Nikolaas Tinbergen

tinbergen headshot
Born in The Hague, Netherlands, Nikolaas “Niko” Tinbergen (1907-1988) is widely regarded as one of the founders of ethology, the modern study of natural behavior. Fascinated by animals from a young age, Tinbergen spent much of his childhood on long walks in nature and kept insects, stickleback and newts in his backyard. In 1925, he entered Leiden University to study biology and obtained his PhD in 1932 with a dissertation on the behavior and learning ability of the European beewolf, a solitary wasp preying on honeybees.

A keen observer and gifted experimentalist, Tinbergen quickly gained fame for his detailed accounts of the behavior of a seagull colony in the dunes along the Dutch North Sea and for elucidating the sensory mechanisms of mating behavior in the stickleback. In 1940, Tinbergen assumed a professorship at Leiden University, but resigned to protest the nazification of the university and was imprisoned in a camp for Dutch intellectuals and artists until 1944. After World War II, Tinbergen became a professor of animal behavior at Merton College, Oxford University and remained there until his retirement in 1974.

In 1951, he published the first textbook on ethology,
The Study of Instinct, which introduced the English-speaking world to the largely German-speaking literature on the new discipline. His ingenious, life-long friendship and collaboration with Austrian biologist Konrad Lorenz proved instrumental for the development of ethology. Tinbergen’s “four questions” (mechanism, development, adaptation, and evolution) are still considered basic cornerstones in modern biology, and together provide for a complete understanding of natural behavior. Together with Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch, Tinbergen received the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns”. He had five children with his wife Elisabeth Rutten (1912-1990), and was a life-long atheist.

Click on the cover for details about the eBook:

p-book cover