Burleigh, Thomas D. (Deceased)
Tom was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 24, 1895. During his teenage years he developed an interest in birds while tromping through nearby wooded hills and fields, and published his first paper on birds at the age of 15. In World War I he served with the American Expeditionary Force in Europe where he learned forestry practices. This led to a master’s degree in forestry from the University of Washington in 1920, but he continued to publish notes on birds of the region. Tom moved to the University of Georgia in Athens, where he founded and served as Chairman of the School of Forestry, remaining there until 1930. During that time he traveled widely over the state, recording birdlife from the coast to the highest mountains, where he observed “northern” birds extending their ranges southward. Joining the Bureau of Biological Survey as a forest wildlife biologist, he moved to Asheville, North Carolina, in 1930. There he published accounts of birds on Mt. Mitchell and elsewhere, improving knowledge of bird distributions in North Carolina. Subsequent transfers took Tom to Washington, D.C., in 1934 where he had access to the huge bird collections, and then to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1937. His field companions in those years included notable ornithologists such as Arthur Howell, George Lowery, and George Sutton, the celebrated bird artist. With his long-time interest in bird distribution, he worked with Harold Peters to publish their first book, The Birds of Newfoundland, in 1951. Employed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, he returned to Georgia in 1945 to complete his book on Georgia Birds (1958), then to Moscow, Idaho, where he spent the next decade gathering material for another book, Birds of Idaho (1972). Yet another transfer back to Washington in 1958 allowed Tom to continue his descriptions of new subspecies and provided opportunities for more field work in Virginia after an absence of 24 years. He retired from the Service in 1961, accomplishing a goal of describing 31 subspecies of birds in 31 years of government service. Even after moving from Arizona to Spokane, Washington, to Reno, Nevada, and finally to Monterey, California, he continued to collect birds or to pick up dead birds on beaches for skeletal collections of friends. He died in Monterey on August 25, 1973. Tom detested paper work and office assignments; he was happiest in the field with his gun and binoculars. His keen eyesight allowed him to distinguish among the tree-top inhabiting fall warblers and to select the right one for his collection. He was renowned for run-ins with the law while collecting birds and for his after-meal cigars, the ashes of which were often found in specimen trays in the National Museum and the butts under his office window at the Museum. Tom was an affable field companion, freely sharing his breadth of knowledge of birds and wildlife with young people and friends. Often he faced the day enthusiastically intent on collecting “good birds,” those with potential subspecific differences. He collected over 20,000 birds in his lifetime, authored many scientific papers, and diligently pursued the advancement of ornithological knowledge wherever he lived. Tom was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1960.