I wonder how many of those chasing after the Cretzschmar's Bunting on Bardsey Island last week had any knowledge of the man that the bird is named after?
Cretzschmar was born on 11th June 1786 in Sulzbach (Germany). As a youngster he showed a keen interest in natural history and the exploration of the surrounding countryside. He kept and tamed animals and started his own zoological collection. At eighteen he was studying in Wurzburg (incidentally a city very heavily bombed by the Allies during World War Two, but rebuilt and a city I have only been able to view and photograph from a distance from the autobahn). Cretzschmar moved to Halle to study medicine, but because of the Napoleonic Wars he returned to Wurzburg in 1807, where he finally obtained his medical degree. He entered medical practice in Frankfurt, but was recruited by the French army and served in military hospitals, and after serving in military hospitals in Germany he performed surgical work in Vienna, Paris and Spain. Eventually returning to Wurzburg he studied obstetrics and then moved to Frankfurt where he took up medicine again and later a teaching post in anatomy and later zoology at the Senckenberg Medical Institute.
Cretzschmar was one of the founders of the Senckenberg Natural History Society in 1817 and presided over it for the next twenty-eight years until his death in Frankfurt in 1845. During this time he had worked hard to augment its collections. Another founder member of the society was Eduard Ruppell, and it was he who contributed many of the society’s early exotic specimens. The two men initially worked closely together, but Ruppell later disassociated himself from the society after disharmony between the two men.
The Atlas of Ruppell’s Travels in Northern Africa 1826-30 contained a forward by Cretzschmar. The ornithological section of this work contains descriptions of more than thirty of Ruppell’s newly discovered birds, including Meyer’s Parrot, Nubian Bustard, Goliath Heron, Scrub Warbler and a grey and rufus bunting that now commemorates the name of Cretzschmar. The type specimen of Cretzschmar’s Bunting was a wintering bird obtained in the region of the Kurgos Islands on the Nile, just south of Khartoum. Cretzschmar had speculated that the breeding grounds for this bird would be found in Ethiopia, but he was wrong as the bird breeds in the area of Greece and Turkey. The descriptions of the birds in Ruppell’s Atlas were the most significant ornithological writings from Crezschmar and were written whilst Ruppel was still in Africa and it is thought that they were the initial reason for disharmony between the two men.
The Cretzschmar medal is still awarded to deserving naturalists by the Senckenberg Foundation in Frankfurt.