200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 99: “VIREO Beginnings ”

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high speed photograph of a hummingbird
Crawford H. Greenewalt's high-speed photograph of a Black-breasted Plovercrest (Stephanoxis lalandi) as it is about to land on a perch (© C. H. Greenewalt/VIREO).

VIREO Beginnings

The year was 1979, and history was in the making when Crawford H. Greenewalt generously offered his collection of bird photography to the Academy. With its prized shots of birds in flight, Greenewalt’s collection became the starting point for the Academy’s Visual Resources for Ornithology (VIREO), the most comprehensive bird image bank in the world. These 9,000 photos, taken primarily in North and South America, Africa, and the Caribbean, form the nucleus of VIREO, which today provides a centralized and well-curated collection of avian photos for scientific and public use. There are more than 85,000 images in VIREO’s online bird image database, and it’s growing rapidly.

Greenewalt’s high-speed images of hummingbirds were the best of his time. His connections with Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton, a pioneer in multiflash strobe photography, and Victor Hasselblad, the iconic developer of medium format cameras, granted him access to cutting-edge technologies then inaccessible to most photographers. Greenewalt worked directly with these experts to develop the innovative equipment he needed to take stop-action motion shots, freezing one instant of movement in time. His techniques were so good that he was even able to capture ever-moving hummingbirds. From their home in VIREO, these remarkable images have been accessed for use in books, magazines, field guides, and other important works.

See some of Greenewalt’s photos, and view other beautiful images from our VIREO collection.

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