William H. Phelps Sr.

William H. Phelps Sr.
William Henry Phelps.jpg
William Henry Phelps at the Isla de Aves in 1954
Born(1875-06-14)June 14, 1875
New York City
DiedDecember 8, 1965(1965-12-08) (aged 90)
Alma materHarvard College
Known for239 new taxa
AwardsBrewster Medal 1955
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorFrank M. Chapman

William Henry Phelps Sr. (June 14, 1875 – December 8, 1965) was an American ornithologist and businessman. One of his sons, William H. Phelps Jr., was also an ornithologist, and collaborated with him. William Phelps was the founder of the William Phelps Ornithological Collection, located in Sabana Grande.[1] This is still the most important private ornithological collection of the world.[1][2][3]

Early life[]

Born in New York City to Dudley F. Phelps, and of Louise Lander Prince Phelps, he attended Milton Academy and Harvard College. In the summer of 1896 he decided to go on a journey of ornithological exploration to Venezuela following the advice of Wirt Robinson, who had visited Margarita Island the year before, and from his mentor Frank M. Chapman. He went to the ports of Puerto Cabello and La Guaira to finally explore a region near Cumaná. After a long stay in the states of Sucre and Monagas, he became fascinated with the country and its birds. In San Antonio de Maturín, he met a family of British settlers, the Tuckers, and felt in love with one of the daughters, Alicia Elvira.

He returned to the United States with a small collection of specimens that he brought to Chapman at the American Museum of Natural History. The specimens he collected became the basis for his first publication published with Chapman in 1897.

Settling in Venezuela[]

Once he finished his studies at Harvard, Phelps returned to Venezuela in 1897, to marry Alicia Elvira Tucker and settle in Maturín. There he began one of many successful business ventures by selling coffee. His first two children, John and William Henry Jr., were born during that time. This second son, William H. Phelps Jr., became one of his foremost collaborators in all matters concerning ornithology. In 1938 he founded the Phelps Collection considered the largest ornithological collection in Latin America and the largest private collection in the world. It is a mandatory study resource on tropical birds for experts who wish to know more about this area. Currently the Phelps Collection has a heritage of 80,000 birds in feathers, a thousand preserved in alcohol and 1,500 skeletons.

William H. Phelps also founded Radio Caracas Radio.


William H. Phelps and his family are commemorated in the scientific name of a species of Venezuelan lizard, Cercosaura phelpsorum.[4]



  1. ^ a b Vuillemier, François (1990). "In Memoriam: William H. Phelps Jr" (PDF). Department of Ornithology, the American Museum of Natural History.
  2. ^ "Nosotros – Colección Ornitológica Phelps". fundacionwhphelps.org (in European Spanish). Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  3. ^ Kirschstein, Marcos; Ramos, José Daniel (January 29, 2018). "El bulevar de Sabana Grande esconde un misterio de ochenta años ". El Nacional. Retrieved May 29, 2018. (in Spanish).
  4. ^ Beolens,Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Phelps", p. 205).

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