Brian Houghton Hodgson and birds

Brian Houghton Hodgson's work on birds is his major achievement in zoology. He collected 9,512 specimens representing 672 bird species, 124 of being new science. Hodgson is credited with first descriptions of 80 bird species, while the rest are attributed to others who described species based on Hodgson's specimens; mainly the Gray brothers, John Gould and Edward Blyth.

As a result of his achievements, Hodgson's name is celebrated in the scientific names and common names of birds, and there is even a genus Hodgsonius.

His bird collections represent 3/4 of Nepal's total species, with his field descriptions being of particular use and interest as he was one of the first people to record such detail. With birds he recorded behaviour and distribution as well as anatomy, meaning that the manuscripts and drawings are relevant today in providing information to compare the current distributions and monitor how these may have changed. Similarly, his manuscripts contain information about the type specimens for these new species, some of these details are unpublished making the information contained incredibly useful. The type specimens are those on which the species description is based.

Our library's top 6 Hodgson bird drawings

Hodgson birds GIF

Additional information about the bird volumes

Dr David Lowther of the University of Durham is our Visiting Scholar. He had an open access paper published about Brian Houghton Hodgson in the Archives of Natural History – Patron’s review : The art of classification : Brian Houghton Hodgson and the “Zoology of Nipal” David A. Lowther Archives of Natural History 46.1 (2019) pp. 1-23 He has analysed Hodgson's collection of ornithology paintings and his work in the identification and classification of Nepalese birds, as part of his research into the development of zoology in Britain c.1820-1850. He is also working on an article about some Himalayan Mastiff's.

Shyamal Lakshminarayanan visited ZSL Library in the Summer of 2014 and has written about the bird manuscripts in his blog. In his helpful comments and insights he has identified some of the languages used.

A red list of the birds of Nepal was launched at ZSL's Symposium in February 2016.

Carol Inskipp (author of A Himalayan ornithologist: the life and works of Brian Houghton Hodgson) copied all the Hodgson notes in English on the drawings of birds and mammals in the 1980s. With the help of Carol Inskipp, ZSL has transcribed these into electronic format: 

These can be used as a finding aid to consulting the manuscripts. The bird manuscripts have been repaired with funding from the Charles Hayward Foundation and will soon be scanned so that they can be accessed around the world via our online catalogue.

Edward Dickinson was appointed as Honorary Visiting Scholar in 2006-2008 to study the manuscripts in relation to bird identification and taxonomy. He was hoping to identify the 'type specimens', (i.e. the first specimens on which the species description is based) and to compile a list of species. Although he did not manage to complete this project, he has published several papers about the works in Zoologische Mededelingen as part of a series on Asian birds. His paper specifically about Hodgson is: Systematic notes on Asian birds. 52. An introduction to the bird collections of Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894) Zoologischen Mededlingen, 2006, 80-5, pp. 126-136. 

The birds drawings were listed in 1930 by G. Carmichael Low in A classification of the original watercolour paintings of birds of India by B.H. Hodgson, S.R. Tickell, and C.F. Sharpe in the Library of the Zoological Society of London and published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London.

Information for this page has been obtained from: A pioneer of Himalyan ornithology by Carol Inskipp  pp. 172-188  in The origins of Himalayan studies: Brian Houghton Hodgson in Nepal and Darjeeling 1820-1858 / edited by David M. Waterhouse, London: Routledge Curzon, 2004. (Royal Asiatic Society Books) The author lists the bird species discovered by Hodgson.

ZSL Library Volunteer Roberta Davies has transcribed the English text for three of the bird species studied by Hodgson :-

Rufous-necked Hornbill, Aceros nipalensis PDF icon Hodgson Vol 2 extract (1.11 MB)

White-bellied Redstart, Hodgsonius phoenicuroides PDF icon Extract of Hodgson Vol 3 (717.07 KB)

Bengal florican, Houbaropsis bengalensis PDF icon Hodgson extract Vol 6 (4.44 MB)

Hodgson manuscripts

If you'd like to view mammal and bird volumes of the Hogdson manuscripts in person, simply arrange an appointment with library staff to see these exciting materials.

Alternatively, you can download volume 1 and 2 of Hodgson's mammal manuscripts from the ZSL library catalogue online.

Hodgson's hidden gems

‘Further Illustrations of the Antilope Hodgsonii, Abel’ and ‘Description of the Wild Dog of Nepal’, Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1833, vol 1, pp. 110-112


The first of these papers adds to Hodgson’s earlier observations about the anatomy, morphology and taxonomy of the Chiru antelope, Antilope Hodgsonii,and the second paper provides a description of the wild dog of Nepal,Canis primaevus, locally named Búánsú, including its appearance, morphology and behaviour.