WALDO LEE MCATEE

Photo of Waldo Mcatee

Mac was born on January 21, 1883, in Japala, Indiana. He attended the University of Indiana and received an AM in biology in 1904. His entire professional career from 1904 to 1947 was with the Bureau of Biological Survey of the US Department of Agriculture and its successor agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of Interior. In 1935, he created an abstracting service for scientific publications which was called the Wildlife Review. He served as the editor for 12 years from 1935 to 1947.

Mac’s greatest contribution was in the research of the food habits of birds and mammals. He developed the Division of Food Habits Research within the Biological Survey and served as its first director. His extensive knowledge of the food of birds led to many publications (over 750), including critiques of protective coloration and certain Darwinian theories. He was also interested in folklore and nature lore and published articles in this area of study, especially in regard to the various folk names of birds.

Mac’s interest in folk names and myths in natural history was focused to a great extent on the ribald and prurient. He published an amazing paper, Nomina Abitera, that specifically records and discusses the application of "dirty words" in mapping and the scientific literature. As a consequence, most of his investigations in this area were, of necessity, privately published. Much of this literature is extremely humorous, although with a decided aura of scholarship as well. His critiques of Darwinian principles were penetrating, but for the times decidedly iconoclastic and very much out of step with the then-emerging "modern synthesis" so that he was, and probably still is, studiously ignored. His papers are in the archives at University of North Carolina and would doubtless make very interesting reading.

Mac was active in the American Ornithologists’ Union and served as its treasurer for many years. He was instrumental in the creation of The Wildlife Society and in the establishment of the Journal of Wildlife Management, serving as its initial editor. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He conducted a significant amount of research directed toward the biota of Plummers Island and the Washington, D.C., area. His A sketch of the Natural History of the District of Columbia, published in 1918, is a classic 142-page publication of regional significance. In addition, he published on the Plummers Island fishes, Cercopidae, Cicadidae, Dermapera, Diptera, Membracidae, and Orthoptera.

Mac received the Distinguished Service Award with gold medal from the Department of Interior for his many scientific accomplishments. In 1963, his alma mater honored him with an honorary Doctor of Science degree for his scientific accomplishments.

He was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1905 and was awarded an honorary membership in 1960.

Mac was married to Fannie and had a son and daughter. He retired in 1947 and lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for many years of active retirement. He died on January 7, 1962, of inoperable cancer of the stomach.