Obituary: Colin James Oliver Harrison (1926-2003)

Published on 01 July 2004 in Obituaries

Colin Harrison was one of the most talented and least appreciated British ornithologists of his generation. Born in London, he gained a scholarship to a local grammar school and at first worked in a government testing laboratory, then as a librarian and school teacher. He had been interested in birds since childhood, and was soon publishing numerous notes. At this time, in the 1950s, he joined the Cambridge expeditions to study autumn migration in Norway, and later jointly authored the last report and summary of the results (Sterna 23, 29). He went on to secure a post in the Bird Room at the British Museum (Natural History), where he was placed in charge of the egg collection. This led to the publication of many notes and books about the nests and eggs of both European and North American birds. He found, however, that eggs provided limited scope for expressing his talents, and quickly joined the group in the Bird Room studying bird behaviour, both in the field and in captivity. Their publications in British Birds and the Avicultural Magazine did not require stuffy and cumbersome official approval. In turn, this led to an increasing interest in biogeography and the sadly neglected avian palaeontological collections (unfortunately housed in a different department, which necessitated regular trips from Tring to London). Working through these with Cyril Walker, he produced a further stream of publications. His research on distribution is summarised in the Atlas of the Birds of the Western Palearctic (Collins, 1982), while

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