JOSEPH HARVEY RILEY

Photo of Joseph Riley

Joseph was born on September 19, 1873, in Falls Church, Virginia. He had an interest in collecting bird eggs at an early age and his interest in birds brought him to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he met Robert Ridgway, marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

In 1896, he came to the U.S. National Museum on a temporary appointment as an aid to assist in the collection of eggs of North American birds. Although the appointment was brief because of the lack of funds, he was rehired in 1897 and then became a permanent member of the staff in the Division of Birds in 1898. In 1928, he became assistant curator and in 1932 associate curator, a position he held until his death.

His first expedition was in 1900 when he accompanied William Palmer in the collection of birds in Cuba. Joseph assisted Palmer and Paul Bartsch on several collection trips along the Atlantic coast for shorebirds and other species. In 1910, he accompanied Ned Hollister to Canada where they made records of 78 species of birds. The Canadian expedition was his last extended trip, and thereafter, he was assigned to trips in the mideast and southeast of the United States. One iguana species and six subspecies of birds are named for him. He published 116 scientific papers and notes.

Joseph was a large man of athletic form who had a strong interest in hunting and training and handling of bird dogs. He also was interested in trap shooting and was a good clay pigeon shot. Although he was friendly with his colleagues and was involved in long technical discussions, he avoided situations that would call him to speak in public. This diffidence kept him away from dinners and other similar social functions. He belonged to many scientific organizations and also was active for a while in the Masonic Lodge, church, and civic affairs.

Joseph never married and throughout his life he was a resident of his family home in Virginia where he was born except for occasional trips in the field. He died on December 17, 1941, from hypertensive heart disease following a several year period of failing health. His funeral was held in his well-loved house. This kind, friendly man of unfailing courtesy devoted his entire life to the science of ornithology.

Joseph was elected to membership in the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1901, but terminated his membership in 1914 because of the difficulties attendant in reaching the meetings of the Club on Plummers Island from his home in Virginia.