Friday, July 7, 2017

Birds & Birdhouses at the Library, 1914

The current building of the Brookline Library was less than four years old when the photograph below was taken in April 1914. It shows a room on the lower level of the library (where the Children’s Room is now) filled with a display put together by the Brookline Bird Club with help from the town’s Forestry Department.

(Note: This article first appeared in Brookline Patch as part of a biweekly series of historical images of Brookline from the Brookline Historical Society and the Public Library of Brookline. A larger, zoomable view of this photo and two others from the exhibit is available on the Digital Commonwealth site.) 
Birds and birdhouses in the library

The Bird Club itself was new, having been formed one year earlier at a meeting in the library. The club organized walks, lectures, round table discussions, and exhibits on bird life. It welcomed both adults and children.

A special Junior Department, described in a centennial history of the club, offered "birding-by-bicycle in Brookline and Cambridge, lessons in drawing birds and conducting a bird census, field contests in naming birds, and visits to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and the recently opened aviary at Franklin Park Zoo.”

The library exhibit featured an arbor made of trees limbs with various kinds of nesting, feeding, and shelter boxes attached to them. Many of these were made by club members and staff of the Forestry Department. There were others made by students in the Manual Training School. Some of these, reported the Boston Globe, were made from ordinary boxes, tin cans, or old flower pots “to demonstrate how cheaply a bird house or box can be made."

Simple and complex birdhouses and birdfeeders

The exhibit also included bird eggs, nests, photographs, charts, and a variety of stuffed birds. Many of the latter were from a collection of Edward W. Baker, the longtime Town Clerk and the president of the club who, noted the Brookline Chronicle, was “a man who long ago learned that it is better to hunt birds with opera glass and the camera and who consistently devotes his energies to the spreading of that gospel.”

The club’s interest in birds had an economic, as well as aesthetic and scientific purpose. The town’s trees had been devastated by insect infestation. “Brookline has been as hard hit by the work of the gipsys, brown-tail, leopard moths and elm beetle as any of her neighbors,” the club’s vice president Charles B. Floyd wrote in American Forestry magazine in 1915. “In 1908 the town was the worst gipsy moth infested district in New England. Today the gipsys are well under control and due recognition of the work of the birds is made.”

Charles B. Floyd (left), one of the original officers of the Brookline Bird Club, did much to share news of the club and its activities through articles in publications like American Forestry and Bird-Lore, the predecessor to today’s Audubon magazine. He was later a longtime Newton alderman.

(Photo credit: Blackington, Alton H. Charles B. Floyd, bird expert, ca. 1930. Alton H. Blackington Collection (PH 061). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries)

Although the club was unsuccessful in establishing an official bird sanctuary in town, it did persuade owners of several large estates to post signs prohibiting shooting on their property. Officers of the Forestry Department helped enforce the prohibition.

Brookline Bird Club logo
The Brookline Bird Club rapidly expanded beyond Brookline, attracting members from throughout Massachusetts and beyond and organizing trips throughout the eastern part of the state and further afield. Today, the connection to Brookline is largely in name only, but the 1100-member club is the largest and one of the oldest of the many bird clubs in Massachusetts.

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