Rare records go on display of scientist who created first encyclopedia of birds

Watercolour of a European Green Woodpecker [Picus Viridis] perched on a branch;  n.d. [pre 1663]
Watercolour of a European Green Woodpecker [Picus Viridis] perched on a branch; n.d. [pre 1663]
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RARE books and documents produced by a pioneering ornithologist known as the Isaac Newton of natural history are going on display in Yorkshire.

The little-known 17th century scientist Francis Willughby, whose works were published only after his death at 36, co-produced the first encyclopaedia of birds in 1678. It is one of a collection put together for exhibition by two professors at Sheffield University.

Willughby’s books on birds, fish and insects will also be exhibited, as well as specimens he collected on his travels across Europe with fellow scientist John Ray.

Prof Tim Birkhead, whose book on Willughby will be published next year, said: “In the 1600s, natural history was a subject where there were more questions than answers.

“Willughby’s contribution was to apply techniques of close observation of the natural world in order to understand essential differences between species.

“His pioneering studies of birds and fish were epoch-making publications.”

Willughby also produced a scientific study of games, which included an early description of football containing the first known use of the word goal.

The exhibition runs at the university’s Western Bank Library until February 28, and also features a collection of rare specimens from the natural world uncovered by Sheffield’s Alfred Denny Museum, named after its first professor of biology.