Bird Day

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William T. Hornaday Our Vanishing Wildlife click here


In several of our states, systematic efforts to educate children in their duty toward wild life are already being made. To this end, an annual "Bird Day" has been established for state-wide observance. This splendid idea is now legally in force in the following states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Bird Day is also more or less regularly observed, though not legally provided for, in New York, Indiana, Colorado and Alabama, and locally in some cities of Pennsylvania. Usually the observance of the day is combined with that of Arbor Day, and the date is fixed by proclamation of the Governor.

Alabama and Wisconsin regularly issue elaborate and beautiful Arbor and Bird Day annuals; and Illinois, and possibly other states, have issued very good publications of this character.


Quite recently there has come under my notice an episode in the education of school children that has given the public profound satisfaction. I cite it here as an object lesson for pan-America.

In Carrick, Pennsylvania, just across the Monongahela River from the city of Pittsburgh,lives John M. Phillips,State Game Commissioner,nature-lover, sportsman and friend of man. He is a man who does things, and gets results. Goat Mountain Park (450 square miles), in British Columbia, to-day owes its existence to him, for without his initiative and labor it would not have been established. It was the first game preserve of British Columbia.

Three years ago, Mr. Phillips became deeply impressed by the idea that one of the best ways in the world to protect the wild life, both of to-day and the future, would be in teaching school children to love it and protect it. His fertile brain and open check-book soon devised a method for his home city. His theory was that by giving the children something to do, not only in protecting but in actually bringing back the birds, much might be accomplished.

In studying the subject of bringing back the birds, he found that the Russian mulberry is one of the finest trees in the world as a purveyor of good fruit for many kinds of birds. The tree does not much resemble our native mulberry, but is equally beautiful and interesting. "The fruit is not a long berry, nor is it of a purple color, but it grows from buds on the limbs and twigs something after the manner of the pussy-willow. It is smaller, of light color and has a very distinct flavor. The most striking peculiarity about the fruit is that it keeps on ripening during two months or more, new berries appearing daily while others are ripening. This is why it is such good bird food. Nor is it   half bad for folks, for the berries are good to look at and to eat, either with cream or without, and to make pies that will set any sane boy's mouth a-watering at sight."--(Erasmus Wilson). Everyone knows the value of sweet cherries, both to birds and to children.

Mr. Phillips decided that he would give away several hundred bird boxes, and also several hundred sweet cherry and Russian mulberry trees. The first gift distribution was made in the early spring of 1909. Another followed in 1910, but the last one was the most notable. On April 11, 1912, Carrick had a great and glorious Bird Day. Mr.Phillips was the author of it, and Governor Tener the finisher. On that day occurred the third annual gift distribution of raw materials designed to promote in the breasts of 2,000 children a love for birds and an active desire to protect and increase them. Mr. Phillips gave away 500 bird boxes, 500 sweet cherry trees and 200 mulberry trees. The sun shone brightly, 500 flags waved in Carrick, the Governor made one of the best speeches of his life, and Erasmus Wilson, faithful friend of the birds, wrote this good story of the occasion for the Gazette-Times of Pittsburgh:

The Governor was there, and the children, the bird-boxes, and the young trees. And was there ever a brighter or more fitting day for a children and bird jubilee! The scene was so inspiring that Gov. Tener made one of the best speeches of his life. The distribution of several hundred cherry and mulberry trees was the occasion, and the beautiful grounds of the Roosevelt school,Carrick, was the scene. Mr. John M. Phillips, sane sportsman and enthusiastic friend of the birds, has been looking forward to this as the culmination of a scheme he has been working on for years, and he was more than pleased with the outcome. The intense delight it afforded him more than repaid him for all it has cost in all the years past.

But it was impossible to tell who were the more delighted,he,or the Governor, or the children, or the visitors who were so fortunate as to be present. County Superintendent of Schools Samuel Hamilton was simply a mass of delight. And how could he be otherwise, surrounded as he was by 2,000 and more children fairly quivering with delight? Children will care for and defend things that are their very own, fight for them and stand guard over them. Realizing this Mr. Phillips undertook to show them how they could have birds all their own. Being clever in devising schemes for achieving things most to be desired, he began giving out bird-boxes to those who would agree to put them up, and to watch and defend the birds when they came to make their homes with them. And he found that no more faithful sentinel ever stood on guard than the boy who had a bird-house all his own.

Here was the solution to the vexed problem. Provide boxes for those who would agree to put them up, care for the birds, and study their habits and needs. The children agreed at once, and the birds did not object, so Mr. Phillips had some hundreds, four or five, blue-bird and wren boxes constructed during the past winter. These were passed out some weeks ago to any boys or girls who would present an order signed by their rents, and countersigned by the principal of the school.

He knows enough about a boy to know that he does not prize the things that come without effort, nor will he become deeply interested in anything for which he is not held more or less responsible. Hence the advantage in having him write an order, have it indorsed by his parents, and vouched for by his school principal. That he had struck the right scheme was proven by the avidity with which the girls and boys rushed for the boxes. The fact that a heavy rain was falling did not dampen their ardor for a moment, nor did the fact that they were tramping Mr. Phillips' beautiful lawn into a field of mud.

Mr. Phillips, seeing the necessity of providing food for the prospective hosts of birds, and wishing to place the responsibility on the boys and girls, offered to provide a cherry tree or mulberry tree for every box erected, provided they should be properly planted and diligently cared for.

This was practically the culmination of the most unique bird scheme ever attempted, and yesterday was the day set apart for the distribution of these hundreds of fruit trees, the products of which are to be divided share and share alike with the birds.

Nowhere else has such a scheme been attempted, and never before has there been just such a day of jubilee. The intense interest manifested by the children, and the earnest enthusiasm manifested, leaves no doubt about their carrying out their part of the contract.

Up to date (1912) Mr. Phillips has given away about 1,000 bird boxes, 1,500 cherry and Russian mulberry trees, and transformed the schools of Carrick into seething masses of children militantly enthusiastic in the protection of birds, and in providing them with homes and food. As a final coup, Mr. Phillips has induced the city of Pittsburgh to create the office of City Ornithologist, at a salary of $1200 per year. The duty of the new officer is to protect all birds in the city from all kinds of molestation, especially when nesting; to erect bird-houses, provide food for wild birds, on a large scale, and report annually upon the increase or decrease of feathered residents and visitors. Mr. Frederic S. Webster, long known as a naturalist and practical ornithologist, has been appointed to the position, and is now on active duty.

So far as we are aware, Pittsburgh is the first city to create the office of City Ornithologist. It is a happy thought; it will yield good results, and other cities will follow Pittsburgh's good example.

These are images of "Bird Day" at the original Quentin Roosevelt Elementary School that was located on The Boulevard.

Bird day Quentin Roosevelt School.jpg

Bird day 2.jpg

Bird Day and Arbor Day in Carrick

Almost no one has ever heard of “Bird Day.” Celebrated with Arbor Day, the holidays were popular in Carrick thanks to conservationist and Carrick resident John M. Phillips. Mr. Phillips lived in a huge home named Impton where St. Pius X Church is today. Around 1910 both holidays were observed statewide as a way for people, especially school children, to understand conservation with particular attention to the natural world and birds. Harriet Duff Phillips also notes the day in her autobiography.

On Bird and Arbor Days in Carrick school children were instructed and urged to make bird houses with contests sponsored by Mr. Phillips for the best. Hundreds of wren bird houses were constructed from wood, tin cans and garden gourds. School children gathered the gourds in the fall and hung in basements until February to dry. Then a hole the size of a quarter was cut into them, insides tediously scraped out and then shellacked.

Along with the bird houses thousands of Russian Mulberry and Cherry trees were given away by Mr. Phillips. He would teach boys and girls how to plant and prune them, exacting a promise that when the tree began to bear fruit half would go to the birds with the other half for themselves. Now you know why there isn’t a yard in our community without either a mulberry or cherry tree.



Popular education was one of the most important elements of Progressive Era conservation. But what kind of education produced conservationists? Bird Day was typical of efforts in popular education in that it attempted to inculcate both moral passion and scientific objectivity in children and the wider public. Bird Day highlights the uneasy relationship between progressive conservationists and objective, quantifiable science, particularly the struggle by conservation activists to embrace the rational qualities of the scientific endeavor without sacrificing the emotional fervor that motivated popular interest in conservation.

There are perhaps few ways in which more practical good can be accomplished than by establishing in our schools a day devoted to the birds. (Forest and Stream July 18, 1896)

IN HIS 1913 CONSERVATION jeremiad Our Vanishing Wildlife, William Temple Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Park, proposed a massive campaign of public education to combat the extermination of American fauna. With the righteousness of the true believing convert, Hornaday thundered that all our school children should be taught, in the imperative mood:

A. That it is wrong to disturb breeding birds, or rob birds' nests;

B. That it is wrong to destroy any harmless living creature not properly classed as game, except it be to preserve it in a museum;

C. That it is no longer right for civilized man to look upon wild game as necessary food; because there is plenty of other food, and the remnant of game can not withstand slaughter on that basis;

D. That the time has come when it is the duty of every good citizen to take an active, aggressive part in preventing the destruction of wild life, and in promoting its preservation;

E. That every boy and girl over twelve years of age can do something in this cause, and finally,

F. That protection and encouragement will bring back the almost vanished birds.

"Teachers," concluded Hornaday "Do not say to your pupils—'It is right and nice to protect birds,' but say:—'It is your Duty to protect all harmless wild things, and you must do it!'"

Hornaday endorsed one "splendid" example of existing pedagogy that emphasized moral duty toward wildlife: Bird Day.

Originated in 1894 by Professor Charles C. Babcock, superintendent of schools in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and modeled after Arbor Day, Bird Day immersed children in bird study and protection.3 Students researched and wrote about birds, performed plays and recited poems that underscored the aesthetic quality of avian life, and engaged in practical conservation by building bird boxes and planting trees. The moral outlook sought by Hornaday was a significant component of Bird Day programs. Children recited a litany of literary works that demanded kindness toward birds, and speakers beseeched them not to shoot birds, collect eggs, or wear birds on their hats, and to control their cats. In short, Bird Day was a teach-in for the conservation of birds. It is the forerunner of Earth Day and other contemporary celebrations intended to broaden environmental awareness, such as International Migratory Bird Day.

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