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Lyman Belding papers

Identifier: MSS-039
Collection includes a heavily annotated copy of "Landbirds of the Pacific District" as well as draft manuscripts of many of Belding's work including an undated memoir. The collections consists of personal and professional papers created by Belding relating to his life and the study of ornithology. The contents include a heavily annotated copy of "Landbirds of the Pacific District" from the California Academy of Sciences Occassional Papers, Vol. II, the certificate documenting Belding's citizenship, two letters of correspondence with family, 6 small field books with several pages torn out, and a portrait of Belding. Additionally there is a reprint of Belding's obituary that was featured in the Auk, Jan. 1920 with a list of bibliographic refences. The completeness of the papers was compromised when a massive fire destroyed the collections of the Academy during the aftermath of the earthquake of 1906. The materials described herein represent what was saved onsite, or retained offsite, during the fire.


  • 1882 - 1920

Conditions governing access

Access is unrestricted.


All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.


0.33 Cubic Feet (1 archives box)

Biographical note

Lyman Belding (1829- 1917) was a noted American ornithologist. Born in West Farm, Massachusetts, Belding moved to Kingston, Wyoming in 1836 where he lived until contracting Typhoid in 1846. On the advice of a doctor, Belding took a sea voyage to Boston, then New Bedford, and eventually became a novice on the whaling ship Uncas. After conditions became quite unbearable, Belding abandoned ship in Honolulu and joined the crew of the vessel Julian of Martha’s Vineyard on the voyage to Cocos Island and the Galapagos. In 1853 he returned to Honolulu from the Julian and joined the crew of the Philomela of Portland until January of 1854. Belding moved to Stockton, California in 1856 and then to Marysville in 1862, and then to Berkeley in 1877. Belding showed an interest in birding at an early age but he only formally began studying ornithology after his retirement in 1875. In 1881, Belding made a survey of Ceros Island off the west coast of Southern California during which time twenty new species of birds and one new species of lizard was collected. Belding went on to collect in the high Sierras and the mountains of California. While Belding collected specimens for study skins, his chief interest was the pursuit and observation of live birds in their natural habitats. In 1877, Belding took on a three year effort to create a partial list of the birds of central California. The 1879 list included 220 species and over 600 related specimens. Belding published three papers in 1883 as a result of collecting trips to the Lower California coast and cape region, including Guayamas, Mexico. On the expeditions 187 species were recorded and all but 21 species were collected. That same year the American Ornithologists Union was founded (1883) and Belding was appointed superintendent to the collection of information concerning the migration and distribution of birds in the “Pacific District”, which included California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. This work would provide the bulk of the information published in 1890 Occasional Papers of the California Academy of Sciences titled, “The Land Birds of the Pacific District”. In March of 1889, Belding was elected as a member of the California Academy of Sciences. He described the Big Tree Thrush, Turdus sequoiensis, in the 1889 Proceedings of the California Academy of Science. In February of 1898, Belding became an honorary member of the Cooper Ornithological Club. During the years following, Belding has aided materially in building up the California Academy of Sciences ornithology collection specimens, especially during the time period when Belding’s friend Walter E Bryant was Curator of Ornithology. Belding’s contributions to the California Academy of Sciences ornithology collection have since been destroyed by the fire following San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. In 1911, the American Ornithologist’s Union named Belding as a Retired Fellow of the AOU. On March 4, 1914, Belding earned the title of Life Member at the California Academy of Sciences. During Belding’s time as an ornithologist, seven species were dedicated to him. Lyman Belding passed away on November 22, 1917. He was 88 years old and at the time, the oldest American ornithologist.

Related materials

UC Berkeley::Bancroft Library: Guide to the C. Hart Merriam Papers Volume 2: Correspondence; Papers Relating to Career With United States Biological Survey, 1798-1972 (bulk 1871-1942) -Incoming letters

Guide to the Joseph Grinnell papers, 1884-1938 -Correspondence

Autry National Center: Finding aid to the Fordyce Grinnell, Jr. Papers MS.202 -Correspondence

UC Berkeley::Museum of Vertebrate Zoology: Museum of Vertebrate Zoology historical correspondence MVZA.MSS.0117 Drawer b -Correspondence

University of the Pacific: Register of the Verna Johnston Collection -pamphlets-- birds
Inventory of the papers of Lyman Belding at the California Academy of Sciences
Yolanda Bustos, processing archivist, and Heather Yager, head librarian
Description rules
Language of description
Processed as part of the "Frontier Science" grant, funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, 2014.

Repository Details

Part of the California Academy of Sciences Archives Repository

55 Music Concourse Drive
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco 94118 U.S.A US