Skutch, Alexander F(rank) 1904-2004

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SKUTCH, Alexander F(rank) 1904-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born May 20, 1904, in Baltimore, MD; died May 12, 2004, in Costa Rica. Ornithologist and author. Skutch's life work was the study of neotropical birds in Costa Rica. Originally trained as a botanist, he graduated with a Ph.D. in the subject from Johns Hopkins University in 1928. Traveling to Panama to study the area's plants, he discovered the fascinating world of tropical bird species. During the early 1930s, he worked for the National Research Council as a research fellow and at Johns Hopkins as a botany instructor before moving to Guatemala to become an independent researcher. In 1941, he purchased a 178-acre section of tropical rain-forest in Costa Rica and settled down to study the hundreds of bird species living there for the next six decades. His research, published in over thirty books as well as in various periodicals, helped scientists understand bird behavior because he was one of the first to study birds in their natural habitats. Among Skutch's most important discoveries was how some bird species form cooperative relationships among adults to help raise chicks, even when the birds are not the parents of those chicks. Skutch called this "cooperative brooding." Among his many bird books are A Naturalist in Costa Rica (1971), Parent Birds and Their Young (1976), Life Ascending (1985), The Minds of Birds (1996), Tales of a Naturalist (1997), and Harmony and Conflict in the Living World (2000). Skutch also wrote books on religion and philosophy, including The Quest of the Divine: An Inquiry into the Source and Goal of Morality and Religion (1956) and The Golden Core of Religion (1970). Though some of his fellow ornithologists considered him one of the greatest scientists in the field, ranking him on a par with John James Audubon, Skutch remained little known to the general public. His contributions to science are undeniable, however, and the sanctuary he created in Costa Rica, Finca Los Cusingos, was made a nature reserve for the public to enjoy.



Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2004, p. B16.

New York Times, June 7, 2004, p. A27.