William Homan Thorpe

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Mr and Mrs J.P. Niven of the South African Ornithological Society with Dr W.H. Thorpe (right) during the XII Ornithological Congress in Finland, Otaniemi, June 7, 1958

William Homan Thorpe FRS[1] (1 April 1902 – 7 April 1986) was Professor of Animal Ethology at the University of Cambridge, and a significant British zoologist, ethologist and ornithologist.[2] Together with Nikolaas Tinbergen, Patrick Bateson and Robert Hinde, Thorpe contributed to the growth and acceptance of behavioural biology in Great Britain.

Areas of interest[edit]

Bird song[edit]

In the 1940s, he pioneered the use of sound spectrography for the detailed analysis of bird song. At the time, there was only a single apparatus in the UK.


He was a member of the advisory committee to the Anti-Concorde Project.


He was elected to the Royal Society in 1951[1] and speaker at the Gifford lectures from 1969 to 1971. He was president of the British Ornithologists' Union from 1955 to 1960.


  1. ^ a b Hinde, R. A. (1987). "William Homan Thorpe. 1 April 1902-7 April 1986". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 33: 620–639. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1987.0022. JSTOR 769965. PMID 11621438. 
  2. ^ Alan Costall, ‘Thorpe, William Homan (1902–1986)’ "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/60992. 


  • Learning and Instinct in Animals (1956) Methuen, London ISBN 0-416-57920-5
  • Biology,psychology,and belief (Arthur Stanley Eddington memorial lectures) (1960)
  • Bird-Song. The biology of vocal communication and expression in birds, University Press, Cambridge 1961, (Cambridge monographs in experimental biology; Vol. 12)
  • Biology and Nature of Man (Riddell Memorial Lecture) (1962)
  • Duetting and antiphonal song in birds. Its extent and significance, Brill, Leiden 1972, ISBN 90-04-03432-3 (Behaviour / Supplements; Vol. 18)
  • Quakers and Humanists (Swarthmore Lectures) (1968)
  • Animal Nature and Human Nature (1975)
  • Science, Man and Morals. Based upon the Freemantle lectures, delivered in Balliol College, Oxford, Trinity term 1963, Greenwood, Westport, Conn. 1976, ISBN 0-8371-8143-7
  • Purpose in a World of Chance: A Biologist's View (1978)
  • The origins and rise of ethology. The science of the natural behaviour of animals, Heinemann, London 1979, ISBN 0-435-62441-5

External links[edit]

  • Metzmacher, M. 2016. L'apprentissage du chant chez le Pinson des arbres (Fringilla coelebs) : une réévaluation des conclusions de Thorpe Alauda, 84 : 237-239.