Carl Welty, 1901-1986

The Life of Birds | Carl WeltyAn internationally known expert on ornithology, one would have to look to John Audubon or Roger Tory Peterson to find another who has had more impact on bird study than Carl Welty.

Welty joined the Beloit College, Wisconsin, biology department in 1934. After a few years, he became disappointed in the lack of a current biology text on birds, so took on the job of research and wrote a book himself. Titled Life of Birds, it became the most widely used college textbook on ornithology in the United States and went through several revisions.

Born on May 30, 1901 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Welty was the sixth child of Joel and Dina Lehmann Welty. Christened Joel Carl Welty, the Joel was soon dropped to avoid confusion with his father’s name.

The Life of Birds Author Carl Welty
Carl Welty | Life of Birds Author


He attended Earlham College in Indiana, graduating in 1924. He received his Masters degree from Haverford College in Pennsylvania a year later. In 1926, he was hired as an assistant professor in the biology department at Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa.

It was here that he met and married Susan Fulton Sept. 2, 1930. In 1932, he received his Doctorate from the University of Chicago. He remained at Parsons until 1934, when he joined the Beloit College biology department.

During 1946-47 he took leave to head a post-war Quaker relief team for American Friends Service Committee in France and Germany. He returned to Beloit and taught until 1966.

Welty was a modest man who always had time for a student with a problem, whether it was academic or personal. He was a teacher who not only encouraged learning, but also reminded others of their good fortune, challenging many to return that good fortune to those less fortunate.

Home Life

At their rural home in Turtle Township, Wisconsin, the Weltys established a wildlife refuge which was used as a learning center for students. They travelled widely and their home became a place to entertain faculty and friends. In all of his pursuits, Carl found a willing and competent helper in his wife Susan, herself an author of several books. Welty had just finished work on a fourth edition of Life of Birds when he died on May 29, 1986.

–Excerpted from “Five to be Inducted into Beloit Hall of Fame,” Beloit Daily News, Sept. 17, 1991, p. 7.

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