Who was Phoebe Snetsinger?

9 Jun 2016

The Blackburnian Warbler was one of the more famous sightings made by Phoebe Snetsinger

Google’s latest Doodle celebrates Phoebe Snetsinger’s life work, which took in Blackburnian Warblers, Red Robins and almost everything in between.

8,398: the number of bird species spotted by one single person in the 20th century. That’s the legacy Phoebe Snetsinger left on the world when she died in 1999.

A bird enthusiast from a young age, when Snetsinger was diagnosed with cancer in 1981 she decided to go full hog into ‘birding’ – she was originally told she had one year to live.

Rather than undergoing treatment, she headed off to Alaska to watch birds. Feeling better, she was told the cancer had gone into remission and, 18 years later, it was a car accident in Africa that brought her life to an end.

By then she had sighted around 85pc of all birds known to exist at the time. Today would have been Snetsinger’s 85th birthday, so Google is celebrating her life with one of its more creative doodles.

Phoebe Snetsinger

“Birding is the best and most exciting pursuit in the world, a glorified neverending one,” she said. “And the whole experience of a foreign trip, whether you see 10 new birds or 500, is simply too good to miss.”

The ‘500’ in question was actually achieved by Snetsinger in a three-week trip to Kenya, one of the many countries she visited to pursue her interest.

Tough times

It wasn’t all high-flying happiness, though. The American Scientist reports that in one trip to Papua New Guinea in the mid-1980s she was sexually assaulted by men wielding machetes.

Elsewhere, various injuries left her with a dodgy knee and a permanently crippled arm after she shattered her wrist on an expedition. According to an Audobon article from some years back, Snetsinger went so far as missing her mother’s funeral and daughter’s wedding “so as not to miss a chance to see new birds”.

Some of the notable birds she sighted include the Blackburnian Warbler and the Red-Shouldered Vanga, depicted among many other interesting birds by animator Juliana Chen in today’s Doodle (above).

Blackburnian Warbler image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic