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Class Notes May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2
   

Bird Man
Chris Parrish, M.A. ’72, Ph.D. ’74.

   
     


Chris Parrish has an iPod. But you might be surprised at his choice of songs. Bird songs. He has stored more than 20,000 of them.

Parrish’s passion for birds started when he was 11, and started working on his Boy Scout merit badges in a Los Angeles suburb. It took him six months of climbing trees and peering through his grandmother’s old double-magnification opera glasses to identify the 40 bird species required for the badge. It was the beginning of a passion that has shaped much of his life.

Today, Parrish ranks among the world’s top birders. His life list—birders’ version of a trophy cabinet—counts more than 5,000 birds, well over half of the species known to exist today. He has traveled to six continents and contributed to
the definitive book on the birds of Venezuela. But he still keeps his day job as a professor of math and computer science at the University of the South, a small liberal-arts college in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Parrish majored in math in college mainly because it allowed him to finish his degree faster. He then went on to earn his Ph.D. in mathematics at UCSD. Because graduate school left him no time for birding, he pursued his first job in a place where he could see as many birds as possible and taught at the Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas, Venezuela, for 14 years. Venezuela is one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots, with 1,300 bird species and Parrish has seen 1,000 of them.
Parrish’s passion for birds has taken him all over world,
including most of South America, England, the Russian Far East, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, India, Bhutan, Australia and Kenya.

He passed the 5,000 mark two summers ago, during his fourth trip to Brazil. Near the Sao Francisco River, he spotted the crimson-fronted cardinal, a bird known only in a small range of central Brazil. “It is basically black above and white below, with a red crown, red whiskers and bright yellow eye,” he says. “It lives in shrubby areas along a few of the major rivers that go north to the Amazon. Great bird!”

— Laura Barlament

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"Parrish majored in math in college mainly because it allowed him to finish his degree faster. He then went on to earn his Ph.D. in mathematics at UCSD.."