For most of Phoebe Snetsinger’s life, bird-watching was just a hobby, but when she was diagnosed at the age of 50 with terminal cancer, it became an obsession and her life’s work. Today, Google Doodle honors this passionate woman you should know on the anniversary of her birthday.
After a doctor told her that she had only one year to live, Phoebe decided not to undergo treatment and went on a trip to Alaska instead. When she returned, she was told her cancer was in remission. Phoebe went on to live 18 more years, traveling to seven continents, documenting more than 8,000 bird species, and setting a world record for seeing more birds than any other person.
As one of very few women birders at that time, Phoebe faced many challenges on the road. In arguably the most heinous incident she encountered, Phoebe was raped and nearly killed during a trip to New Guinea. But even that did not stop her. According to her family, not much could. She missed both her mother’s funeral and her daughter’s wedding because of previously planned trips, spending up to six months of the year traveling the globe in search of birds.
In her memoir “Birding on Borrowed Time”, Phoebe explained, “Birding has meant a variety of things to many different people, but for me it has been intricately intertwined with survival. If it’s my last trip, so be it – but I’m going to make it a good one and go down binoculars in hand.”
Sadly, her words came true. In 1999 at age 68, Phoebe died in a tragic car accident while birding in Madagascar. Today, she would have been 85 years old.
Editor’s note: Phoebe’s memoir “Birding on Borrowed Time” was published after her death in 2003.