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October 2020

Vol. 48, No. 5

"Birds I Know," the Boston Globe's Bird Column, 1932–1966

Peter W. Oehlkers


Path along the northern edge of Ada Govan's Woodland Bird Sanctuary, Lexington, Massachusetts. Photograph by the author.

…In a low shrub near a lane sits a dear little chestnut-sided warbler in her nest of four eggs. They are a dainty bird and not too shy. Then, too, a tiny chebec…is sitting on her downy soft nest in a small apple tree…Who else in this column are interested in birds?...Won't those who are interested write some of their experiences? Or perhaps describe those they have seen, but do not know. Some of us may be able to answer questions…. ("Troubadour" 1932, 27)

On June 30, 1932, "Troubadour," a writer from New Hampshire in the Boston Globe's "Confidential Chat," proposed a new column. The "Chat," a pseudonymous correspondence feature in the Household section dating back to 1912, already had special columns for letters about gardening and pets. Why not add one for letters about wild birds? On August 22, 1932, "Troubadour" had her wish. The "Chat" published six letters under the header "Birds I Know." "Meadowford" talked about the chickadees and Blue Jays she had tamed, "Among the Hills" wrote about an albino robin she had seen, "Rose Marie" talked about the Baltimore Oriole nest she had observed, "G.S." wrote about the American Redstart she saw trying to teach her young, "Nature Lover" complained about the cats that interfered with nesting in her yard, and "The Mourning Warbler" recounted the best of the 90 birds on her list for the year, including her namesake, a "very rare one for this part of the country." For the next thirty-plus years "Birds I Know" would be a Boston Globe institution, publishing more than 5000 letters from women (and a handful of men) writing to one another about their experiences with wild birds.

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Our mission: to support and promote the observation, understanding, and conservation of the wild birds of New England.