The history of the Kentucky Ornithological Society (KOS) is a record of people who are, and have been, dedicated to the observation and recording of birds in Kentucky and, hopefully, will be an inspiration for others, young and old, to continue to do the same.
The Kentucky Ornithological Society was organized in Louisville, Kentucky, in April 1923. For the early history, we need to refer to the writings of Dr. Gordon Wilson, one of the three founders. Here's how it all began. In December 1918, Dr. Wilson supervised the first Christmas bird count (called a census) at Bowling Green, Kentucky, and submitted the results to Bird-Lore (which later became Audubon Field Notes). He was delighted when he received his copy of Bird-Lore in the Spring of 1919 and saw his first ornithological publication. He was further pleased when, a few days later, he was visited by Albert F. Ganier, a civil engineer from Nashville, Tennessee, who had seen the census and had come to urge him to start a state organization in Kentucky. Wilson mentioned "While he was here, I took a short hike with him, the first time I had ever seen a real authority in ornithology. However, at that time I did not know that there was any other active bird student in the whole state except me, but Mr. Ganier kept writing me about the advantages of having a state society and induced me to become a member of the Wilson Ornithological Club (now call Society)" (Wilson 1963).
Albert F. Ganier
Mr. Ganier, also a founder of the Tennessee Ornithological Society that was organized in 1915, kept telling the Kentuckians of the advantages of a state society and how they could be of help. Early in 1923, Dr. Otley Pindar, a physician in Versailles, Mr. B.C. Bacon, civil service man from Madisonville, and Dr. Gordon Wilson, an English teacher from Bowling Green, had been exchanging letters and discussing plans for getting together to make plans for an ornithological state society. Early in 1923, they planned to meet at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville on Friday of the week when the Kentucky Education Association was in session. Mr. Bacon was unable to attend, but he sent suggestions for a constitution that remained in force until the adoption of a revised constitution in 1940 (which was revised again in 1991 and 2000). Because they now had three members, Dr. Wilson stated that they "proceeded to elect or appoint Dr. Pindar as the oldest practicing ornithologist of the state, as our president; Mr. Bacon as Vice-President; and me (Gordon Wilson) as Secretary Treasurer" (Wilson 1949). There now were two state ornithological societies in the entire south, one in Kentucky and one in Tennessee. There were less than a half dozen others in the entire country at that time. The Louisville newspaper sent a reporter to cover the conference and gave the new society much needed publicity. Miss Emily Yunker, school garden and nature study director of the Louisville schools, saw the newspaper article, sent her dues (fifty cents), and became KOS's first new member (Wilson 1963).
Albert F. Ganier and Gordon Wilson were commissioned as Kentucky Colonels at the 40th Anniversary K.O.S. meeting, Mammoth Cave National Park, Oct. 11 - 13, 1963
Albert F. Ganier and Gordon Wilson were commissioned as Kentucky Colonels at the 40th Anniversary K.O.S. meeting, Mammoth Cave National Park, Oct. 11 - 13, 1963 Dr. Wilson, as secretary-treasurer, began to write letters to prospective members and scheduled a full program for the first spring meeting in 1924, with a rather lengthy program, including a bibliography of Kentucky ornithology by Dr. Pindar (a paper unfortunately lost) and a discussion of the birds of the Bardstown region by Mr. Blincoe that included additions to a list prepared in the 1880's by Mr. C.W. Beckham. Fortunately, this paper was published later in The Auk, and according to Dr. Wilson, was "one of the basic studies of Kentucky ornithology." The 1924 spring meeting at Louisville began a series that ran regularly, except for three years in World War II, until 1956, when this annual session was moved to Bowling Green. In the fall of 1924, a joint meeting was held with the Tennessee Ornithological Society and the Wilson Ornithological Club at Nashville, Tennessee. The ten KOS members who were present "got our first glimpse of outstanding scholars in our field."
Each spring, the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) gave KOS small grants to bring a speaker from some distance to lecture or show a movie on birds during the conference. The teachers at the KEA meetings, especially the science teachers, could avail themselves of this opportunity. Spring meetings in Louisville with the KEA continued for nearly 30 years (through 1955), with the exception of three war years (1943 - 1945) when meetings of many organizations were cancelled. In 1956, the KEA found it could no longer sponsor several societies, such as KOS and the Kentucky Folklore Society, which were not actually connected to it (Schneider 1973). At that time, KOS decided to assist Dr. Wilson at the spring meetings with his study at the wet-weather lakes, near Woodburn. For many years, study of these transient lakes had been a project of Dr. Wilson's, and he felt that KOS members could help continue the study (Schneider 1973). From 1956 - 1963, KOS headquarters there was at the Lost River Motel in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Two years after its inception, the Society initiated publication of a quarterly newsletter, The Kentucky Warbler, named for the only bird that bears the name of our state, made its "meek and humble bow to the world" (Wilson 1949). At that time and for some years afterwards, it consisted of four small issues of four pages each, but over the years the newsletter evolved into more of a journal. Now, in 2015, and beginning its 91st volume, the journal has been expanded to include more than 100 pages of content in some years. Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr., is serving as its seventh editor, following Gordon Wilson, Burt L. Monroe, Sr., Harvey B. Lovell, Anne Stamm, Herbert E. Shadowen, and Blaine Ferrell who previously served in that role. Our quarterly publication is well known all over the country, and its articles are abstracted in Biological Abstracts and other standard bibliographical publications. We have many requests for reprints of various bird articles from all across the U.S. and from European countries.
The Kentucky Warbler is sent on a quarterly basis to all members and more than a dozen libraries and universities that are paid subscribers. In addition, it is mailed to 23 state and national societies with whom an exchange of publications is maintained by the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom Library. We have a complete inventory of hard copy back issues of The Kentucky Warbler. and a project to scan all back issues to PDF digital format is underway. Beginning in 2012, members also have had the option of receiving their issues of the journal in digital format rather than hard copy.
In the early years, KOS gave an award to a member of the Kentucky Junior Academy of Science writing the best paper on birds. The winning paper was published in The Kentucky Warbler, and the student was awarded $5.00 and received a year's subscription to the journal.
Programs at our fall and spring meetings include presentations by KOS members and, at times, ornithologists from neighboring states, as well as by members or employees of other groups such as the American Ornithologists' Union, the Wilson Ornithological Society, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. We encourage graduate students to give presentations about their research and we also support them with our funds. Members also share reports of unusual sightings at our meetings.
At the invitation of Elton Fawks, Illinois, Chairman of the Mississippi Valley Bald Eagle Investigation Winter Study, KOS participated in the Mississippi Valley Bald Eagle Survey from 1961-1979. These counts were expanded in 1979 by the National Wildlife Federation Raptor Information Center to include the entire 48 contiguous states. James Durell, then Assistant Director of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resorces, was asked by the Raptor Center to coordinate the count in Kentucky. Mr. Durell invited the KOS, which had been taking a one-day count in the state for the past 19 years in cooperation with Mr. Fawks, to work with him on this project. KOS accepted the invitation from Mr. Durell, and KOS members are still participating in these counts. The mid-winter Bald Eagle count is now a part of a nation-wide survey and the results of the counts in Kentucky are published in The Kentucky Warbler.
Beginning in 1966, KOS members have participated in the nationwide Breeding Bird Survey, sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, members of the Society have participated in the Nest Card Program in cooperation with the Laboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University since 1965.
From 1948 - 1952, KOS members in Louisville and Murray took part in counting migrating birds in nocturnal flight across the full moon using telescopes. Mr. Charles Strull, a KOS member and astronomer, supervised the project. The information from numerous stations across the country was the subject of a study by Dr. George R. Lowery of Louisiana State University, which he published under the title A Quantitative Study of the Nocturnal Migration of Birds.
In 1983, Dr. Russell Starr and his wife, Faye, of Glasgow, donated their 95-acre wildlife refuge, Brigadoon, to The Nature Conservancy. This refuge is managed by Western Kentucky University for wildlife research purposes through KOS members and WKU faculty members Dr. Herbert E. Shadowen and Wayne Mason.
The Summary of Occurrence of Birds in Kentucky, compiled by Dr. Burt L. Monroe Jr., was supported by KOS and, according to Monroe, it reflects the cooperative effort of many members of the organization. In addition to reports dating back to the time of Audubon, records up through December 31, 1968, were included. In 1988, the Society sponsored publication of the Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Kentucky, the first summary of the state’s avifauna to be published since Robert Mengel’s Birds of Kentucky (1965). Burt Monroe, Jr., Anne Stamm, and Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr., were the co-authors of this 84 page softbound book. It summarized the status of 340 species of birds that had been reported in the state. A second edition of the Annotated Checklist was published by the Society in 2003, utilizing a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Sadly, two of the three authors of the first edition (Burt Monroe, Jr., and Anne Stamm) passed away during the 1990s, so Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr. authored the second edition, which was expanded to 189 pages and included a section of color documentary photos. At the time of its publication, the state’s official list of birds had grown to 363.
The holdings of the KOS
include four invested funds and a recently established scholarship fund. The Endowment Fund was initiated with a bequest from Dr. Pindar and is supplemented with monies from life memberships, gifts and bequests specifically directed to the endowment. Investment proceeds from this fund are transferred annually to the society's general fund.
The Gordon Wilson Fund for Ornithology honors Dr. Gordon Wilson for his devoted service to the society. Its funds are used to assist in the publication of The Kentucky Warbler, to finance and publish ornithological research in Kentucky, and to provide fellowships and scholarships for the study of ornithology.
The Burt L. Monroe Jr. Avian Research Fund was established to honor Dr. Burt Monroe, Jr. who was an international authority on bird taxonomy and an active member of the society. It has been supported by contributions from the society's members and from the Beckham Bird Club. Funds are used for grants to assist students conducting research on birds within Kentucky.
The Anne L. Stamm Avian Education Fund honors Mrs. Anne Stamm, a distinguished member of the society until her death in 1999. Monies are raised from designated gifts and expended for projects that educate children and create a deeper appreciation of birds and ornithology.
The most recently established fund is the Virginia and Wendell Kingsolver Scholarship Fund. This fund was established in 2013 to honor the Kingsolvers, both of whom served as president of the society and had a particular interest in encouraging a love of nature in young people. Funds are raised through contributions and expended to pay tuition for a Kentuckian between the ages of 13 and 18 to attend an American Birding Association Young Birder Summer Camp.
Publication of our bird observations is a large part of who we are and what we do. Results of Christmas Bird Counts, conducted by members since the beginning of KOS, have been included in The Kentucky Warbler. The Seasonal Reports were added to The Kentucky Warbler beginning in May 1978.
For many years, noted local artist, Ray Harm, graciously allowed us to use his art work on covers for The Kentucky Warbler. Beginning in 2005, grants from the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives and the Daniel Boone National Forest have allowed us to print the journal’s covers in color. This has allowed publication of rare or unusual birds to be more useful for documentation purposes.
The KOS Kentucky Bird Records Committee was established to give fair and expert consideration to the recording of unusual birds encountered in the state. This committee is to be commended for its excellent work.
We, as KOS members, are devoted to the preservation of bird habitat in our state, but our contribution is more in the way of identifying what is there, important nesting and migratory stop-over territory, and leaving it to The Nature Conservancy, the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, and other such organizations to purchase and preserve this land. However, we have consistently supported environmental causes by letters and contact with state and federal policy makers.
KOS is a healthy organization, with many energetic and very knowledgeable birders as members. We are fortunate indeed to have members of all ages and levels of experience in KOS, but all bound by a common desire to enhance our knowledge of birds in Kentucky. The fun that we have birding together is a joyous byproduct of belonging. KOS has always had an excellent mix of professional ornithologists and amateurs. The field trips at the meetings and other times and locations are a great opportunity to hone our birding skills. The trained eyes of all of us throughout the state provide invaluable observations of and information about the birds of Kentucky.
In 1998, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of this organization, and the contributions of its members throughout its history. Since then, KOS has continued to grow in recognizing and including affiliated local clubs across the state.
KOS holds semiannual meetings in various parts of Kentucky to encourage participation by all members at one time or another. KOS membership has always been open to all persons interested in birding.
Presidents of the Kentucky Ornithological Society, 1923-2001
L. Otley Pindar 1923-25 Gordon Wilson 1925-29 T. Atchison Frazer 1930-33 Brasher C. Bacon 1934-38 Burt L. Monroe, Sr. 1939 Evelyn J. Schneider 1940-41 Harvey B. Lovell 1942-44 Victor K. Dodge 1945 Gordon Wilson 1946-47 Mabel Slack 1948 Mary Lou Frei 1949 Leonard C. Brecher 1950-51 Virginia Smith 1952-53 Roger W. Barbour 1954 Anne L. Stamm 1955-57 Hunter M. Hancock 1958-59 James W. Hancock 1960 W.P. Rhoads 1961 Al H. Mayfield 1962 Clell T. Peterson 1963 Howard Jones 1965-66 Herbert Shadowen 1967-68 Willard Gray 1969-70 Ray Nall 1971-72 Burt L. Monroe, Jr. 1973-75 A.L. Whitt, Jr. 1976-77 Andrew Uterhart 1978-79 Ramon Iles 1980-81 Pierre Allaire 1982-84 Blaine Ferrell 1985 Fred Busroe 1986-87 Jim Williams 1988-89 Virginia Kingsolver 1990-91 Lee McNeely 1992-93 Herbert Clay, Jr. 1994-95 Wayne M. Mason 1996-97 Wendell Kingsolver 1998-99 Marilee Thompson 2000-2001 Kathy Caminiti 2001-2003 Hap Chambers 2004-2005 Mark Bennett 2005-2006 Win Ahrens 2007-2008 Scott Marsh 2009-2010 Carol Besse 2011-2012 Steve Kistler 2013 - 2015
Seven past presidents of KOS: Leonard Brecher, Evelyn Schneider, Gordon Wilson, Brasher Bacon, Mary Lou Cypert (Frei), Harvey Lovell, and Mabel Slack (The Kentucky Warbler 28:19, 1952).
Ganier, A. F. 1963. The Contributions of the Kentucky Ornithological Society to ornithology. The Kentucky Warbler 39:54-58.
Kingsolver, G. 1998. History of K.O.S.: 75th Anniversary, September 1998. The Kentucky Warbler 74:77-83.
Mengel, R.M. 1965. The Birds of Kentucky. American Ornithologists’ Union Monograph No. 3. Lawrence, KS. 581 pp. Schneider, E. J. 1973. The Kentucky Ornithological Society, 1923–1973. The Kentucky Warbler 49:23-30. Schneider, E. J. 1974. Albert F. Ganier, 1883–1973. Kentucky Warbler 50:23-25.
Wilson, G. 1939. Early Life of the K.O.S. The Kentucky Warbler 15:32-33.
Wilson, G. 1940. Just to remind you. The Kentucky Warbler 16:42-44. Wilson, G. 1949. The Kentucky Ornithological Society, 1923–1948. The Kentucky Warbler 25:50-54.
Wilson, G. 1963. The First Forty Years of the Kentucky Ornithological Society. The Kentucky Warbler 39:51-54.