June 14, 2004 by

Alexander Skutch


Categories: Scientists

Alexander F. Skutch devoted his life to birdwatching.
After earning a doctorate in botany from Johns Hopkins University, the Baltimore native sailed to Panama to work for the United Fruit Company. He spent two years in Guatemala studying birds and collecting plants, then moved to Costa Rica to pursue a career in ornithology research.
In 1941, he purchased 178 acres of tropical rain forest in Costa Rica and built a farm called Finca Los Cusingos. For more than six decades, Skutch lived in a house he built himself, gazed at the birds that nested in the rain forest and penned more than two dozen books.
Skutch filled his avian texts with histories and personal observations of neotropical birds. He also shared his experiences with deforestation, revolution and natural disasters. His greatest accomplishment was the discovery of brown jays exhibiting “cooperative brooding,” a phenomenon where several adult birds will join forces to raise nesting chicks.
Skutch’s farm later became the Los Cusingos Neotropical Bird Sanctuary, a public nature preserve. In 1998, the National Aviary in Pittsburgh sponsored the “Alexander Skutch Exhibit” to honor the dedicated bird enthusiast. His life was also the subject of a documentary titled “A Naturalist in the Rainforest.”
Skutch died on May 12. Cause of death was not released. He was 99.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

4 Responses to Alexander Skutch

  1. Dr. Tom Marshall

    I had the chance to share cookies and conversation with Dr. Skutch a few years ago. Through the help of Dr. Jorge Marino Protti-Quesada of UNA in Heredia, I got the great naturalist’s attention with a gift of cookies after his mid-day siesta. We spent a happy hour on the veranda of his home talking about what it had been like to live through the twentieth century’s developments in Costa Rica with an eye on nature. I found him full of life and joyfully surrounded by the creatures he loved and knew so well. He was gently ebullient and vigorous even in his mid-nineties. I am sorry not to have visited him again, but I will carry his spirit with me in my own walks and writings wherever I go in work or for pleasure. I will certainly remember Dr. Skutch most fondly in his happily adopted nation of Costa Rica. That nation and all of us who cherish its life together owe Alexander F. Skutch a deep debt of gratitude.
    Dr. Tom Marshall
    Cabrillo College
    Aptos, CA, USA

  2. Susan Walter

    I consider myself most fortunate to have discovered the work and writings of Dr. Skutch, via internet exploration. After securing and reading a few of his books, I found a way to send him a note of thanks and appreciation just prior to his 99th birthday. I harbored, too, a hope that I might travel to Costa Rica and visit with him before his death. He leaves to those of us who cherish the natural world, a gift of extraordinary beauty in his nature preserve and his writings. Few manage to meld the keen sense of wonder and minute detail he shared with his readers. I am always struck by how much of his soul found its way to his pages , and am deeply grateful for his many gifts.

  3. Bob Berman

    I came across some photos I took of Dr Skutch and his wife visiting with our tourguide(Dr Nancy Greig,who now is the curator of the Cockrell Butterfly Center in Houston) from the Houston Museum of Natural Science. We spent a wonderful afternoon with Dr Skutch, he was more than willing to share his knowledge and understanding of the forest with us. This was about 10 years ago. I have several of his books, and just read parts of them again tonight. I didn’t realize he had passed away, I will remember him, and treasure the photos and the books. BB

  4. David Lundborg

    I visited Dr. & Mrs. Skutch on their farm in 1979 during an after college trip. He took me down a path to his banana trees amid much rustling in the canopy. When I questioned him about it, he had us stop. Several white-faced monkeys dropped down to lower, visible tree limbs out of curiousity. Dr. Skutch knew them well. They couldn’t hear us moving, so they just had to see where we were.
    I experienced with wonder the life he lived, and for that one afternoon was transfixed by thought of dreams that do become reality. Today I wondered what became of him. I am so very thankgul to have known this kind man and his wonderfully thoughtful wife.

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