Posted by: atowhee | August 8, 2022


It is the time of year when many plants are seeding or fruiting. For many birds and bugs this means more than enough to eat. Who needs a garden feeder in August? Not many…

Above: corvids. Crows using water wasted in a gutter by some moronic hominid; scrub-jay with squared-off tail feather…?; young Steller who comes daily for his peanut supply.

The inimitable “Smithsonian” Magazine has a fascinating ornithology history article right now. Well-known British birdman, Tim Birkhead, (click here) has written about a Victorian-era British bird man who, Tim says. turned birders from shooters into watchers. This pioneer’s insight came in 1898–by watching you learn more than shooting and carrying off a carcass. Sorry, Tim, but a mere American woman knew that earlier. Her name is Florence Merriam Bailey. Her first book, published in 1890 eight years ahead of the British insight, was Birds Through an Opera-Glass. That was the current name for binoculars in those days. The title alone says “watch” not “shoot.” Some of the content in her first book had been published in the Audubon Magazine as early as 1886. Bailey didn’t just urge interested folks to look at birds through binocs, but to take note of their behavior, advice I still peddle in my birding classes over 130 years later. She wrote: “You soon learn to associate the birds with fixed localities, and once knowing their favorite haunts, quickly find other clues to their ways of life.”

Bailey went on to write A-Birding on a Bronco, about time spent on a California rancho. In 1902 she published the first guide book dedicated to birds in the western U.S. Her Handbook of the Birds of the Western United States was also innovative. It included bird measurements in a printed book for the first time because she assumed the reader did not have a ruler and dead bird in hand. This was a huge step forward for American bird books. In the next 3 years we had Chester Reed’s pocket-sized guides and color images which, in turn, helped inspire some guy named Peterson. Chester Reed example:

Click here for more on Reed’s brief but brilliant bird-brainy career.

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