By the time of her death, Snetsinger had seen 8,398 species of birds. Passionate and dedicated birder Phoebe Snetsinger, born in 1931, remains one of the world’s most prolific. At the time of her death, in 1999, she had seen 8,398 species of the estimated 10,000 known species in the world, more than anyone else in history at the time. On June 9, 2016, she would have been 85, and Google is remembering her life with a special Doodle
Snetsinger’s interest in birds was piqued in 1965, when she spotted a Blackburnian Warbler, but she didn’t become truly dedicated until 1981, when, at the age of 50, she was diagnosed with terminal melanoma, with just one year to live. Rather than spend that time at home, Snetsinger took herself to Alaska to search for birds.
When she returned home, she found her cancer was in remission. Using money inherited from her father, advertising magnate Leo Burnett, Snetsinger devoted her life to traveling the globe looking for birds, taking copious notes that helped reclassify subspecies as species. When she visited Kenya, she saw over 500 birds in just three weeks.
Her new life was not without cost. She was injured several times, and one injury, a broken wrist, crippled her arm permanently. During a trip to Papua New Guinea, her guide was beaten and Snetsinger herself gang-raped by five men. On her final trip, to Madagascar, the van she was in crashed and rolled, killing her instantly. She was 68.
The Google Doodle includes five birds significant to Snetsinger: the blackburnian warbler, the red-shouldered vanga (the last bird she ever documented), the village weaverbird, the eastern bluebird and the red-capped manakin. Her adventures are documented in her memoir, “Birding on Borrowed Time.”