Bird Books, Part 1

As Adhoc Librarian at the Home for the Aged, I was tasked to help get rid of old unwanted non-large print books to make room for newly donated large print books.   We ended up with eleven boxes;   a book-donation/collection charity was kind enough to send a truck.

However, a few boxes came home with me because 1) they said I could have whatever I wanted, 2)  I felt SO BAD discarding books and 3) I couldn’t resist!

Among the historical treasures I rescued are three books on birding.  

The biggest is Birds Over America by Roger Tory Peterson, published in 1948 by Dodd, Mead & Company New York.   I love the first line of the Acknowledgments:

“Inasmuch as I have drawn so freely not only upon the literature of North American birds, but also upon the things I have learned from innumerable friends who share with me the pastime of bird-watching, I cannot give adequate acknowledgments.”

Can you hear a snooty highbrow accent in that?   I sure can.    But wait!   There’s more snooty goodness throughout!   I confess that I quickly consumed many pages – it’s quite readable even if a bit startling (patronizing?) when it mentions female bird watchers…   (Can I count this for the Women Unbound Challenge?)    I get the feeling he was happy to include everyone in any bird conversation, but find his mentioning ‘the girls’ embarrassingly amusing.   Just a typical man of the times?    Or a pig?

“Bird-listing,” or just plain”birding,” call it what you will, is becoming a popular game.  Boys go in for it, of course, but so do many professional men who have only Sundays to spare.   They cruise the roads, scan the lakes, investigate new places, and keep a year-to-year record of what they find.   Housewives, more confined, keep lists of what they see in the backyard.


A wren could not make a move on the nest without Prentiss Baldwin knowing about it.   Some say he knew more about a single species of songbird than any other man has ever known;  others contend that this honor goes to Mrs. Margaret Morse Nice*, a former Columbus, Ohio, housewife who watched song sparrows for ten years while she raised a brood of four children of her own.

Oh, something about that sentence really rubs me the wrong way.     the word ‘brood’?    the ten years?  the four kids OF HER OWN?

Why will a dozen boys in a classroom become mildly absorbed when their teacher starts a bird club, but only one or two really take hold?   Many older women are enthusiastic bird watchers, but how is it that so few teen-age girls go in for ornithology?   And why the exceptions – attractive girls like the late Lorene Squire** who became so engrossed in her magnficent waterfowl photography that she lost consciousness of all else whenever she saw a bird she wanted to picture.   On the whole, however, birding is more of a boy’s hobby.

I could quickly get absorbed into the history of Audubon and the first bird club in Cambridge Mass, but I have two more books I want to discuss.     I did find this easy to read; absorbing.  It’s not a technical book much, but a personal sharing of the author’s enthusiasm for birds and an account of his travels as he listed and photographed as many unique birds as possible.   And certainly a book of its times.   Recall that publishing date of 1948:

We have gone through a bad nightmare and have awakend in what we are told is the atomic age.   People are hopeful, frightened and puzzled.   Everyone wants a higher standard of living; they all talk about it, while a few, aware of our diminishing natural resources and a constantly increasing population, believe that if the world gets much more crowded it will burst at the seams and the Malthusian principle may operate on a a global scale.

In a world that seems to have gone mad is it any wonder birds have such appeal?   Birds are, perhaps, the most eloquent expression of reality.

Too bad the photographs are not in color.


** Lorene Squire does not have a page in Wikipedia but upon googling, I find that her photographs were included in an issue of Time magazine in 1939.    An article she may have written(?), The Meadowlark (Bird Lore 1927) is referenced by the Kansas State Historical Society.

* Margaret Morse Nice DOES have a Wiki page.    She received a BA from Mt Holyoke and her MA in biology from Clark University; had an impressive career in ornithology and was honored around the world for her work.   I’m back to thinking Mr. Peterson was a pig.



Copyright © 2010. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

7 thoughts on “Bird Books, Part 1

  1. Ha, nice to know that Columbus-area housewives and mothers can go on to do significant things…do you suppose he’d say she did most of them after her nest was empty?

  2. It does sound a bit on the Arrogant Male side to focus on the fact that a woman with two degrees and a career in ornithology is described as a housewife with a brood who watched birds on the side. I’m sure he was at least partially a product of his times, but it also shows a complete disregard for women as intelligent beings who contributed to that man’s pet field. Sounds like fun reading, though, just for the language.

  3. Pingback: Bird Books, Part 2 « Care's Online Book Club

  4. candletea

    This sounds like it could make a great history bachelor thesis or something: how the times are reflected in writing about hobbies like birdwatching.

    1. candletea

      Never been in a situation like that, but I’ve seen enough bird enthousiast on TV to be a little afraid of them and keep a safe distance 😉

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