Oregon History

Birds, history and backyards

Meet Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey: amazing illustrator, pioneer and activist, ornithologist, and nature writer.

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We’re doing the Backyard Habitat Certification Program. As part of the program I’m going to have to do some work, like remove a bunch of blackberries and invasive species. That’s gonna be fun. 

The main reason I’m doing this, though,  is because native plants use less water and they attract local bugs, that then attract local birds. The less watering, the better.

Doing research on local birds I stumbled across a name I’d never heard before: Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey. I found her because I also stumbled across a stunning book, illustrated by her, called Handbook of Birds of the Western United States. She was more than an amazing illustrator, though. She was a pioneer and an activist, and ornithologist and nature writer.

In the late 1880s, she studied bird behaviors and championed the study of live birds. She’s also considered the first person to propose using binoculars when birding. According to the Sierra College:

By 1885, she began to write articles focusing on bird protection. She was horrified by the common fashion trend which used feathers and even entire birds as hat decorations. An estimated five million birds a year were killed for this purpose. Moved to publicize this slaughter, Florence organized The Smith College Audubon Society. Through her efforts, a third of the student body distributed circulars and wrote passionate protests to newspaper. Eventually, along with additional efforts by national organizations dedicated to ending this hat decoration method, laws were passed outlawing the practice.

Florence Merriam Bailey, 1886 Smith College yearbook. Photograph by Notman Photographic Company. Source.

So, what’s the Oregon angle?  She did her fieldwork in Oregon in 1898 on Mount Hood, and at Garibaldi on the Oregon Coast and on the McKenzie River, both in the summer of 1914. There, she documented the habitat and behavior of many Oregon birds.

In 1992 the Oregon Geographic Names Board voted to name Mount Bailey in honor of her and her husband, Vernon.

One reply on “Birds, history and backyards”

I’ve been trying to find a place to rent goats the house next door has so many blackberry bushes they can’t seem to keep up and maintain but I heard goats will plow right through them is that a fable or is it fact anybody know live on Mount Tabor would appreciate any input

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