Thanks to Proteus Gowanus extending a hand (or rather, wing) to the Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives for the purpose of its “Migration” exhibition series, we couldn’t help but delve a little further into our own history with the topic of migration. As it turns out, this took a rather literal turn and we didn’t need to look far to discover one particularly affectionate tome in the Natural Sciences departmental report of the Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, expounding on the adventures of one particular group: the Bird Lovers Club of Brooklyn. The club itself took flight in 1907, after a chance encounter with a friendly Cardinal in Central Park inspired its founders to organize bird-watching walks through Prospect Park. By the time the article in the Quarterly was published in 1916, the club had visited the park 988 times on these missions, recording a total of 159 species of birds. It is immediately apparent that these excursions were anything but work to those involved:
“Has all this work paid? Some might say that it has not paid, in a money sense, as we have consumed 103 days’ time, if we allow two and one-half hours for each of the 988 trips made, but against this is the pleasure of becoming acquainted with so many of Nature’s happiest creatures and the storing up of much health through the outdoor exercise. We think it has paid many times over.”- Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, Vol. 3-4 (01/1916-10/1917), pg. 100.
In fact, so plentiful were the observations of the Bird Lovers and their knowledge of Brooklyn bird life, that they organized an exhibition
with the help of the Museum’s Librarian from April 15-April 29 of 1916, featuring charts of different birds, models of bird houses and bird feeders, and graphic representations of bird migration, as well as provided several bird-themed lectures to the public.
The exhibition was heavily attended and was such a success that the National Association of Audobon Societies borrowed much of the exhibit for use in the National Educational Exhibit that Summer in New York City.
In reflecting on these Bird Lovers and the dedication they showed their migratory friends, one can’t help but notice a certain paradox in one of their observations. Regarding the Springtime return of birdsong to Prospect Park, the Bird Lovers note that “Few birds are in best voice during migration” (Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, Vol. 3-4 (01/1916-10/1917), pg. 107). In this respect we would hope that the Proteus Gowanus Migration exhibition and collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives actually gives voice not only to these creatures specifically, but also to the issues surrounding migration in all its forms and consequences. We are happy to be a part of this chorus and are confident that our past counterparts, the Bird Lovers, would also chirp their appreciation in this endeavor.
-Emily Atwater, Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives