Edward Blyth was one of the most highly regarded ornithologists of his generation and species named in his honour include Blyth’s Kingfisher, Blyth’s Hawk Eagle, and Blyth’s Tragopan as well as Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Blyth’s Pipit.
Blyth attended school in London and left at the age of fifteen having shown a disposition to explore the local wildlife during his school years. It had been hoped that he would attend university and eventually move into the church. His passion for natural history continued.
On coming of age and gaining an inheritance, Blyth bought a Druggists business, but continued his interests in natural history and supplemented his incoming by writing articles for publications and papers for scientific journals. His subjects ranged from Habits of the Bearded Tit, The Predaceous Habits of the Shrike, to Observations on the Cuckoo and The Occurrence of the Carrion Crow in Ireland. Another project of Blyth’s was to add notations to an 1836 edition of Gilbert White’s Selbourne.
Blyth’s druggist business inevitably failed and for a time he acted as Curator for the Ornithological Society of London. Due to poor health he was advised to seek a warmer climate abroad and when he was offered the position of Curator of the Museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal he accepted this and arrived in Calcutta in September 1841. He devoted the next twenty years to the natural history of British India, improving the museum and updating the catalogues. His poor health restricted his fieldwork although this did include one visit to Burma. He received specimens from the likes of Allan Octavian Hume and Robert Swinhoe who sent skins from Formosa and China.
Blyth’s Reed Warbler was first described by Blyth as Acrocephalus dumetorum and Henry Dresser added the current vernacular name in 1876. Blyth was also the first to describe Blyth’s Pipit, but the scientific name he gave it is no longer accepted.
When he returned to England papers by him continued to appear in the Annuls and Magazine of Natural History, The Zoologist and The Ibis and other works included the Natural History of Cranes. In 1860 he became one of the original Honorary Members of the B.O.U.
During his time in India Blyth corresponded with Charles Darwin. Although not well acknowledged, Blyth may have played at least some part in influencing many of Darwin’s ideas and it could well have been Blyth who warned Darwin of Wallace’s similar ideas on evolution.