Life and work 
MacGillivray was born in Old Aberdeen and brought up on the island of Harris. He returned to Aberdeen where he attended King's College, graduating MA in 1815. He studied medicine, but did not complete the course. In 1823 he became assistant to Robert Jameson, the Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh. He was curator of the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh from 1831, resigning in 1841 to become Professor of Natural History at Marischal College, Aberdeen. He died in Aberdeen and was buried in Edinburgh's New Calton Cemetery.
MacGillivray's eldest son, John MacGillivray (1822-1867), published an account of the voyage round the world of HMS Rattlesnake, to which he was the onboard naturalist. Another son, Paul, published an Aberdeen Flora in 1853, and donated 214 of his father's paintings to the Natural History Museum.
A detailed version of MacGillivray's life, written by a namesake, was published 49 years after the ornithologist's death. online here. The book details his life. MacGillivray is noted for his keen insights in species distinctions; for example, between the Hooded Crow and Carrion Crow, which remained muddled for the next one and a half centuries. Then in 2002, his insights were vindicated by DNA research, and the Hooded Crow was awarded species status.
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MacGillivray's works include:
- Lives of Eminent Zoologists from Aristotle to Linnaeus (1830)
- A Systematic Arrangement of British Plants (1830)
- The Travels and Researches of Alexander von Humboldt. (1832)
- A History of British Quadrupeds (1838)
- A Manual of Botany, Comprising Vegetable Anatomy and Physiology (1840)
- A History of the Molluscous Animals of Aberdeen, Banff and Kincardine (1843)
- A Manual of British Ornithology (1840–1842)
- A History of British Birds, indigenous and migratory, in five volumes (1837-1852)
- Natural History of Deeside and Braemar (1855), published posthumously
MacGillivray illustrated Henry Witham's 1833 The Internal Structure of Fossil Vegetables found in the Carboniferous and Oolitic deposits of Great Britain, and edited The Conchologist's Text-Book through several editions.
See also 
- Waterston, Charles D; Macmillan Shearer, A (July 2006). Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783-2002: Biographical Index I. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ISBN 978-0-902198-84-5. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
- William MacGillivray. 1901
- C. Michael Hogan. 2009
- "Author Query for 'W.MacGill.'". International Plant Names Index.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Macgillivray, William". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Biography at Natural History Museum
- C. Michael Hogan. 2009. Hooded Crow: Corvus cornix, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed, N. Stromberg
- William MacGillivray. 1901. A memorial tribute to William MacGillivray, ornithologist, Edinburgh
- BHL Works by William MacGillivray online
- De Avibus Historiae: MacGillivray by Alberto Masi