Ask A Librarian

February is for the Birds

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 27th, 2019

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC

Happy National Bird-Feeding Month, everyone!

February was initially proposed for this month-long observance because winter can be a hard time for birds to find food (more on the official resolution here: The month is now celebrated by the National Bird-Feeding Society and bird enthusiasts across the country. The WVRHC has a few collections about birds and birding that will be of interest to other hobbyists and scholars.

Boy scout holding bird feeder

West Virginia has two extant chapters of the National Audubon Society—the Mountaineer chapter based in Morgantown, and the Potomac Valley chapter based in Shepherdstown. The Mountaineer Chapter, chartered in 1971, gave some of its records to the WVRHC.

The Mountaineer Chapter created a packet titled “Identifying and Feeding Your Winter Birds.”

page showing descriptive text and/or images for the following birds: Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Dove, Blue jay, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse

They let people know what birds to expect in the winter, and some useful facts about them.

Clipping with heading "What kind of feeders should I get?" showing seven types of bird feeders

The packet also gives a quick primer on the types of feeders you can use. (No word yet on which feeder will keep the raccoons away from my suet.)

Other accomplishments reflected in the chapter records are bird counts and activism, including an interim report for the ca. 1984-1985 Morgantown Screech Owl Habitat Improvement Research Project.

Newspaper "feature publication" cover with image of owl and headline "Whooo gives a hoot?"

The WVRHC also has the collections of Earl A. Brooks (WVU class of 1897) and Maurice Brooks (WVU professor from 1932-1969), both of whom had a keen interest in birds.  Earl kept notebooks recording his and co-workers notes on sites where specific species were observed, nesting sites, habits, etc.  His notes really helped Maurice Brooks with his work—in his A Check-List of West Virginia Birds, he writes, “Special use has been made of unpublished notes of Rev. Earle [sic] A. Brooks and of Professor E. R. Grose.” Below are two of the maps from Earl’s papers, and text for those same birds out of Maurice’s work a few decades later.

Map of West Virginia showing sighting spots for the White Pelican

Pelicanus erythrorhynchos, or White Pelican: “Of accidental occurrence in the state. Two records for this species were made during the last week in April 1910. E. A. Brooks examined one of two specimens taken in Braxton County on April 23, 191, and mounted by E.J. Hughes. Dr. Roy Bird Cook noted a flock along the Ohio River in Wood County during the same week. In the autumn of 1943 a single individual spent some weeks along the Great Kanawha River, near Charleston, Kanawha County, where it was seen by hundreds of persons. The West Virginia University Museum* has a specimen taken by a Mr. Dawson along the Cacapon River, Morgan County.”

*Blogger’s note: WVU doesn’t have just one museum, and I don’t yet know which of them might have a white pelican specimen.

Map of West Virginia showing sighting and breeding spots for the Purple Martin

Progne subis subis, or Purple Martin: “Local summer resident, seemingly much more restricted in range than formerly. Its colonies are scattered throughout the state, save in areas of heavy forest.” (The National Audubon Society website confirms this species is still somewhat in decline today.)

Anyone who wants to begin backyard bird feeding may not need more than some seeds and a feeder to get started, but knowledge of what birds you are likely to attract can make it easier to find the right types of feeders and food. Additionally, birdwatchers who keep tabs on the population can help identify problematic declines and help keep an eye on bird habitats. If you want to learn more about early 1900s bird populations in West Virginia or more modern bird-related activism, drop by and check out our collections.

Dark colored bird sitting on top of a bird cage that is affixed to a wall.


Brooks, Maurice. A Check-List of West Virginia Birds. Agricultural Experiment Station, College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Home Economics, West Virginia University, 1944. (Bulletin 316)

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>