Johnsgard closes in on publishing 60th book

May 8th, 2012 | By | Category: 2012, April 26, Arts & Entertainment, Issue

Paul Johnsgard really only wanted to publish one book about birds.

But when that first tome started to sell, the publisher asked for a second. That was all it took for the vaunted ornithologist to slide down the slippery slope of publishing.

“I now have published a total of 56 books,” Johnsgard said. “My dream was to just to write one book about birds. Then I thought 10 would be nice; then 20. Now, I might hit 60 with a bit of luck.”

An emeritus professor of biological sciences, Johnsgard published three books in 2011 alone — a feat he achieved one other time.

Those recent works included “Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over America’s Wetlands,” published by the University of Nebraska Press. The other two — “A Nebraska Bird-Finding Guide” and “Rocky Mountain Birds” were released by the University of Nebraska’s Digital Commons and available electronically at

Two more books are scheduled for release this year. The Conservation and Survey Division of UNL’s School of Natural Resources will publish “Wetlands of Nebraska.” While “Yellowstone Wildlife: Ecology and Natural History of the Greater Yellowstone Ecoregion” will be published by the University of Colorado Press.

He is also working on two other books with former students. The first about birds of the Central Platte Valley, the other about the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming.

Johnsgard said retirement and electronic publishing have helped fuel the speed at which he is completing books.

“Being retired, I don’t have much else to do now,” said Johnsgard. “And, it used to take three years to complete a book. Now it’s down to a year and a half.

“And, with digital publishing, the process is almost instantaneous.”

His first book was completed on a manual Underwood typewriter. Through the years, Johnsgard advanced to an electronic typewriter and then to the computer.

“That really upped my output,” he said.

A stroke more than a decade ago has slowed his ability to type, but he still manages to churn out paragraphs at a steady rate.

His writing is inspired by Aldo Leopold and Annie Dillard. Johnsgard said both convert simple events into larger ideas.

“Their work is very readable,” Johnsgard said. “It’s a style that I try to emulate.”

He continues to do field work, including recent trips to watch Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds near Kearney. Johnsgard supplements his observations with research in libraries and online.

To Johnsgard, publishing is simply an extension of a life-long fascination with birds and nature.

“I’m certainly not in publishing to make money,” Johnsgard said. “There was a time when I relied on royalties. Now, generally, the Nature Conservancy and Audubon Society get any royalties I receive.

“Writing is just something I really enjoy. And, hopefully, what I’m doing will expose thousands of people to information otherwise only available in my own mind or in technical literature.”

— Troy Fedderson, University Communications

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