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News > Passing of friends > Peter Steyn's passing.

Peter Steyn's passing.

An icon of the world of birding, Peter Steyn, acclaimed ornithologist, sadly passed away.
Peter Steyn with Birder Mentee Trevor Hardaker. - with Peter's definitive work on Birdwatching.
Peter Steyn with Birder Mentee Trevor Hardaker. - with Peter's definitive work on Birdwatching.


Class of 1955

Peter Roy Barry Steyn: 20th May 1936 – 4th July 2024 


Peter Steyn (1954,O: PM - 1955) passed away peacefully in Cape Town, South Africa, during the morning of 4th July 2024, at the age of 88.

After 65 years of marriage, Peter leaves his beloved wife Jenny, children Andrew, Linda and Sue, seven grandchildren – Alastair, Trevor and Patrick Steyn, Sydney and James Card, Emma and Ben Worsley, and three Great Grandchildren, Annie, Roman and June.

Peter came to Western Province Preparatory School in 1942 at age six.  He soon became interested in natural history ... from collecting butterflies to catching snakes.  From there he went to egg-collecting, hence the beginning to his becoming one of the world's renowned and award-winning ornithologists. 

Peter then went to Bishops, where he matriculated from Ogilvie House in 1954 and the year after, he did Post Matric.  At school, he was a member of both the Ornithological & Photographic Societies.  In his memoirs he tells of the inspiring talks at the societies, which further stimulated his interests.  He regularly told the story of the pair of Spotted Eagle-Owls that roosted in a massive Stone Pine outside Founders ... then they nested in the Ogilvie Clock Tower.  It befell Peter the task of being the 'altricial owl', to nurture them ... so much so that out of this experience came one of his many publications, the renowned A Delight of Owls (1984).  Soon followed his passion for photographing birds ... with equipment that he kindly donated to the school museum which is on display, together with award-winning photographs such as the rare Verreaux's Eagle.    

After matriculating at Bishops, Peter went to UCT to study to be a teacher, completing all his professional qualifications in 1959.  It was in that year that he met and married Jenny Cannon, sister to Paul Cannon (1953SH - PM 1954).  Before proceeding as a teacher to Falcon College (Bulawayo) where Paul (his brother-in-law) was teaching, he and Jenny went to London where Peter worked, in which time he became skilled in bird photography. Five years later they moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where Peter joined the staff at Falcon College.  After what Peter describes as seventeen years of Halcion Days at Falcon, they moved back to Cape Town where Peter continued his career as an ornithologist, publishing extensively and continuing birding photography (see elsewhere).  

One of Peter's daughters, Lindi Worsley sent the following about her beloved father: 

"A distinguished academic, inspirational teacher, gifted photographer and highly accomplished natural historian, Peter was best known for his massive contribution in the world of ornithology. A passion that bloomed early in Peter’s life, a fascination with all things avian remained as strong as ever to his last days. Peter was a prolific writer and began his written contributions as early as 1951 with a contribution to Bokmakierie magazine, which would be followed by literally hundreds, if not thousands of published articles in various journals, magazines, newsletters, scientific texts and communications and other author’s books.

Over the years, Peter authored seven books focussed on ornithology, beginning with Eagle Days in 1973, Wankie Birds in 1974 and followed with Birds of Prey of Southern Africa, A Delight of Owls, Hunters of the African Sky, Birds of Southern Africa and Nesting Birds. Besides these, Peter authored Antarctic Impressions published in 2007 and his memoir, Kingdom of Daylight, memories of a Birdwatcher, was published in 2017. He co-authored Historic Rhodesia in 1975 with the contribution of (mainly) photographs.

Peter’s photography was outstanding; he was credited with some 140 cover photographs and over 1100 photographs published in scientific journals as well as innumerable photographs in overseas journals and books, all of which were captured prior to the existence of digital photography! These besides the exquisite imagery used in most of his books.

Peter was incredibly generous with his knowledge and wisdom, serving as a guide on numerous specialist bird-watching tours, and participating in multiple cruises as a guest lecturer around the world, along with countless appearances and presentations at public and private events.

Peter’s lifetime contribution to the world of ornithology was recognised in 2011 when he was awarded the prestigious Gill Memorial Medal, and in 2012 he received the Steven Piper Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to raptor conservation and research. As recently as 2016, Peter was credited with discovering a new bird species for southern Africa, a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, found at Zeekoe Vlei in the Western Cape.

Less widely acknowledged outside of immediate circles, are Peter’s achievements as a teacher at Falcon College. Peter spent nine years teaching English, Latin and History at Falcon between 1961 and 1970, which he himself described as the most satisfying, productive and memorable of his life. The last three years at Falcon, Peter was housemaster of Tredgold House. Peter made lasting positive impressions on many of his students, as evidenced by so many friendships that endured to his final days. During his time at Falcon, Peter was instrumental in establishing the Natural History Society and the Falconry club, all while pursuing an extensive range of research topics associated with, in particular, the birds of prey in the area.

Ever the scholar, Peter had a keen sense of humour and was always fond of reciting poetry, sometimes in the form of a wicked limerick or at other times reciting from favourite poems or excerpts from Shakespeare and other favoured authors, and he especially enjoyed doing so around a bush campfire.

Peter’s enquiring mind led to extensive travel with Jenny at his side and together they have travelled and explored numerous countries from polar regions to deserts and everything in between.

In Kingdom of Daylight, Peter quotes 'I have been able to hold the mirror up to nature for others to share' and this is so true. His legacy remains through his upstanding family, his incredible body of photographic and written work and his immeasurable influence on many leaders of society today."

Peter’s wishes were to not have a funeral, his preference was for a simple cremation and his ashes to be returned to nature at a particular spot chosen by him in the shadow of his beloved mountain.

Trevor Hardaker of Southern Africa Bird News writes:

"It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that a legend of Southern African birding, Peter Steyn, passed away peacefully this morning."

"Peter will be especially well known to birders of my generation and older where he was a mentor and inspiration to so many. His accolades are numerous and copies of his various books will adorn many a book shelf among us. Peter’s bird photography was also setting very high standards long before the thought of a digital camera even existed and many of his photos taken on old slide film with old technology still compare very favourably with what is being produced today by the very best of photographers with the most technologically advanced equipment."

To Jenny and Peter's children and relatives, we send our heart-felt condolences.  

Bishops and the ODU has lost a great son; Peter was a VP of the ODU.  He regularly gave talks at his school's societies, including a talk on Birds in Shakespeare, to Forum. 

Living across Campground Road from Bishops, he and Jenny made regular visits.  A testimony for the school, to the memory of Peter's astonishing career as an educator, ornithologist and professional bird photographer, is a beautiful display cabinet with his cameras, tripods and other equipment, and not least the award winning photographs of rare birds of prey, from the Royal Photographic Society.

A special request from Peter's family: "To honour the memory of this great man please plant a tree where a bird may one day nest."



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