Keyword. You can use the Bird Archive Key Word Search to locate species by their common or scientific names. For more advanced navigation, see the Search Menu on the left.
Seasons. For the purposes of this project seasons are defined in the following way: winter=Dec.-Jan.-Feb.; spring=March-Apr.-May; summer=June-July-Aug.; autumn=Sept.-Oct.-Nov.
Sources & Resources
Nineteenth-century data on the birds’ occurrence, arrival, and departure dates
is drawn principally from H. L. Clark’s The Birds of Amherst & Vicinity, including nearly the whole of Hampshire County
(1887), originally published in Amherst, Mass., by J. E. Williams and now available via the HathiTrust
. In cases where data is not available in Clark, two additional sources—Ebenezer Emmons’s Birds of Massachusetts
(1833), originally published in Dr. Edward Hitchcock’s “Report on the Geology, Minerology, Botany and Zoology of Massachusetts
”, pp. 528-51, and J. A. Allen’s “Catalogue of the Birds Found at Springfield, Mass., with Notes on their Migrations, Habits, & c., together with a list of those birds found in the State not yet observed at Springfield”, originally published in the Proceedings of the Essex Institute at Salem
, Vol. IV, No. 2, September 1864 (HathiTrust
) have helped us to partly fill in the record.
Twentieth-century data on the birds’ occurrence, arrival, and departure dates
has been drawn from Aaron Clark Bagg and Samuel Atkins Eliot Jr.’s magisterial Birds of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts
(1937), originally published in Northampton, Mass., by The Hampshire Bookshop and available through the HathiTrust
. A more local source, Peter Westover's Birds and Their Habitats in Amherst, Massachusetts with Complete Annotated List of Amherst Birds
(Amherst: Hitchcock Center for the Environment, 1977) supplies information for the Bird-ring.
Data on the global conservation status
of Dickinson’s birds in our century is readily available. Our primary source for this information is the IUCN Red List
. In future, we plan to include regional conservation information. For the specific environmental threats to birds occurring in North America, The American Bird Conservancy
site is an excellent resource.Data regarding the conservation status of Dickinson’s birds in the twentieth century
is recoverable through the documentation provided in the Christmas Bird Censuses, first begun in 1900 by ornithologist Frank M. Chapman and then carried on throughout the century. The conservation status of Dickinson’s birds in the 19th-century is often unreported or simply unknown.
One long-term aim of Dickinson’s Birds
is to begin to fill in this important but largely blank record.
The Bird Lists: Sparrow Data
Emily Dickinson’s bird list—her life list, as some birders call it—is a minor one. In her poems she named but 24 of the almost 500 species of avifauna that breed in or pass through the coordinates of the North American continent she inhabited.  Most of those she named are common wild songbirds, but other kinds of birds including solitary, nocturnal raptors also number among them. Dickinson’s named birds, a tiny subset of a far larger number she must have seen or heard, we have followed most closely, collecting data about their occurrence in the region, the dates of their arrivals and departures, their habitats and nesting materials, and, perhaps most crucially, their conservation status as they migrate from the nineteenth- to the twenty-first century.
In our initial stage of data collection on Dickinson’s birds, three sources have been fundamental. Given our interest in the relation of birdsong to the experience of emplacement, our root source for 19th-century data has been the work of H. L. Clark, an Amherst resident, natural historian, and author of the 1887 Birds of Amherst & Hampshire County. While Clark’s list of 177 birds, published only a year after Dickinson’s death, is not comprehensive, it offers a rich historical record of the avifauna of Dickinson’s most immediate world. To offer a fuller survey of the birdscape of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts between 1830 and 1886—the years of Dickinson’s life—we have also included the 1833 bird list of Ebenezer Emmons, professor at Williams College and the earliest natural historian to compile a list of the birds of Massachusetts, and the 1864 list of the birds of Springfield, Massachusetts composed by Joseph Alsaph Allen, generally regarded as the Valley’s first ornithologist. Together these lists mark the boundaries of the formal 19th-century knowledge of Western Massachusetts's birds. Now cultural artifacts as much scientific records, they also bear witness to the habits of mind of the witnesses who made them in an era when nature was still the Book of Nature and when birds were signifiers of immanant divinity. The lure of Clark’s observations is intricately linked to the subjectivity they convey. In his often telegraphic notes marking the first sightings of a bird in spring—“Bobolink. 4 April. Miss Morse”—and the last glimpses of it in autumn leaving for its wintering range—“Passes south in November”—are archives of feeling.
By the 20thc, ornithology had evolved as a scientific discipline, a development reflected in the increasing breadth and depth of available data as well as in changes in the way data was gathered and reported. While many resources were now available to us, we sifted 20thc data from Aaron Clark Bagg and Samuel Atkins Eliot Jr.’s 1937 Birds of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts. Unfolding over 800 pages and including entries on 268 species, this work offers comprehensive field notes on the descendants of Dickinson’s birds. A scientific study addressed, as the authors write in their dedication, “less to those who read only for their amusement than to those who read only to discover errors”, Birds of the Connecticut Valley is also a deep ornithological history of the region composed via the collation of more than a hundred years of observations recorded by earlier natural historians. To this paratactic, sometimes incantatory presentation of names and dates and sites in which a bird was observed, they add their own, inscribing themselves into the record of a world still as hidden as it was open, as transcendental it was empirical: “Jan. 16, 1931, [a snowy owl] was sighted at sundown flying from Hadley Bridge southward: a huge, white bird flapping silently and low over the still white glistening fields against the purple of Mt. Holyoke in the fast-falling winter twilight” (314). First printed when the Passenger Pigeon Clark had called “common near Amherst” in the spring of 1888 had been extinct for almost a quarter century but also a full quarter century before the wide-spread cultural imagination of a silent spring would take hold, this work is also a transitional work between two centuries that now seem lightyears apart.
Our diachronic record of Dickinson’s birds and their descendants extends to our own time—a time the authors of the 2019 “State of the Birds” report for Massachusetts have defined as one of “crisis for almost all birds everywhere”. Even to the lay person, the collation of a few bird lists from across the centuries reveals a history of both incremental and at times irreversible losses. The crisis, however, is not just in the birdscape, but also in ourselves and our modalities and technologies of seeing and recording. In place of the small, rare epiphanies that were the typical rewards of thousands of hours of solitary fieldwork by 19th and early 20th-century ornithologists, come vast datasets collected by radar networks scanning otherwise invisible birds in their night migrations or by autonomous recording devices parsing the sounds of birds in a world (almost) without us. In the 21st century, the immediacy, biodiversity and radical otherness of the earth illuminated by “big data” may also be a revelation offsetting the threat of mass extinction. For 21st-century data, we have cast our net into the virtual environment, sounding resources including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society’s many resources, and the deep archives of Xeno Canto, an open access site devoted to the dissemination of bird sounds. Today, the influx of data on a scale unimaginable before this century grants us access to the intricate ecological interconnections and reveals to us a new and urgent need to count and care for the least of things, for sparrow-data.