Palmer, Ralph (1914 - 2003)

Genre: Non-Fiction - Scholarly

Ralph Simon Palmer was born in Richmond, Maine. His family later moved to Brunswick, Maine, where Ralph attended school, graduating from high school there in 1932. He entered the University of Maine in 1933, where he majored in zoology and graduated in 1937. His B.A. honors thesis was entitled The Mammals of Maine. He entered Cornell University in 1937, completing a dissertation entitled A Behavior Study of the Common Tern, and receiving a Ph.D. in 1940. He went to Vassar College in 1942 as an instructor in zoology, becoming an assistant professor in 1947. He entered the U.S. Navy in 1943, serving overseas in the Navy’s amphibious forces and returning to the U.S. in 1945. In 1949 he was appointed a senior scientist on the staff of the New York State Museum and State Science Service. There he did zoological research for the Science Service and acted as a clearinghouse for questions on zoology for schools, colleges and other organizations. He also served as zoologist for the State Museum.

Dr. Palmer was the author of several books as well as numerous papers and articles on ornithology and mammalogy. He was also the author and editor of the five-volume Handbook of North American Birds series, the first volume of which was published in 1962.

In 1978, Dr. Palmer was appointed a research associate of the Smithsonian Institution. After his retirement, he moved to Tenants Harbor, Maine, where he continued to work for the Smithsonian part-time. In 1981, he was appointed a faculty associate in zoology and forest resources at the University of Maine in Orono. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Maine at Machias in 1994.

Dr. Palmer was known for the extent and depth of his knowledge and interests, which included birds, mammals, Native Americans, geology, natural history, art and photography. He maintained and indexed a large group of articles on natural history, as well as a collection of rare books on the Maine woods, Native Americans, and 19th century exploring. He also had a meticulously documented mammal collection of approximately 1,700 specimens.

Selected Bibliography

  • The Mammals of Maine (1937)
  • Maine Birds (1949)
  • The Mammal Guide: Mammals of North America North of Mexico (1954)
  • Handbook of North American Birds (1962-)

Selected Resources