David Lack

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David Lambert Lack (16 July 1910 – 12 March 1973) was a British evolutionary biologist, ornithologist, ecologist, and ethologist. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1951.


  • Young Robins commonly disperse to breed between 1 and 4 miles from their place of birth, but only 5 per cent, have been found more than 8 miles from their birth-place. Once a Robin has taken up a territory, it rarely moves more than a mile, only 3 per cent, being found 1–3 miles away and another 3 per cent, over 10 miles away.
  • In Lapland, all species start breeding 1–2 months later than in Britain, and the breeding season is much less extended. As compared with Britain, the Corvidae and predatory birds of Lapland lay early relative to the small passerines, but among the small passerines, and also among the predators, the different species tend to breed in the same order relative to each other as they do in Britain.
  • The limicoline species in June and July, and the passerine species in late autumn, cross the North Sea primarily with easterly winds and hardly at all with westerly winds, whereas in spring they often set out against the wind. This might merely be due to a stronger migratory urge in spring than autumn, but it also seems possible that westerly winds deter migration in autumn because they are so often associated with rain and other unfavourable conditions.

The Life of the Robin (1943)[edit]

  • ... It is uncommon among birds for the female to be as brightly coloured as the male. ... A brightly colored female would be much more dangerous for a species which nested in the open.
    • pp. 40–41

Swifts in a Tower (1956)[edit]

  • ... many large insects come out at dusk. By doing so they escape many enemies, but not all, since here the nightjar tribe takes over, many of which are larger than the largest swifts.
    • p. 108, 2nd edition, 1973

Quotes about David Lack[edit]

  • The Cambridge Bird Club published David Lack's first book, The Birds of Cambridgeshire, a year after he completed his studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Although it provides few hints as to the ultimate influence this British ornithologist was to have on 20th century ecology, it does contain some glimpses into a mind that was the product of a changing scientific landscape in the field of ornithology, and indeed in biology as a whole. The Birds of Cambridge is not simply a compilation of the species that had been recorded in the county. Instead, Lack devoted almost half of the book to chapters describing the major habitats in the county, observations on migration, historical changes in the county's avifauna, and the resident status of the 160 regularly occurring species. He expressly deemphasized rare and accidental species, a significant departure from the typical emphasis of ornithology at the time.
  • Lack's life-long passion for birds began at an early age in the marshes of rural Norfolk. At nine, he compiled his first life list, and at fifteen he began his first bird diary, having seen exactly 100 species. These schoolboy notebooks reveal the remarkable attention to detail in field observation that distinguished his later work. In 1929, Lack went up to Cambridge, but apparently he did not enjoy his formal academic training, from biologists of the day such as Saunders, Carter and Salt. Later (Lack, 1978) he reminisced that his zoology course contained 'nothing about evolution, ecology, behavior or genetics, and of course nothing about birds'! However, he enlivened his dry undergraduate programme by running the Cambridge Bird Club and going on expeditions to places like Greenland and St Kilda.

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