Joachim Steinbacher, Curator Emeritus of Ornithology at the Senckenberg-Museum in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, was born on 18 November 1911 in Hoexter on the River Weser. He died in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe on 31 July 2005.
Steinbacher spent his childhood mainly in Goslar in the Harz Mountains. His passion for birds started in his early school days. His enthusiasm was encouraged by his uncle, Friedrich Steinbacher, himself a renowned ornithologist. Joachim Steinbacher frequently went to Berlin, where his uncle and his cousin Georg lived. Together they undertook long trips in the local region. This was good training, and Steinbacher soon became an experienced bird watcher, publishing short articles on the birds of Germany.
After Gymnasium, Steinbacher worked at the Vogelwarte Helgoland and took part in a project on bird migration that covered most of the North Sea. In 1931, he started at the University in Goettingen and soon afterward transferred to Berlin. Between terms, Steinbacher worked at the bird-banding center of Rossitten, mainly in studies on the Black-headed Gull and the White Stork. In 1936, under the supervision of Oskar Heinroth, Steinbacher, along with Helmut Sick, produced the first vinyl recordings of bird songs, with a second edition in 1937. He finished his doctoral dissertation in 1937 under Erwin Stresemann. The work dealt with the anatomy and systematics of the Galbulidae and Bucconidae.
After university, he spent several months as an unpaid trainee at the Berlin Zoo. This experience strengthened his interest in the methods of keeping and breeding birds in captivity. In 1938, he became Editor of Gefiederte Welt, a position he held until his death, 67 years later. Gefiederte Welt deals mainly with birds in captivity; it reached volume 130 in 2006.
In 1940, when G. Niethammer moved to Vienna, Steinbacher became head of the ornithological department at the Alexander-Koenig-Museum in Bonn. After World War II, Niethammer returned to Bonn and Steinbacher went to the Senckenberg-Museum. There, he finished a popular book on bird migration that was published in the series of Senckenberg Books in 1951. Subsequently, Russian and Chinese editions appeared without permission.
In 1954, Steinbacher became Curator of Ornithology at the Senckenberg-Museum. His broad ornithological knowledge enabled him to do research in anatomy, teratology, ecology, biogeography, migration, taxonomy, and conservation. For several years, he focused on the birds of South America, especially Paraguay. Steinbacher was a gifted popular writer, and served as coeditor of three volumes on birds in Grzimeks Tierleben. He contributed numerous articles to Gefiederte Welt and Natur und Museum. He established a foundation that provided travel grants for students and personally traveled worldwide in support of ornithological studies and conservation of nature.
Steinbacher's achievements were recognized in many ways. In 1971, he was elected Corresponding Fellow of the AOU. In 1992, he received both the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the silver Senckenberg-Medal. In 1965, Romania appointed him Honorary Inspector for the Conservation of Nature.
Steinbacher married Elfriede Hecke in 1940. A charming and affectionate person, she fully supported his many activities, especially the editing of Gefiederte Welt. Elfriede Steinbacher died in 1990, after 50 years of married life. They had no children.
After retirement in 1976, Steinbacher continued to work and travel, slowing down only in the beginning of his 10th decade. He will be missed as an extremely amiable, patient, and helpful colleague, and as a good friend.