Douglas Arthur James (1925–2018)

Douglas Arthur James served as a professor of biological sciences at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) from 1953 to 2016. He was considered the authority of the birds of Arkansas, co-authoring Arkansas Birds with Joseph C. Neal in 1986, and became one of the state’s leading conservationists in the second half of the last century, helping to start the Arkansas Audubon Society in 1955 and the Arkansas Audubon Society Trust in 1972. He arranged the first meeting of what would become the Ozark Society, which was responsible for saving the Buffalo River from damming. Starting with studies of scrubland birds in northwestern Arkansas, James expanded to studying scrubland birds in Africa, Nepal, and Belize. He was one of the few people to have been given three Fulbright International Scholars awards. He also spent the spring of 1995 as a visiting scholar at Cambridge University in England.

Douglas A. James was born on July 25, 1925, in Detroit, Michigan. He was the first of two children of Sigrid and Arthur James. He attended the University of Michigan, receiving a BS in 1946 and an MS in 1947. At the University of Illinois, studying under the famous avian physiologist and ecologist S. C. Kendeigh, he completed a doctoral degree in 1957 on the ecology of roosting blackbirds.

In 1953, he was offered a position as the first ornithologist at UA by Samuel Dellinger, who at the time was head of the Department of Zoology. Prior to that, ornithology was taught at UA by William Baerg, a professor in the Department of Entomology. As James’s last ornithology class was taught in the spring of 2015, the course was taught for nearly ninety years by just two professors.

Although not drafted during World War II because he failed the physical at the onset of the war, James was drafted into the Korean War on limited service upon arriving in Fayetteville in 1953. On a research grant with the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, he was assigned to the Biological Warfare Unit at the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), where he and his first wife, Frances, conducted studies of fall and spring bird migration in their spare time.

In 1955, James and his wife helped form the Arkansas Audubon Society. He helped with writing the bylaws of the society, organized the first fall meeting, became the first newsletter editor, and initiated several of the annual awards bestowed by the society. In 1972, James helped form the Arkansas Audubon Society Trust with the intention of funding avian research and conservation projects within Arkansas. One trust award was named the Douglas James Award, given annually to a project involving birds. James was also the first curator of bird records for the Arkansas Audubon Society. While he was curator, he helped accumulate more than 30,000 bird records for Arkansas, which became the foundation for the book Arkansas Birds.

He and Frances had three children. After they divorced, James married Elizabeth Adam, who became an indispensable help in his field of research.

During his career at UA, James gave over 300 presentations at various meetings of scientific organizations. He mentored eighty-three graduate students—fifty-three master’s and thirty doctoral students. A historical plaque placed outside the science-engineering building on the university campus notes the accomplishments in statistical ecology of James’s lab and students. James published a total of 114 scientific articles and received seventy-seven research grants from local and national agencies during his career. James filled nearly 150 field notebooks based on his research and travels: 106 from North America (mostly Arkansas), twenty-four from Central and South America, eight from Asia, seven from Africa, and four from Europe. He always told his students, “If you didn’t record it, it never existed.”

In 2002, James received the prestigious Charles and Nadine Baum Teaching Award, the highest award given by the University of Arkansas to a faculty member for teaching. In 2004, James was the first faculty member in his department to receive the special appointment University Professor of Biological Sciences. He also received several lifetime achievement awards, including the W. Frank Blair Eminent Naturalist Award (2006) from the Southwestern Association of Naturalists, which recognizes excellence in a lifetime of commitment to outstanding study or conservation of the flora or fauna of the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America; and the William and Nancy Klamm Service Award (2014) from the Wilson Ornithological Society, which honors the history of service and dedication to the society. He received fourteen awards for his excellence in teaching and research from various entities both local and nationwide, as well as an international teaching award. In 2018, the Ozark Society honored James with the Neil Compton Award.

When he retired in 2016, he had been at UA for sixty-four years and was widely known for his sense of humor and his dismay at the rise of grade inflation—he often told his classes that he finished his BS degree with a 2.9 grade-point average but still led the graduation march. James was also an avid runner for most of his life, having run ten marathons.

James died on December 17, 2018. He was cremated.

For additional information:
Morris, S. R. “William and Nancy Klamm Service Award for 2014: Douglas A. James.” Wilson Journal of Ornithology 126 (2014): 782–783.

Mosby, J. “The Birdman of Arkansas.” Arkansas Wildlife 44 (2013): 13–15.

Kannan, Ragupathy, and Joseph C. Neal.  “In Memoriam: Douglas A. James, 1925–2018.” Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science 73 (2019): 180–182. Online at (accessed June 16, 2020).

Ragupathy Kannan
University of Arkansas at Fort Smith

Kimberly G. Smith
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


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