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Looking Back 80 Years to When WSO Was Born

-By Michael John Jaeger, Editor, The Passenger Pigeon- 

I was looking back into Volume 1 of The Passenger Pigeon to see what I might find about the beginnings of WSO. One curious thing was that four monthly issues of the Pigeon were published before WSO’s formal start in May 1939. In the January issue, it was noted that the Madison Bird Club had in mind a statewide bird club.

The Madison Club went on the jumpstart the formation of WSO by creating a preliminary organization and naming six temporary officers, publishing a monthly bulletin beginning in January and inviting the hatchling organization to Madison in May for its first annual meeting. Subscriptions were sold to the then monthly Passenger Pigeon.

Thus, the first annual meeting of WSO was held the weekend of May 6th and 7th, where WSO was formally launched. After rereading the description of that meeting from the May issue of the Pigeon, I thought it was worth reprinting the meeting notes in their entirety in honor of WSO turning 80 years old this month. Here’s what they said:


On May 6th and 7th about eighty interested bird people from various locations in Wisconsin gathered at the Kennedy Manor in Madison, for the organization meeting and first annual program of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. Representatives from Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ft. Atkinson, Baraboo, Manitowoc, Oshkosh, Hayward, Madison and other points were present.

Among the most important accomplishments of the business meeting was approval of the constitution, which appears elsewhere in this paper, and selection of the officers and two members-at-large who together constitute the new executive committee.

Newly elected officers are as follows: President, N.R. Barger; Vice President, Alvin Throne; Secretary, Murl Deusing; Treasurer, Karl W. Kahmann; Editor, W.E. Scott; Members-at-large, A.W. Schorger and Clarence Jung. Barger had been acting president and is also president of the Madison Bird Club. Throne is president of the Milwaukee Bird Club and with the Milwaukee State Teachers College. Deusing is with the Milwaukee Public Museum and Jung, a member of the Milwaukee Bird Club, is also from that city. Kahmann is a taxidermist at Hayward and a field ornithologist with considerable background, while Schorger is well known as one of Wisconsin’s authorities in this field.

After the general meeting and program the executive committee met for its first session. This meeting resulted in the decision to accept all subscribers to THE PASSENGER PIGEON at that time as charter members in the Society; to publish the bulletin monthly in its present form at least until the end of the calendar year; and to prepare both membership cards and application forms. It was felt that possibly after this present year the Society will have sufficient support to warrant a printed bulletin.


After the banquet dinner a very interesting program followed. Irven Buss of the University of Wisconsin showed lantern slides along with his presentation of research he had done on the Upland Plover. His discussion featured an explanation of the essential habitat characteristics necessary for that bird and showed how they had once been abundant, then scarce due largely to hunting, and now were becoming more numerous in the Faville Grove area of Jefferson County. Of special value were his notes on the types of cover which are now favored due to the lack of original prairie plants, and his presentation of their call notes on a musical score.

That same evening John S. Main, of Madison, gave an interesting talk on bird names. He discussed those most appropriate and most pleasing as well as others which had little rime and less reason.

Murl Deusing of the Milwaukee Public Museum followed with both movies and lantern slides in his thorough study of the Nesting Birds of Lake Koshkonong, where he and his assistants had done considerable field work the previous summer. Deusing showed unusual close-ups of such nesting birds as the Pied-billed Grebe, Black Tern, Florida Gallinule, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, and both the Least and American Bitterns. Pictures of many smaller marsh birds were also shown.


On Sunday morning, May 7th, many of the visiting and local ornithologists went on field trips in small groups. When the afternoon meeting began an inventory of good ‘finds’ disclosed the fact that Schorger has succeeded in collecting a Cinnamon Teal (reported by Main in Saturday) on Hammersley’s marsh near Madison. It is believed that this is only the third authentic record of this bird for Wisconsin and so is worthy of special note. Schorger’s party also reported a group of about 40 Golden Plover, while 7 were seen by Evans and Bussewitz and a few individuals by a third party.

The afternoon program began with the Jones’ report of The Nesting of the Holboell’s (now Red-necked) Grebe in 1938 on Fish Lake in Dane County. Jones very faithfully traveled from his home in Waukesha on numerous occasions to make this study. He was at once rewarded for his efforts by an opportunity to watch the young of this shy bird climb upon the mother’s back to rest.

Schorger then presented a talk on the Introduction of the English Sparrow into Wisconsin. His data, largely drawn from early-day newspaper accounts, explained how organized ‘Sparrow Clubs’ actually imported these birds in an effort to establish them. According to Schorger, the first three Wisconsin releases were made in 1873 in the southeastern part of the state, while it was not until September, 1876, that 20 pairs were released in Madison. The story of the rapid increase of the Madison birds was both interesting and humorous. The English Sparrow, however, dispersed slowly, taking about five years to move from Madison to Mineral Point.

Motion pictures of Hawks, Eagles and Falcons of Wisconsin and Surrounding States were presented by W.S. Feeney. Besides many nesting ‘shots’ taken with great difficulty, special attention was given to flight identification and falconry.

An unusually fine set of bird photographs, taken by members of the Milwaukee Bird Blub was displayed by that group in the dining room.

Walk-Ins Encouraged at May 24-27 Convention

WSO’s 80th annual convention will take place Friday May 24 through Monday May 27 at or near the River Prairie Center in Altoona, only minutes from downtown Eau Claire on a beautiful bend in the Eau Claire River. The River Prairie development provides convenient access to lodging, a coffee store, several restaurants, a 24-hour gas station and a 24-hour grocery store.

Pre-registration closed April 30 but walk-ins are encouraged and convention details are available online at Registration fees for walk-ins are $50 for adults and $25 for students.