Oölogists & Nidologists
Collecting bird skins and especially eggs became a popular hobby in the late-19th century. Comprised mostly of men and boys, these collectors amassed, bought, sold, and traded eggs like other collectibles. Egg collectors were commonly referred to as oölogists, a person who studies eggs. Those who had a broader interest that included nests were known as nidologists.
Buying and Selling
The hobby grew in popularity, in large part, because it was easy to do. It took little skill to find nests and collect the eggs of the most common birds. The collections were often displayed at home in specially designed cases. Sophisticated collections included nests and the corresponding stuffed parents. The hobby also became a lucrative business for some collectors who sold their specimens to museums and wealthy patrons. Adventurous individuals could make a nice profit if they were willing to climb tall trees or scale cliffs to collect eggs from rare or hard-to-get species. But by the early-20th century, a change in public opinion and recent federal wildlife protection laws put an end to the collecting hobby.
Egg collecting often blurred the line between the amateur and professional. Museums depended on amateurs for specimens, and many professional ornithologists had discovered an interest in birds at a young age by collecting eggs. Charles Bendire—a career army officer and founding member of the American Ornithologists’ Union— straddled both worlds. He amassed a private collection of 8,000 eggs during his military travels and later donated his collection to the Smithsonian Institution.