Henry Eeles Dresser, businessman and ornithologist, was born on May 9, 1838, at Thirsk, Yorkshire, England, the son of Henry and Eliza (Garbutt) Dresser. The elder Dresser was a timber merchant. The younger Dresser attended schools in Bromley, England, and Ahrensburg, Germany. In 1854 he was sent to Gefle and Uppsala to learn Swedish. From 1856 until 1863 he traveled extensively throughout Europe in the timber trade.
In early 1863 Dresser left England with a cargo for the Confederate government of Texas. He arrived on June 26, 1863, at Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and collected birds in the surrounding area for several weeks. In early September he traveled through San Patricio, Victoria, Yorktown, and Sutherland Springs to San Antonio, where he shared a house with a noted ornithological collector, Adolphus Lewis Heermann. From San Antonio, Dresser made collecting trips to the Medina and Atascosa rivers and to the Bandera region. In December he made a short trip to the upper Rio Grande and stayed shortly at Eagle Pass. In early 1864 he again went to Eagle Pass. He left San Antonio on May 15 and traveled to Austin and then Houston, whence he made two collecting trips to Galveston. He returned to San Antonio in June and in July traveled by way of Laredo to Matamoros, where he packed his specimens and boarded ship for the return to England.
Dresser spent thirteen months collecting in southern Texas and also received a collection made by Patrick Duffy, a hospital steward at Fort Stockton. He shipped about 400 birdskins to England. His travel account and observations on 272 species of Texas birds were published shortly after his return to England as "Notes on the Birds of Southern Texas" in the Ibis of 1865–66. The remnants of Dresser's collection of Texas birds, his extensive collection of European birdskins and eggs, his library, his notebooks, and his manuscripts are housed in the Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester. His published account greatly expanded upon the earlier observations made on the birds of the lower Rio Grande valley and, until the studies of James Cushing Merrill and George Burritt Sennett in the late 1870s and early 1880s, was the definitive source of information on the birds of this area. Dresser's observations are also the first account of bird life in several of the other areas he visited during his travels in southern Texas.
He joined the British Ornithologists' Union in 1865 and served as the secretary of this organization from 1882 to 1888. He was also a member and fellow of the Linnaean and Zoological societies of London and an honorary fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union. He was an authority on the birds of Europe and the author of several important works, including A History of the Birds of Europe (1871–81), Eggs of the Birds of Europe (1910), and Manual of Palaearctic Birds (1902–03). After returning from Texas in 1864, Dresser entered business in London as an iron merchant. He was married on March 7, 1878, to Eleanor Walmisley Hodgson; a son and a daughter were born to them. Dresser died on November 28, 1915, at Monte Carlo, Monaco.