Salim Mohiyuddi Abdul Ali, renowned ornithologist from India

(1896 -1987)

As boy he used to visit the Bombay Natural History Society almost every day. These visits taught him how to identify each bird and how to stuff a dead one and keep it. His keenness in these impressed W.S. Millard, the secretary of the society. These contacts developed the boy into what was later known as the 'Birdman of India'. And he was Dr. Salim Mohiyuddi Abdul Ali, known widely as Salim Ali, who authored invaluable books on birds and was honoured by nation with some of its most covetable awards like the Padmabhushan (1958) and Padmavibhushan (1976). His services were recognized internationally too. He was made a national professor of ornithology in 1982. His books include 'The Book of Indian Birds' (1941) considered the 'Bible' of ornithologists, 'The Birds of Kutch' (1945), 'The Birds of Travancore and Cochin(1953)', The Indian Hillbirds' (1949), 'a Handbook of Birds of India and Pakistan', which he authored jointly with Dr. S. Dillon Rippy, and his famous autobiography – 'The Fall of a Sparrow'. The contributions inculcated a new awareness about the world of the winged creatures of nature, and popularized the science of Ornithology.

Born in 1896, he lost his parents early in life. He began as a guide in the Natural History wing of the Prince of Wales Museum of Bombay. He got trained in ornithology under Professor Stressmann in Germany in 1929-30. Returning to India he traveled all over the country, watching birds, and surveying and studying them at close quarters. He faced numerous difficulties and suffered a lot and sacrificed possible material comforts that a life in Bombay could offer, but he considered all this his offerings to Mother Nature. His wife Tehmina shared his interests and stood by him throughout her life.

After India became free, he took over the administrative charge of the 200-year-old Bombay Natural History society, and the editorship of its journal. It was Salim Ali's timely intervention that saved the fund-starved society as well as setting up the bird sanctuary of Bharatpur and the Silent Valley National Park of Kerala. A great soul, dedicated to the birds, breathed his last on June 20, 1987. He was 91.