Ted Parker III was born on April 1, 1953 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He grew up in a family that encouraged his childhood interest in natural history. Until he was nine years old, Ted had lived across the street from Lancaster’s North Museum where he frequently visited. As a young boy, he collected sea shells and butterflies, immersing himself in natural history and deciding at an early age that he wanted to become a naturalist. He even became a member of the Lancaster County Bird Club when he was only 12.
In 1971, while a senior at Lancaster’s McCaskey High School, Parker became the first person to record more than 600 North American birds in a single year. That September, Parker enrolled in the University of Arizona in Tucson and by years end he had increased his total of bird species seen for the year to 626.
Before his death in 1993, Parker went on to become one of the world’s most renowned field ornithologists, and the acknowledged leading expert on the birds of the American tropics.
Ted demonstrated a remarkable ability in bird identification and observation. He achieved fame as a “birder” while still in his teens, as a bird tour leader (primarily for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours), and through his association with Louisiana State University, as a field researcher.
He provided advice and encouragement to all who shared his interests. Although he studied many aspects of bird biology, one of his principal interests was bird vocalizations. Parker could identify the vocalizations of over 4,000 bird species. He was instrumental in propelling the Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology into one of the world’s premier archives of bird sounds to whom he contributed over 10,000 recordings.
On August 3, 1993, Ted, botanist Alwyn Gentry, Parker’s fiancée Jaqueline Goerck, one of Ecuador’s leading conservationists, Eduardo Aspiazu, and two Ecuadorian biologists, Alfredo Luna and Carmen Bonifaz, left Guayaquil in a small plane on a routine mission to survey the rapidly diminishing forest in southwestern Ecuador. During the late afternoon their plane crashed into a remote mountain. All aboard the plane perished. One of the things Parker had feared most about doing field work was that he had to rely on small planes in order to reach many otherwise inaccessible sites.
Parker had published extensively on his field work. At the time of his death his field ability was achieving its greatest impact through the innovative Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), which he founded and directed for Conservation International. RAP surveys provide a quick assessment of the biological value of an area and identify species in need of conservation action.
In 1982, the legendary Ted Parker set the amazing record of spotting 331 species in 24 hours at Cocha Cashu together with Scott Robinson. They did not have access to the famed terra firme forest (rainforest that never floods) and did not use an aircraft or a motorized vehicle which easily would had increased the number of species spotted.
Their record was beaten in Kenya by John Fanshawe and Terry Stevenson on September 25, 1982 when they recorded 342 birds on a single day, but they had used a light aircraft.
So on this September 25th and 27th, 30 years after Ted Parker’s and Scott Robinson’s remarkable feat, there will be an attempt in SE Peru not only to break the Peruvian record, but also to go at the World Record set in 1982. Peru has the second highest number of bird species in the world, only behind Brazil. It harbors near 1800 species of birds with more than 85% of them being full-time residents.
The Theodore A. Parker III Natural Area, a one hundred-acre park in southeastern Lancaster County and the Parker/Gentry Award for Conservation Biology are named for him.
In 1996, the Theodore A. Parker III Natural Area was created by the Lancaster County Department of Parks and Recreation. Stewart Run, a small creek southeast of Quarryville flows through the park. It had been a favorite trout-fishing spot for Parker as a child.
Established in 1996, the Parker/Gentry Award honors an outstanding individual, team or organization in the field of conservation biology whose efforts have had a significant impact on preserving the world’s natural heritage and whose actions and approach can serve as a model to others. The Award is designed to highlight work that could benefit from wider publicity and fuller dissemination of scientific results. The Parker/Gentry Award is presented annually by The Field Museum of Natural History.