This WiSE Wednesday we honor a woman who exemplified the values of citizen scientist. Despite not having a formal science education, Amelia Rudolph Laskey made significant contributions to the field of ornithology, publishing more than 100 articles over the course of 40 years on the behavior of more than 10 different bird species. Born in 1885 in Indiana, Amelia moved to Tennessee with her husband in 1921, where she started a garden that quickly attracted a wide variety of birds. Her initial curiosity about these birds developed into a great passion, which led her to teach herself everything she could about ornithology and embark on rigorous studies of her own. Best known for her discovery that brown-headed Cowbirds are monogamous and her work on mockingbird song development, her meticulous records of generations of diverse bird species have also proved invaluable to future researchers.
Amelia was determined to move her science beyond academic circles – she devoted her life to advocating for the birds she loved. In one illustrative case, her discovery that airport tower lights were disrupting bird migrations led to the government requiring filters to be placed on these lights. Throughout her life, Amelia trained countless people on experimental methods in ornithology, sharing her knowledge with anyone who was interested. When, in old age, she was physically unable to carry out her experiments, she enlisted the help of friends to keep the work going. Amelia died at home in 1973 to the great sadness of the ornithology community. This amazing woman truly shows the impact that a person can have if they follow their passion, and we at WiSE hope that her legacy will continue to inspire anyone and everyone to become involved in science.
Photograph by Paul A. Moore, Tennessee Conservation Department, accessed from https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v092n02/p0252-p0259.pdf