Red Coats and Wild Birds

How Military Ornithologists and Migrant Birds Shaped Empire

By Kirsten A. Greer

190 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, 5 maps

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4983-2
    Published: January 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4982-5
    Published: January 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4984-9
    Published: November 2019

Flows, Migrations, and Exchanges

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During the nineteenth century, Britain maintained a complex network of garrisons to manage its global empire. While these bases helped the British project power and secure trade routes, they served more than just a strategic purpose. During their tours abroad, many British officers engaged in formal and informal scientific research. In this ambitious history of ornithology and empire, Kirsten A. Greer tracks British officers as they moved around the world, just as migratory birds traversed borders from season to season.

Greer examines the lives, writings, and collections of a number of ornithologist-officers, arguing that the transnational encounters between military men and birds simultaneously shaped military strategy, ideas about race and masculinity, and conceptions of the British Empire. Collecting specimens and tracking migratory bird patterns enabled these men to map the British Empire and the world and therefore to exert imagined control over it. Through its examination of the influence of bird watching on military science and soldiers’ contributions to ornithology, Red Coats and Wild Birds remaps empire, nature, and scientific inquiry in the nineteenth-century world.

About the Author

Kirsten A. Greer is associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Histories and Geographies at Nipissing University.
For more information about Kirsten A. Greer, visit the Author Page.


"Red Coats and Wild Birds is innovative, well researched, and well written. There is simply nothing like this book."--Nancy Jacobs, Brown University

"An inventive and attractive work, this book documents the ways in which the study of ornithology and bird collecting intersected with--and contributed to--British military and imperial endeavors in the Mediterranean region at the height of empire."--Janet Browne, Harvard University