New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

History of NYSOA
                 ("the Federation")         
Last Updated 7/11/13


1998 marked the Federation's Golden Anniversary.  To commemorate this occasion, a special issue of The Kingbird was published in September of that year, with the Federation's history as its sole topic.

In this section of our website, we offer a brief chronology chart, followed by a collection of excerpts from the Golden Anniversary issue of The Kingbird.  We hope you enjoy this summary, and we invite you to provide feedback on any items that might be added here, whether they represent part of the first 50 years or they are more recent.

Read the entire50th anniversary issue. NEW LINK 7/11/13


Chronology UPDATED 7/11/13

From the Golden Anniversary issue of The Kingbird:


The Beginnings

Interesting Facts Over the Years

New York State Avian Records Committee (NYSARC)

Regular Publications

Other Publication Projects

Federation of New York State Bird Clubs:  A Chronology
First meeting of 12 NYS bird clubs to discuss forming a statewide organization, December 7.
First organizational meeting (13 clubs), October 27.  Constitution drafted and temporary officers identified.
First formal Annual Meeting, November 13-14.  There are 18 member clubs.
20 people join as the Federation's first individual members.
First issue of The Kingbird.
The Federation is incorporated.
First annual Waterfowl Count.
First issue of New York Birders.
First Executive Committee is formed.
Publication of Birds of New York State by John Bull.
NYSARC is established.
Publication of Where to Find Birds in New York State - The Top 500 Sites by Susan Roney Drennan.
Publication of The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State by Robert Andrle and Janet Carroll, Editors.
First publication of Checklist of the Birds of New York State, coordinated by Emanuel Levine.
Publication of Bull's Birds of New York State by Emanuel Levine, Editor.
The Federation's website, created by Kevin McGowan and Barbara Butler, goes live.
Atlas 2000, New York State's second breeding bird atlas project, is launched.
The Federation adopts a new name:  the New York State Ornithological Association.
NYSOA enters partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to offer members a discounted price for subscription to the online version of Birds of North America.
NYSARC online database of reported sightings goes live; all annual reports are now also available online.
eBird New York is launched. NYSOA chose not to continue updating this eBird page several year later.
New York State Young Birders Club, a special project of NYSOA, launched
Online payment for memberships & merchandise implemented in December
Online searchable archive of The Kingbird launched in January
The first electronic issue of New York Birders was sent to 53 NYSOA members in April. NEW 7/11/13



Stanley R. Lincoln

Introduction: Fifty years old, going strong, and never healthier! Certainly an achievement worthy of pause and reflection. So let's do it. This Golden Anniversary record of our history will describe some of the most noteworthy events and activities during these last fifty years. It will also try, with sincere apologies to all not mentioned, to capture for posterity the record of at least some of the hundreds of wonderful volunteers who have made reaching this Golden Anniversary possible.


Origins:  As Gordon Meade, the Federation's first president said in his 1988 Origins, after the end of World War II "it became inescapably self-evident that some mechanism was needed whereby the birders of the state could get to know each other, to share their ideas and experiences, to jointly promote research and education in the field of ornithology, and to secure a stronger voice in conservation matters."

The first steps to address this need took place in Rochester in 1946, starting with an informal brainstorming dinner meeting on March 22nd, followed by another on October 26th. Those meetings set the stage for a formal meeting at the Rochester Museum of Arts and Science on December 7th. That meeting, hosted jointly by Buffalo Ornithological Society and Genesee Ornithological Society, and to which all known bird clubs in the state were invited, was convened to discuss the feasibility of forming a statewide organization. Twenty-one delegates representing 12 organizations attended this historic meeting. The organizations present, in addition to the two hosts, were Buffalo Audubon Society, Burroughs Audubon Nature Club, Cayuga Bird Club, Eaton Bird Club, Elmira Garden Club's Bird Section, Keuka Park Conservation Club, Sassafras Bird Club, Watertown Bird Club, Watkins Glen Bird Club, and Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Interest had also been expressed by others who were unable to attend.

Winston Brockner fondly recalls this gathering of "a remarkable group of enthusiastic people" that included, among others, Dr. Gordon M. Meade, who presided at the meeting, Dr. Peter Paul Kellogg of Cornell, who was given Secretary pro tem duties, Dr. Foster L. Gambrell of Geneva, Dr. and Mrs. Harry C. York of Elmira, Edwin G. Foster, Albert Bussewitz, Fred Hall, and Fred Raetz, all of Rochester, Hazel P. Ellis of Keuka Park, Alice B. English of Amsterdam, Mrs. James A. Common of Watertown, and Louise Helfer of Watkins Glen. Meade and Brockner led a discussion, from which it became obvious that interest in forming a statewide organization was unanimous, as was the opinion that both a state ornithological journal and a new state bird book should be part of the objective. With this enthusiasm, Meade and Brockner were empowered to appoint a committee to prepare a draft constitution.

This work progressed throughout most of 1947, including meetings in Kellogg's office at Cornell as well as one in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History, and culminated in an organizational meeting in Amsterdam on October 27, 1947. Twenty-one people attended, representing 13 clubs, and at the end a proposed constitution was approved and ready to submit to the charter clubs for formal adoption. Temporary officers were also identified to hold office until the constitution was adopted and regular elections could be held. They were: President, Gordon M. Meade; Vice President, Winston W. Brockner; Corresponding Secretary, Peter Paul Kellogg; Recording Secretary, Fred M. Hall; Treasurer, Guy Bartlett. Most people, with sound reasoning, think of this as the actual beginning of the Federation. Indeed, to this day our stationery says, "Organized in 1947."

Actually, however, it took another year to deal with the necessary legal and organizing matters. Then, on November 13-14, 1948, the first formal Annual Meeting of the members of the newly created Federation was held. As initially organized, the Federation was unincorporated; incorporation didn't occur until 1955. State law requires all such organizations to hold an annual meeting of its members for basic business matters such as approving by-laws and holding elections. From the beginning, the Federation has included this required "business meeting" as one part of a larger two or three day weekend meeting, essentially organized and hosted by one or more of our Member Clubs. The Federation has consistently referred to these entire weekend meetings as the "Annual Meeting."

First Annual Meeting:  The 1948 meeting, hosted by Genesee Ornithological Society and Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences, was held at the museum. Essential business matters included formal approval of the new by-laws under which the organization would operate, and election of its first officers. From this date, the Federation was "officially" underway.
This first Annual Meeting actually established a model, set a standard for not only the form and content, but also the caliber of future Annual Meetings, which, with but few and occasional changes, hold to this day. In addition to the required business meeting, the weekend includes displays, a paper session, field trips, workshops (starting in 1975), a formal banquet with speaker, and just great fellowship. The first banquet speaker was Dr. Arthur A. Allen, who spoke of the "Quest for the Bristle-thighed Curlew," and the discovery of the nest of that elusive bird.

The first field trips found such local November rarities as a Red Phalarope, an Eared Grebe, a flock of Purple Sandpipers, and a very tardy Great Egret.

The first paper session also set a very high standard by including:

  • " Status of the Little Gull on the Niagara Frontier" by Harold D. Mitchell
  • "Observations on the Birds of the Adirondacks" by Harold Axtell
  • " How Birds Find Their Way" by Peter Paul Kellogg
  • " The Snowy Owl Incursion in New York in 1945-46" by Gordon M. Meade
  • "Northward Extension of the Range of Certain Species into the Hudson Valley" by Robert F. Deed
  • " Changing Distribution and Abundance of Certain Passerine Birds in Western New York" by W. C. Vaughan
  • " Observation of Common Tern Colonies on Oneida Lake" by Hazel R. Ellis "Birds Can Be Missionaries" by Walter Elwood
  • " Bird Activities on the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge" by F. L. Gambrel

That's the way it all began. The first Annual Meeting clearly left all future hosts with a formidable goal to meet or surpass.

Charter Member Clubs:  Initially, the Federation had 18 Member Clubs: Baldwin Bird Club, Brooklyn Bird Club, Buffalo Audubon Society, Buffalo Ornithological Society, Burroughs Audubon Nature Club, Cayuga Bird Club, Elon Eaton Bird Club (now Eaton Birding Society), Elmira Garden Club - Bird Section, Genesee Ornithological Society, Schenectady Bird Club (now Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club), Keuka Park Conservation Club, Linnaean Society of New York, North Country Bird Club, Queens County Bird Club, Rockland Audubon Society, Sassafras Bird Club (Amsterdam), Scarsdale Audubon Society, Watkins-Montour Bird Club (now Schuyler County Bird Club.)

[omitted:  Charter Individual Members]


Host Clubs:  During our first 50 years, each of our Annual Meetings has been planned and hosted by one or more of our Member Clubs. Altogether, 37 different clubs have provided this service to the Federation, some of them many times. The individual record of six such experiences was first set in 1996 by Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club. This year's Golden Anniversary meeting also marks the sixth time that our Rochester clubs have gotten together to be our hosts. Genesee Ornithological Society started this string with our first Annual Meeting in 1948, and has repeated every tenth year thereafter. Burroughs Audubon Nature Club has been a co-host since 1958, and the Rochester Birding Association joined the other two starting in 1978.

Banquet Speakers:  Over the years our host clubs have been able to secure for us a broad selection of ornithologists, authors, and others with significant and pertinent messages. Following Dr. Arthur A. Allen, at the first meeting, came Richard H. Pough at the second, and then, over the years, people such as Roger Tory Peterson, Chandler Robbins, Wesley Lanyon, Joseph Taylor, Pete Dunne (twice), Stephen Kress (twice), Frank Gill, Kenneth Able, and this year, Kenn Kaufman.

Member Clubs:  From the group of 18 Charter Member Clubs in 1948 and 1949, we had grown to 27 by 1954. Growth thereafter was slow but steady, reaching 35 by 1971 and 41 by 1976. For the last 22 years, while there have been many changes in the roster, the number has consistently stayed between 39 and 42.

Individual Membership:  Individual memberships were accepted from the beginning, but with the launching of The Kingbird in late 1950, the need for a larger support base became critical and active recruitment of individual members,
who would receive the journal, began in earnest. By April 1951, the number of individual members had reached 149, still short of what was needed to ensure the journal's future. By the 10th Anniversary issue in December 1960, the number of
individual members had reached 413 and six others had become Life Members. By 1968 there were 471 annual members and the number of Life Members had grown to 26. Membership ranged around 500 throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Then, with the stimulus of the Breeding Bird Atlas project and the involvement of its many volunteer atlasers, annual membership reached 668 in 1986. With periodic promotions, it has stayed in the 650 range since then. Life memberships reached a peak of 86 in the 1980s, down now to 79.

[omitted:  Finances]


[This section of The Kingbird's Golden Anniversary issue outlined the Federation's management structure and various committees.  We present here the discussion on NYSARC.]

New York State Avian Records Committee:   NYSARC differs from the Federation's other committees in that its members are appointed by the president to serve five year terms. The first members had staggered terms so that thereafter one member's term expires annually. NYSARC was established by the Council of Delegates at the 1977 Annual Meeting. Its mission is to formalize the reporting and evaluation of documentation of birds occurring within New York State.

Paul DeBenedictis proposed the creation of this committee to the Council of Delegates in 1975, where it was tabled for study by the Executive Committee. It then took another two years of committee work, chaired first by William Vaughan and subsequently by Edgar Reilly, to bring a formal proposal, along with detailed committee by-laws, for approval at the 1977 meeting. Other committee members during this period included DeBenedictis, Morgan Jones, Robert Andrle, Allen Benton, John Farrand Jr., and Robert Spahn.

New York was one of the first states to establish such a group. Today they are common. There have been only 12 people who have served on NYSARC, four of them as chair.

Present members are Kenneth P. Able, Robert F. Andrle, Thomas W. Burke, Robert O. Paxton, and Charles R. Smith. Past members have been Paul DeBenedictis, Thomas H. Davis Jr., Fritz G. Scheider, Stephen C. Sibley, Barbara Spencer, Robert W. Smart, and William Vaughan. Chairs have included Andrle (currently), DeBenedictis, Scheider, and Vaughan. Secretaries to NYSARC, who are not committee members, have been John Confer, Todd Culver, Richard Evans, James Lowe (currently), Stephen Sibley, and Charles R. Smith.

An annual report of NYSARC's evaluations and decisions is published in The Kingbird. See the REFERENCE section for the location of each NYSARC report.


The Kingbird (State Journal): From our first formative meetings, one of the key objectives of the founding members was to start a state journal dedicated to documentation of the state's ornithology. Just two years later, in December 1950, the first issue of The Kingbird was published, and since then it has appeared quarterly without interruption. In that first year of publication the Federation could count but 18 Member Clubs and so, to make the cost of such a journal manageable, encouraged and sought individual members and subscribers to make the effort viable.

The first page of the first issue of The Kingbird contained comments from its first Editor, Allan S. Klonick. After making reference to Elon Howard Eaton's Birds of New York, he stated, "The staff submits for you, the reader, our first edition of The Kingbird, our Federation publication, with the hope that it will serve as a guide and an inspiration to all the ornithologists of our State." The staff he referred to included himself, Joseph W. Taylor and Eugene Eisenmann, Associates, and H. Everest Clements, Business Manager.

Then Klonick continued, "With the first issue we are introducing a new bird artist from the Rochester area, who our staff feels shows great promise. Our thanks to Douglas Howland for our cover illustration." All readers will recognize that the cover design of The Kingbird, including the use of Howland's artwork has been used on every issue since, including this one.

Klonick recalls that as editor he was greatly indebted to his wife, Sandy, who was not only his proofreader and a "pluperfect editor's mate," but also the one who first suggested the name for the journal. As he recalls, they decided the Empire State needed a "regal" bird name. They felt that since Tyrannus tyrannus was well represented in almost every area of the state, its vigor and attitude would certainly add authority to our statewide journal.

Throughout, we have been served most admirably, and with great and tireless dedication, by a series of fine Kingbird Editors, starting with Klonick from 1950 to 1953. He was followed by Stephen W. Eaton until 1956, Gerald D. Rising until 1958, Minnie B. Scotland until 1961, Alice E. Ulrich until 1964, Dorothy W. McIlroy until 1969, and Joseph W. Taylor until 1975. Then the team of Emanuel Levine and John Farrand Jr. served as co-editors for 10 years until 1985, followed for the next 10 years by Paul A. DeBenedictis. This fabulous roster continues with our current editor, Donald A. Windsor, who took on the daunting task at the beginning of 1996.

By the time of this Golden Anniversary celebration, exactly 190 quarterly issues of The Kingbird will have been published. Each one has usually contained from six to eight timely articles and reports on current aspects of the state's ornithology, followed by the regularly appearing quarterly reports from each or the 10 Regional Editors, giving detailed information on the season's bird activity in their Region. These Regional Reports are then summarized by the Seasonal Highlights Editor to provide an overview of the season statewide.

In the opinion of many members, the most underappreciated and underrecognized example of dedicated volunteerism in the Federation involves the 118 individuals who have routinely, season after season, year after year, collected, summarized and prepared the Regional Reports and the Seasonal Highlights.

While all of the Regional and Seasonal Highlights editors have made memorable contributions, we simply must mention those few whose level of volunteerism far outdistances the average. At the top of the list must be Leslie Bemont for Region 4 and Edward D. Treacy for Region 9 who, over a quarter century or more, compiled 108 and 100 reports respectively. They are closely followed by Sally Hoyt Spofford for Region 3 and Fritz Scheider for Region 5, each with 75 reports. Scheider also prepared 15 Seasonal Highlights, and Spofford, for years, also edited another Kingbird series called "Field Notes."

In a unique class is Robert Spahn who has not only prepared 23 Region 2 reports, but in addition, starting in 1980, has written 64 Seasonal Highlights reports, for a total of 87 and still counting. It should be noted that while 22 others have also prepared the Seasonal Highlights reports in earlier years, only David B. Peakall with 29, and James K. Merritt, Fritz Scheider, and Robert W. Smart, each with 15, prepared more than nine of them.

Then, of course, there are the many Regional Editors who, while not quite among the select group noted above, have certainly made a fantastic contribution, in some instances still do, and may in time pass those noted above. The others who have passed the arbitrary break-point of 10 years, at least 40 reports, are Kevin C. Griffith and John M. C. Peterson, each with 61 and counting, John J. Elliott with 60, Theodore D. Mack with 49, Howard S. Miller with 48, and Frank A. Clinch, Kenneth L. Crowell, and Lee B. Chamberlaine, each with 46. Margaret Rusk has done 40 reports, all in partnership with various co-editors.

To single out these top Regional and Seasonal editor volunteers, while appropriate, fails to do justice to the many others whose contributions to the Regional Reports are certainly also noteworthy and outstanding.

New York Birders (Newsletter):   In the early 1970s, Maxwell C. Wheat Jr., who had earlier chaired our Conservation Committee, started issuing a periodic bulletin called Conservation Now. Out of this grew our regular newsletter, New York Birders. It first appeared in 1972 with Wheat and Mary Ann Sunderlin as co-editors until 1978, when Wheat assumed sole editorship until the end of 1995, for a remarkable tenure of 23 years. While still writing his regular column, "With Birders and Birds," Wheat was succeeded as editor at the start of 1996 by Phyllis Jones, who has admirably and with skill continued the fine tradition. Among her immediate contributions was the introduction of a "desk-top publishing" capability so that camera-ready copy could be supplied to our printer.

Over the years, New York Birders has come to be the primary way that information and news about the Federation has been conveyed to the members. It is now, and usually has been, published quarterly, but for a short time was issued six times a year. It always contains a rich blend of articles, announcements and other news about the activities, members and Member Clubs of the Federation. It is also a primary means of disseminating pertinent conservation advocacy information and other general material about birds and birding in New York.


During these 50 years, the Federation has had a major role in four projects that have culminated in the publication of a major book about the ornithology of New York State. While the nature of the Federation's involvement has varied, all were originated by and fully supported by the Federation and its members.

Birds of New York State. John Bull. 1974: Another of the key objectives of the founding members in 1948 had been to prepare and publish a new treatise on the birds of New York State to update Dr. Elon Howard Eaton's monumental two volume work published in 1910 and 1914. However, in spite of the untiring efforts of our early leaders, this objective wasn't realized for 26 years.

As early as 1951 Gordon Meade, who had just completed his terms as our first president, was appointed chair of a committee to explore possibilities of revising Eaton's book. This committee was active continuously until the book was published. Meade was chair for six years in two different periods. He was succeeded in 1955 by Robert S. Arbib Jr. who, except for short periods when Harold Mitchell and Joseph Taylor were chair, served until actual publication, a total of 15 years. Many others, including Allen Benton, Kenneth Parkes, Harold Mitchell, William Webb, and Hazel Ellis, were also instrumental in the work of the committee. One of the committee's early tasks, one that involved a long series of meetings all over the state, was the establishment of criteria for such fundamental definitions as abundance and distribution.

Surviving documents also make clear that from the start many activities of the Federation, such as the Bibliography work, the Waterfowl Census, and later Migration and Breeding censuses that the clubs were asked to conduct, were all thought of as related directly, or in part, to the production of the book. By 1952 the committee had decided that several editors should handle different phases, and three sub-committees were named to undertake different studies. Each Member Club was also asked to name a representative to be a contact for the committees.

It wasn't until 1964 that the Federation was able to name John Bull as the author-editor of the new state bird book, and then it was another 10 years before publication. Financing had always been the limiting factor. Finally, with key support from the American Museum of Natural History, with which Bull was associated, and a significant grant in 1966 from the Dan Caulkins Fund that allowed the author to devote full time to the book "for three or four years," the end was in sight. At the Annual Meeting in May 1973, Arbib was able to announce, for the Publications and Research Committee, that the manuscript was with the publisher and that the committee endorsed the book. Following publication by Doubleday/Natural History Press in 1974, Birds of New York State immediately became recognized as the "bible" on New York's birds.

After several years of new information had accumulated, the Executive Committee agreed to publish a Supplement to Birds of New York State. Bull prepared the necessary material and it was published by the Federation in 1976.

Where to Find Birds in New York State - The Top 500 Sites. Susan Roney Drennan. 1981:   First championed by the Publications and Research Committee in 1952, preparation of a New York State birding baedeker was another project that required the passage of nearly three decades to be realized. Finally, in the mid-1970s the committee proposed, and the Federation's Executive Committee invited, Susan Roney Drennan to write such a book. By 1979, Publications and Research Chair Robert S. Arbib Jr., and Drennan, both professionally associated with National Audubon Society's journal American Birds, were able to report that work in preparing the book was 70% complete and arrangements for publication were underway. With a foreword by Roger Tory Peterson, and organized according to The Kingbird's 10 reporting regions, the book was published in 1981 by Syracuse University Press.

The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State. Robert Andrle and Janet Carroll, Editors. 1988: The 1980s witnessed the Federation's most demanding project to date: preparation of a breeding bird atlas, based on extensive contemporaneous field work.

The project was under the general chairmanship of Gordon M. Meade. Publication in 1988, by Cornell University Press, followed six years of field work by more than 4,000 volunteers, working in 5,335 separate 5 km sq "Atlas Blocks" covering the entire state. The field work was organized by and under the supervision of 10 Regional Coordinators: Robert Andrle, Dorothy Crumb, Mark Fitzsimmons, Jay Lehman, Dorothy McIlroy, John M. C. Peterson, Gilbert Raynor, Robert Spahn, Robert and June Walker, and Berna B. Weissman.

This project was a superb example of cooperative effort by the Federation and its members; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which, in addition to providing financial support, also provided the Project Coordinator, Janet Carroll, who handled all data compilation and distribution and map preparation work; and the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, which, in addition to hosting many project meetings, also provided the overall Business Manager, Charles R. Smith. The final publication was prepared under the general direction of the co-editors, assisted by 19 authors of the species accounts, and four artists.

Checklist of the Birds of New York State:  First published in The Kingbird, and in handy pocket booklet form in 1989, with revisons in 1991, 1996 and 1998, the Checklist gives the status and currently accepted taxonomic order and nomenclature of all species accepted by the Federation's New York State Avian Records Committee as having been adequately documented in the state. Emanuel Levine, chair of the Publications Committee, has coordinated this effort throughout.

Bull's Birds of New York State. Emanuel Levine, Editor. 1998: Now, a quarter century after the 1974 publication of Birds of New York State by John Bull, the story of the state's ornithology has once again been brought up to date. As described more fully in the 1998 book, in this century the number of species known to have occurred in the state has increased dramatically to the current list of 451 accepted species, an increase of 41 just since 1974.

This time, while honoring Bull for his great 1974 work, and with his endorsement and continuing contributions, Emanuel Levine, longstanding Chair of the Publications Committee, took on the most demanding and formidable task of
securing, organizing, and editing the work of more than 60 authors of species accounts and of many other contributors to bring forth this latest updating of the state's ornithological history. From the formal launching of the project in 1993, a key objective, now realized, has been to have actual publication occur in time for the book to be introduced at our Golden Anniversary.

At the 1993 Annual Meeting the Council of Delegates authorized the Executive Committee to proceed with the project and enter into the necessary contracts with the American Museum of Natural History and with a publisher. This followed many earlier discussions, including several with John Bull, and with the Museum, which holds the copyright to his 1974 book.

The Executive Committee appointed Emanuel Levine as Editor and created an ad hoc committee of Levine, Berna Lincoln, Stanley Lincoln, and Richard Sloss to manage the project. Contracts with the Museum and Cornell University Press, the chosen publisher, were negotiated. The copyright to the book will be held jointly by the Museum and the Federation.

A fund raising committee, set up in 1994 with Robert Budliger as chair, was successful in securing significant contributions from Member Clubs as well as individual members. In 1996 the committee was able to report that a $30,000
commitment had also been made by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation from Return a Gift to Wildlife contributions.

For their work in computerizing and copyediting the entire text from the many individual contributors, Berna Lincoln and Stanley Lincoln were named Associates to the Editor.

Additional content of the Golden Anniversary issue of The Kingbird omitted:

Other Activities
Selected Sources

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