Posted by: atowhee | July 22, 2019


Click here for link to this make-up-for chauvinism obituary in NYTimes.  They were not paying attention.  Bailey was the first woman elected to the previously all-male American Ornithological Union.  That shudda been a clue, right? Better late than never, I suppose.

I always talk about Florence Merriam Bailey in my birding classes…she wrote the first modern field guide for observers, not some guy who shotgunned birds … her books gave behavioral information, actual size since the guide user did not have a corpse in hand to measure…twenty-five years ahead of Peterson…her opera glass book was revolutionary, look and don’t shoot…Audubon once said it was a bad day afield if he hadn’t killed at least a hundred birds…even into the 20th Century ornithologists shot first, examined later.

It was Frank Chapman who started the Christmas Bird Count in 1900, worked for conservation and counted all those bird species on women’s hats in Manhattan…yet as the Passenger Pigeon was going extinct in early 1900s he traveled to Florida and shot every one he could find, hoping to have collected the last specimen!!!!!  To his generation science justified killing any creature you saw.  There are still science groups that reluctantly accept DNA evidence rather than a corpse when a new species is claimed!!!!!!!!!
I saw a forest owl in Ecuador that did not exist to science…it was known from one Andean lodge’s parking lot and nobody would kill it to claim the discovery.  It took a decade to get a science group to accept DNA samples from the bird’s fallen feathers…now at least it does not have to killed to “exist.”

In Bailey’s Handbook of the Birds of the Western United States (1902) she wrote:

“The brushy parts of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco abound with quail, and from the benches one can watch the squads of plump hen-like little creatures as they move about with stately tread or stand talking sociably in low monosyllables.  If they hear a footstep on the walk they start up and hurry across the path like hens before a wagon…”   [She was not talking to today’s reader who wouldn’t likely have any experience with chickens and certainly none of them running from a horse-drawn wagon.]

“In Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, while the white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows are busy on the lawns, faint notes come from the undergrowth, which on investigation proves to be stir with flocks on diminutive bush-tits, though their gray coats disguise them so well that unless you look sharp [the oak leaves seem to be merely rustling in the wind… Flitting from branch to branch they fly up light upside down on the underside of a bough, and then without taking the trouble to turn right side up drop down backwards on the tip of another twig, where they bend double over the terminal buds looking for food.”

“American Raven…Where tall, bare cliffs rise from the valleys and deep steep-walled canyons cut into the mountain ranges, the hoarse croaking of the ravens echoes back from cliff and wall… Suspicious, wary pirates they are, always on the defensive to evade attack, keeping well out of rifle range of man, and often forced to mount to almost invisible heights to mobbing attacks from small birds that seem to have permanent wrongs to avenge.”  [ In 1944 an ornithologist, Grinnell, surmised that ravens were extirpated across California except for remote bits of the Sonoma Coast.   Golden Gate Park had an official hunter until around 1960.  His job was to shoot all corvids and hawks on sight.  They were considered vermin.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that ravens got re-established along the California Coast,  most people had stopped shooting them on sight by then.FLO BAILEY

I own a seventh edition of Bailey’s Handbook. This one printed in 1917.  Some of the art work is by Louis Agassiz Fuertes in gray-tone.  It has a well-worn leather cover but the pages are still supple, the black-and-white line drawings and photos crisp.  Many of the names are long-since archaic.  “Valley Quail”  “Little Brown Crane ” “California Woodpecker”  “Traill Flycatcher”

Her observations and behavioral information is accurate, yet.  Ranges of many species, however, have altered greatly.  At that time the Hooded Oriole was not seen north of Los Angeles.  The cowbird was still described–not realistically–as only east of the Sierra.  The Anna’s hummingbird had not begun its northward range expansion: “Distribution–Central and southern California, chiefly west of the mountains, southern Arizona, and Lower California.”


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