Olin Pettingill
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Sewall Pettingill and wife Eleanor, filming in Santa Barbara, CA

View Pettingill’s Birds of the Inland Waterways

Pettingill was the maker of a number of exceptional films on ornithological subjects. The information on his life below was compiled by grandson Michael Losito, Department of Animal Science, State University of New York, Cobleskill, and published in The Auk, 119(4):1104-1107, 2002

Olin Sewall Pettingill, Jr., died in Bedford, Texas, 11 December 2001, at the age of 94, after a long and distinguished career  in American  ornithology. "Sewall" Pettingill, as he preferred to be called, was an exceptional college professor, lecturer, photographer, filmmaker, and writer about bird life. Sewall Pettingill was born in Belgrade, Maine, on 30 October 1907. Sewall developed his skills in photography and motion pictures as tools for documenting bird life. In the summer of 1928, he enrolled at the University of Michigan Biological Station to undertake a course in field ornithology taught by Dr. Alfred O. Gross. Sewall received  his Ph.D. at Cornell in 1933 and spent the next three  years  in various  teaching  positions with  the New Hampshire Nature  Camp, Westbrook  Junior  College, and  Bowdoin  College. He obtained a 12-gauge shotgun with plenty of shells and “dust shot," and began preparing bird study skins for his teaching collection. In the meantime, he published his dissertation in 1936 as "The American Woodcock (Philohela  minor)" in  the Memoirs of the Boston Society of Natural History.

As a faculty member at Carleton College, Sewall wrote and published his classic textbook, Ornithology in Lab oratory and Field  (1939). It became the longest­running and most widely used ornithological text in American colleges, with the 5th edition (1985) still in circulation. He published his pioneering bird-finding books, A Guide to Finding Birds East of the Mississippi in 1951, and the companion volume, A Guide to Finding Birds West of the Mississippi in 1953. He went on to co­ author several state guides,   Enjoying Maine Birds (1960), Enjoying Birds in Upstate New York (1963), and  Enjoying Birds Around New York City (1966). Lecturing and motion picture work occupied a central place in his career.  After he left his full-time teaching position at Carleton, he was Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology for 13 years (1960-1973), meanwhile serving as a Director of the National Audubon Society for 19 years (1955-1974). He accumulated much original film footage of birds, shown during his many lectures for the National Audubon Society's Screen Tours, from 1943-1978, taking him across the United States and into Canada, Bermuda, Bahamas, several Caribbean Islands, and  Great Britain.  Prompted by the success of his early filming of Atlantic Puffins, one of his first productions for the Audubon Screen Tours, Sewall obtained a contract with Walt Disney Studios to film penguins in the Falkland Islands.  Other major film projects included those of birds and other wildlife in Iceland (in 1958), albatrosses on Midway Island (in 1963), and kiwis and other birds of New Zealand (in 1965). His film work can be seen in several early Walt Disney films, including Nature's Half Acre, Water Birds, The Vanishing Prairie, and Islands of the Sea. His work for Walt Disney Productions earned him appearances on NBC's "The Today Show" and as a featured contestant on the original television show "To Tell The Truth."


As an independent filmmaker, distributed by Coronet Films

Birds of the Inland Waterways (1946)

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (1946)

Sea, Ice, and Fire (1958)

Birds of the Countryside (1962)

Birds of the Dooryard (1962)

Five Colorful Birds (1962)

Birds of the Marshes (1965)

Birds in New Zealand (1968)

Birds of the Woodlands (1979)

As a cinematographer, whose footage was used in the following Disney films:

Islands of the Sea (1954)

Nature's Half Acre (1951)

Water Birds (1952)

The Vanishing Prairie (1954)  aka Large Animals That Once Roamed the Plains

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