Contacts with German Ornithologists

As a high school student in 1922, Mayr became a member of the Saxony Ornithologists' Association in Dresden and, as a medical student in 1923, he joined the German Ornithological Society. Ever since that time he has been an ardent reader of the Journal für Ornithologie. His dissertation on the "Range expansion of the Serin finch" appeared in this journal in 1926 as well as several other studies during later decades. He was named Honorary Fellow of the German Ornithological Society after publishing his List of New Guinea Birds (1941f) at a rather inopportune time during World War II. Whenever feasible, he attended the meetings of German ornithological societies. In mid-September 1934 he lectured on "Ornithology in the USA" at the meeting of the Saxony Ornithologists' Association (where he also demonstrated examples of Albert Brand's birdsong records11) and, in the summer of 1953, he attended the meeting of the German society in Cologne reporting on the Zoological Congress in Copenhagen.

11 Albert R. Brand (1889-1940), Research Associate at the AMNH 1933-1936, was a pioneer in recording the calls and songs of North American birds (see Auk 58:444-448,1941 and Living Bird 1:37-48, 1962); Fig. 3.9.

Throughout his career Mayr has been interested, and to some extent remained involved, in the affairs of German ornithology. In a letter to Stresemann dated May 25,1934 he referred to minor competitive animosities in Berlin and Munich suggesting several remedies to settle these differences. When he visited southern Germany in 1938, he proposed a field station at Radolfzell (Mettnau) to study not only bird migration but also avian ecology and general biology (letter of July 9,1938). He corresponded regularly with his fatherly friends R. Zimmermann, G. Schiermann and R. Heyder as well as Oscar Neumann, his co-student W. Meise and others.

World War II ended in Europe in May 1945. The postwar relief programs for relatives and fellow ornithologists in Germany occupied the Mayrs for several years. One program was organized in the Tenafly area where they lived. Families of German descent pooled their energies and resources, packing and mailing innumerable packages with clothing, shoes and food. The wives were the heroes at that time. Many families depleted their savings accounts. The second task was the great relief program of the American Ornithologists' Union. By late 1946 Mrs. F. Hamerstrom, Mrs. M. M. Nice, Joseph Hickey, Ernst Mayr and others had been very active arousing the interest of American ornithologists and, due to their energy, nearly fifty C.A.R.E. packages were sent to German ornithologists (CARE was the "Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe"). Gretel Mayr was active as a mediator and in translating handwritten letters. Until May 1947, more than 100 food packages and an equal number of clothing packages had been mailed. Mayr reported to Stresemann:

"The relief program of the American Ornithologists' Union is making good progress. Packages with clothes as well as food and C.A.R.E. packages are being sent every day" (31 March 1947) and "The enthusiasm of Mrs. Hamerstrom and the other members of the committee is the finest experience I have had in recent years. It really gives you hope for a better world" (15 April 1947).

When Rudolf Drost at Göttingen needed a dark suit as a lecturer, Mayr sent him his only dark suit. The American Relief Committee for German ornithologists continued to operate until about mid-1949. Over 3,000 packages had been sent by over 1,000 American donors to European ornithologists in 15 countries. The readiness of American people to help Europeans after the war was extraordinary. Some details of this relief work and a formal "Thank you" are published in the Journal für Ornithologie 133:455-456,1992.

Because of the complex political situation in Berlin after the end of World War II (where the German Ornithological Society, DOG, was legally registered), a group of its representatives founded another society, the Society of German Ornithologists (Deutsche Ornithologen-Gesellschaft, DO-G), in West Germany in late 1949. This DO-G carried on the tradition of the old (dormant) DOG until the latter ceased to exist, when it was fused legally with the DO-G in 2006.

When after a pause of 6 years the Journal für Ornithologie had started to appear again in 1951, Mayr suggested to E. Stresemann "that the German Ornithological Society should make more of an effort to get foreign subscribers" (20 March 1952) and included a rough draft of a letter to be sent to 30-50 North American ornithologists. During his regular visits to Germany he met, besides Stresemann, with many colleagues, especially Gustav Kramer (1910-1959) and Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) who also visited him in the United States, with Fritz Frank (19141988), Günther Niethammer (1908-1974) and Klaus Immelmann (1935-1987). Immelmann had participated in an expedition with Mayr to the interior of Australia which Dom Serventyhad organized in 1959 and Immelmann's interests in ethology were close to Mayr's. When the DO-G held its 100th annual meeting in Bonn in 1988, Ernst Mayr attended as the keynote speaker.

Mayr also established close ties with the German Zoological Society, the German Society for the Theory and History of Biology, and the German Society for Biological Systematics all of which elected him as an Honorary Member.

The July issue of the Journal of Ornithology for 2004 was dedicated to Ernst Mayr on the occasion of his 100th birthday which he enjoyed greatly: "What is particularly impressive is the range of interests of the contributors and the large number of new findings. German ornithology is obviously very much alive [...] A good omen for the future!"

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