Margaret Morse Nice

Nice, Margaret Morse (1883-1974), an American ornithologist, became one of the world's foremost bird behaviorists by adapting the techniques of psychology to the study of bird behavior.

One of seven children of a professor of history at Amherst College, Nice grew up in an intellectual, rural environment, where she became interested in birds during her girlhood. A 1906 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she pursued graduate work in biology at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts. There she met and married a fellow graduate student, Leonard Blaine Nice. Although in 1911 she moved to the Boston area, where her husband earned his M.D. degree at Harvard Medical School, and in 1913 to Norman, Oklahoma, where he headed the University of Oklahoma's physiology department, Nice completed an A.M. degree in psychology at Clark (1915). Even after starting a family, which eventually comprised five daughters, Nice published the results of her research, both ornithological and psychological. Together with her husband, she wrote the first complete study of the birds of Oklahoma (1924).

When her husband joined the faculty of Ohio State University, Nice began her most important work. Using colored bands to identify individual song sparrows by name and number, Nice was able to track their behavior and outline their life history in greater detail than had ever before been attempted. Her two-part Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow (1937, 1943) established her reputation as an extraordinary scholar.

There were fewer opportunities to observe and collect data about birds in Chicago, where the Nices moved in 1936 when Leonard Nice was appointed to the faculty of the Chicago Medical School. Using data from earlier observations, however, Margaret continued to publish for the next 30 years, although illness sometimes curtailed her activities. She also spoke out about ecological issues, remained involved in ornithological and conservation organizations, and published reviews of European research of interest to bird lovers.