, trogons & quetzals) and six monographs on various North American bird groups (waterfowl; grouse & quails; auks, loons & grebes; owls; hawks, eagles & falcons; hummingbirds). He has also written or co-authored single-topic monographs on the stiff-tailed ducks (Ruddy Ducks and Other Stifftails), sexual selection in arena-breeding birds (Arena Birds), and on avian social parasitism (The Avian Brood Parasites). There have been books on regional ornithology (Birds of the Great Plains, Birds of the Rocky Mountains, Grassland Grouse and their Conservation), regional ecology and natural history (Great Wildlife of the Great Plains, Teton Wildlife), and three books on Nebraska’s regional and natural history (The Platte: Channels in Time, This Fragile Land: A Natural History of the Nebraska Sandhills and The Nature of Nebraska, Ecology & Biodiversity). In 1999 he published a collection of essays and short stories (Earth, Water & Sky).
Popular books on avian subjects include natural histories of the snow goose, the sandhill crane, the North American cranes, and on the biology and conservation of wild ducks. A book on waterfowl decoys as folk art was edited (1976), and a descriptive survey of 36 watercolor portraits of baby birds painted by the late George M. Sutton was published in 1998. A book will be published in 2003 on the natural history of the Lewis & Clark expedition in the Great Plains. Another is planned on the late L. A. Fuertes’ last bird and mammal paintings, in cooperation with the Field Museum of Natural History.
His published books total more than 12,000 pages as of 2002. Besides writing, nearly all of Johnsgard books have been personally illustrated by him, using either line drawings or photographs. More than 1,500 such drawings have been published, and over 500 of his color photographs. Several of his drawings and wooden bird sculptures are in private collections or museums.
Farrar, J. 1993. Paul Johnsgard, Nebraska’s Birdman. Nebraskaland 71(2):38-47.
Miles, L. !993. Paul Johnsgard and the Harmony of Nature. Pp. 91-93, in A. Jenkins (ed.), The Platte River: An Atlas of the Big Bend Region. Univ. Nebr. Kearney. 194 pp.
Hayward, J. 1994. Beguiled by birds. Living Bird, 13(4): 6-7.
Scully, M. G. 2001. Heeding the call of sandhill cranes. Chronicle of Higher Educ..47(30:):B-17.
Klucas, G. 2002. A beautiful mind. Nebraska Magazine. Summer, 2002. Pp.24-27.