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From the Stacks 

August 23, 2010

Darwin’s Finches

Robert I. Bowman was an ornithologist whose research focus was the Galapagos Islands including the evolution of song in Darwin’s Finches. He was a Biology Professor at San Francisco State and had a close association with the Academy since 1948. He was a Research Associate, Associate Editor of Pacific Discovery, a Fellow, and Board Member. He was also a founding member of the Executive Committee of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Isles.

Tool using finch.

Cactospiza pallida: Tool using finch in studio. Robert I. Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

I recently accessioned a portion of the Robert I. Bowman papers which includes his field notes, correspondence, reprints, Galapagos photographs and slides, and Galapagos aerial photographs from 1946 and 1964. We also received his son Carl A. Bowman’s Galapagos slides and his wife Margret’s scientific illustrations.   I am still working with the Bowman family to prepare a second accession of additional materials including film.

We are still arranging and describing the materials that we have accessioned and plan to publish a finding aid to the collection once it is all accessioned and processed. However, as soon as word spread about our new collection we started to get requests to view and use the material before it was even processed. We have digitized Margret’s beautiful illustrations of Galapagos finch skulls  and several of Dr. Bowman’s finch slides have been digitized and will be used in videos for the revised Galapagos Finch exhibit on the public floor.

Certhidea skull. 1961.

Certhidea skull, 1961. Margret Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

Margret’s finch skulls from “Morphological Differentiation and Adaptation in the Galapagos Finches” will be used to update our Islands of Evolution exhibit.

Cactospiza skull. 1961.

Cactospiza skull, 1961. Margret Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

Note the different shapes of the beaks.

G maqnirostris skull. 1961.

G maqnirostris skull, 1961. Margret Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

Galapagos finch on cactus.

Galapagos finch on cactus. Robert I. Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

Recording environmental sounds in the Galapagos.

Recording environmental sounds in the Galapagos. Robert I. Bowman © California Academy of Sciences.

- Danielle Castronovo

Archives & Digital Collections Librarian

Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 10:59 am


  1. Hi,

    For scientific reasons I am looking for recordings of Darwin’s tree finches (small, medium and large) made by Robert Bowman. Do you have this recordings? Or who else?
    Is it possible to get them

    Yours faithfully

    Erwin Nemeth
    Max Planck Institute of Ornithology

    Comment by Erwin Nemeth — March 25, 2011 @ 7:05 am

  2. Hi Erwin,

    I checked with Paul Bowman about the tapes and this is what he had to say:

    “All of Bob’s original Galapagos sound recordings are now archived in
    the Cornell’s Macaulay Library of sound recordings, by the Department of

    Bob did this almost 20 years ago, before the tapes physically
    deteriorated. Much of the Macaulay Library’s recordings
    are now in digital form, many available on-line.”

    Here is their web site. I would contact them about your request.


    Comment by Archives & Special Collections — April 22, 2011 @ 11:50 am

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