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Drawn from Nature: Art, Science, and the Study of Birds

The Audubon Societies

The First Audubon Societies

The Audubon Society traces its roots to 1886 when George Bird Grinnell, sportsman and publisher of Forest and Stream, founded a national organization in the interest of bird protection. Within a year, the Audubon Society had over 300 chapters and 18,000 members. In February 1887, he began selling subscriptions to Audubon Magazine at 50 cents a year. But the original society was short lived. Subscriptions to the magazine failed to provide the necessary financial resources to fund the association, forcing the demise of Grinnell’s Audubon Society within three years.

Portrait of George Bird Grinnell ca. 1899 courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Audubon Society is Reborn

In 1896, Boston socialites Harriet Hemenway and her cousin, Mina Hall, founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Within two years, 15 other states and the District of Columbia formed Audubon Societies. The women organizing and running these early societies were instrumental in expanding the legislative reach of conservation, even before they gained the vote. By 1905 the Audubon movement was here to stay. The National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals incorporated that year. It became the National Audubon Society in 1940.

Portrait of Harriet Hemenway

Harriet Hemenway Portrait

Bird-Lore and Christmas Bird Counts

Frank Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, began publication of Bird-Lore in 1899 as the official publication of the Audubon Societies. In the December 1900 issue of Bird-Lore, Chapman proposed a Christmas Bird Census to replace the tradition of Christmas Day “side hunts” where hunters divided into teams to see who could kill the most birds and animals. The popularity of the Christmas Bird Count blossomed as hunting birds with cameras and binoculars became an increasingly popular pastime.

cover of Bird-Lore featuring 2 small girls playing with a bird in a cage

Bird-Lore, vol. 6, no. 2, 1904. View Source.