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José Zeledon

Costa Rican Ornithologist
Wrenthrush (Zeledonia coronata), Ibis, ser.8, v.5 | Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Did you know that… ?
  • … the family Zeledonidae was named after Jose Zeledon?
  • … Robert Ridgway dedicated his Color Standards and Nomenclature to Zeledon and named six birds after his friend?
  • … although his body was embalmed after dying in Italy, Zeledon couldn’t be transported to Costa Rica until much later due to the warm weather?
  • … he kept a large aviary in his home?
  • … although he discovered and collected many new species, he only named three of them himself? They were Aramides plumbeicollis, Carpodectes antoniae, and Cotinga ridgwayi.
Fasciated Antshrike (Cymbilaimus lineatus fasciatus) collected by Zeledon | Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
  • 1846 – March 24 – Born near San José, Costa Rica
  • 1866 – April – First career collecting trip in Cervantes, Costa Rica
  • 1867 – November – Collects in Las Cruces de Candelária, Costa Rica
  • 1868 – June – Alexander von Frantzius moves back to Germany, and invites Zeledon to go with him. Zeledon decides to stay in Washington, DC instead.
  • 1872 – December – Returns to Costa Rica as zoologist on William Gabb’s expedition to Talamanca, Costa Rica
  • 1882 – Publishes Documentos para la Historia de Costa Rica with Leon Fernandez. It documented 700 bird species, 40 of which were collected by Zeledon.
  • 1885 – Returns to Washington, DC and publishes in the Proceedings of the National Museum
  • 1886 – Permanently returns to Costa Rica and he becomes a founding member for the National Museum of Costa Rica
  • 1895 – Marries Amaro Lopez Calleja
  • 1923 – July – Dies while in Turin, Italy

Costa Rican ornithologist Jose Zeledon was a man who saw ornithology as something to be dug into and explored until he gained as much knowledge about it as possible. Although his parents tried to give him the best possible education for the time period, he had to leave school and begin working as a pharmacy clerk at the age of 16. The pharmacy was owned by Dr. Alexander von Frantzius, a German naturalist and illustrator who moved to Costa Rica in 1854. In von Frantzius, Zeledon found a friend and mentor who would show him the proper way to collect specimens. In 1868, von Frantzius took Zeledon with him on his return to Germany; however, a stop-over in Washington, DC convinced Zeledon to remain in the city in order to work with the Smithsonian Institution. A thorough and enthusiastic naturalist, Zeledon was known as a kind and open-hearted man, well-liked by friends and colleagues. At the start of his career, the birds of Costa Rica were still mostly unknown, but his work greatly changed that. And although the last few years of his life were dedicated to running the pharmacy he’d inherited from von Frantzius, he never left behind his passion for Costa Rica’s birds, traveling to Washington, DC and serving as a friend and mentor to scientists visiting Costa Rica when he could spare the time.