Nebraska Ornithologists' Union



Roger S. Sharpe

Date of this Version



Sharpe, “Samuel Aughey’s List of Nebraska Birds (1878): A Critical Evaluation,” from Nebraska Bird Review (March 1993) 61(1).


Copyright 1993, Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Used by permission.


The University of Nebraska was founded in Lincoln in 1869, but finances did not allow the addition of a scientist until 1875, when Samuel Aughey was added to the staff to fill the first chair of natural history (Pound and Clements 1900). Although a theologian by training, Aughey wrote prolifically on a number of natural history subjects pertaining to Nebraska, including its flora, fauna, and geology. A summary of his impressions of the natural history of the state, including its biota, was published in a book, "Sketches of the Physical Geography and Geology of Nebraska" (Aughey 1880), which was printed in Omaha. Shortly after its printing in 1883, Aughey was released from the university for a variety of reasons, including some alleged improprieties. Perhaps these were but an excuse by the administration to terminate Aughey's services; it is possible, albeit conjectural, that administrators and co-workers had begun to question seriously his capability and integrity as a scientist. Aughey's works, early and potentially important, unfortunately have left subsequent scientists and readers with many questions about their accuracy and authenticity. As early as 1894, Aughey's botanical findings were seriously challenged. After a careful review of Aughey's list of Nebraska birds (1878), it is my opinion that the list suffers from the same shortcomings as his plant list. It contains many potentially spurious accounts, and therefore should be used with discretion as an historic ornithological resource.