March 6:1919: “The first meeting of the new Evanston Bird Club occurs tonight at the Roycemore gymnasium, when the formal organization will be completed. The promoters of the new enterprise invite and urge the attendance of everyone who has any interest in birds … and hope that a large proportion of those who attend will become charter members of the club. The annual dues for active membership have been made the nominal sum of fifty cents, so that no one may be excluded because of expense.”

With that announcement, there was now a local organization for people to learn about birds and to participate in bird conservation. Ms. Fredrick Pattee, one of the founders, led the group as President for the next 20 years.  

Mrs. Julia Henry, the founding Head of Roycemore School, became the club’s Vice President and head of the Education Committee. Fifty men and women became charter members.

The new club lost no time in fulfilling its mission. In April, the club hosted the well-known Norman McClintock of Pittsburgh to “present his remarkable motion pictures of wild birds…Motion pictures of birds are comparatively new, and Mr. McClintock’s films represent the highest achievement in this photographic art.” The club continued to sponsor events by nationally-renowned naturalists including William Finley and William Beebe.

Over the next 100 years, the name changed to reflect membership outside of Evanston, and the annual dues for an individual rose to $25.

But the mission stayed the same – to serve the interests of birds and birders. Members gave presentations to schools and scout groups and provided books to build up the Evanston Public Library’s bird book shelves. Fridays during May, migration found club members in Harms Woods, many taking advantage of streetcar transportation along Central Street and transferring to another street car to the Forest Preserve.

The gas shortage of World War II found the club choosing spots closer to home, including Memorial Cemetery and Doetch gravel pit at the corner of Central Street and Ridge Road, where they found an astonishing array of shorebirds.  

The club won third prize for its float in Evanston’s 1926 Fourth of July parade.

In 1939, the club voted to write to the “proper authorities … protesting  the killing of 2000 juncos to form the base of an aspic salad which was served to the King and Queen of Great Britain and guests at a dinner in Quebec.”

The late 1940s and 1950s were hot years for conservation. The club joined with others in efforts to save special nearby birding and natural places. They wrote letters and spoke on behalf of Volo Bog, Wauconda Bog, Indiana Dunes, Baker’s Lake in Barrington and Illinois Beach State Park.

They lost the Doetch gravel pit. They fought hard to conserve the southern portion, with its springs and pond, as a wildlife preserve for migrating and nesting species of birds. Instead, it became Lovelace Park.

But a new area was in the planning stages: Ladd Arboretum. Landscape designer Ralph Melin with the support of Evanston Bird Club, looked forward to creating bird sanctuaries there. On April 3, 1959, the Evanston Review, perhaps in recognition of the Bird Club’s conservation efforts, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the club with Roger Tory Peterson’s rendering of two Red-headed woodpeckers on the cover.

Over the years, the meeting sites changed from churches, the Women’s Club and the Public Library to the Ecology Center. Friday walks moved to Skokie Lagoons.

The club sponsored a wider variety of local and international field trips. Slides gave way to Power Point presentations. Roger Tory Peterson’s groundbreaking field guide, first published in 1934 and immediately used by club members, gave way to guides and photos on cell phones.  

The focus on conservation has not changed, and the strongest evidence has been the adoption of the developing Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, where many members of the club participate as volunteers. The club participates in four annual Christmas Bird Counts and supports conservation organizations.

Another important aspect of club membership being recognized this year is the long club tradition of informal mentoring of younger and new members. When asked about his experience with ENSBC, Josh Engel, an Evanston native, wrote, “I first attended ENSBC field trips when I was about 13. In my early teens I attended field trips led by Ralph Herbst, Dave Johnson and Joel Greenberg.

Watching those guys and seeing their skills, I knew instinctively that someday I wanted to be the person leading those field trips, and the bird club gave me that opportunity before too long. I’m happy to have been able to give back, leading dozens of field trips and giving many talks for the bird club over the last decade.”

To commemorate the rich history of its 100 years, the club has invited some of today’s noted naturalists and scientists, who were once mentored by the club, to return to Evanston to speak during the 2019 Program series.  

A birthday bash is scheduled for the March 26 program meeting. The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Ecology Center, complete with birthday cake. All are invited.

Libby Hill is the author of "The Chicago River: a Natural and Unnatural History. She has been writing about birds and trees and Evanston's natural history for the Roundtable since 2004.