As a young boy, Richard, together with his older brother, Daniel, were very much interested in natural history, especially that of birds. The early death of Daniel thrust Richard into maintaining the family name within the banking business. He longed to pursue his interest in biology, but was required to apprentice as a banker. The only escape for a man of his class and station in Victorian England was the military. He leaves banking and joins the army and sees duty in India, East Africa, and Palestine. In each of these stations he distinguishes himself as an officer while also studying the birds and wildlife.
He collected one of the last large mammals from Africa that was new to science. Meinertzhagen completed the publication a book on the Birds of Egypt and later a monumental book on the Birds of Arabia. He amasses one of the largest private collection of bird skins, and their parasites, and donated them to the British Museum. He is considered a key player in the founding of Israel, a contemporary of Lawrence of Arabia, and an officer of The British Ornithological Society. Colonel Meinertzhagen had numerous opportunities for appointments to distinguished rank and titles, but rejected them in favor of continuing his study of birds and their lice.
Sálim Ali (1896-1987) was one of the most distinguished ornithologists of India. He accompanied Meinertzhagen on his 1937 collecting trip to Afghanistan. The account reported in The Fall of a Sparrow by Ali, describes the techniques used by Meinertzhagen in collecting lice form birds, it also gives some insight into the man's character, at least for the perspective of an Indian.
Meinertzhagen maintained a diary which he permitted Ali to read "at his own risk". Sálim Ali reproduces "Revealing excerpts" from the diaries as they pertain to Ali and India.
Meinertzhagen, assisted by Clay and others, built the largest personal collection of chewing lice. He donated his collection to the British Museum (Natural History), now officially knows as The Natural History Museum. This collection is incorporated into the rest of the chewing louse collection, though specimens are readily identified by the"Meinertzhagen"label. All birds, whether freshly killed or museum specimens, examined for lice were given a number and a catalog maintained. This number is included on the collection data label on the slide. An index of the numbers and the 15 volume catalog of birds examined were also donated to the Museum and are in the Entomology Library. Library staff of The Natural History Museum have digitized these catalogues and are available in HTML and PDF formats.