History of the Kentucky Ornithological Society

Virginia Kingsolver

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
(Photo from The Kentucky Warbler 50:23, 1974)

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 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 the Lost River Motel in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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 award was $5.00 and a year’s subscription to The Kentucky Warbler.  The winning paper was published in The Kentucky Warbler.

“At the beginning of 1925, 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 4 pages each, but we followed pretty much the order that still prevails in our magazine, The Kentucky Warbler.”  Now finishing its 77th volume and somewhat enlarged with issues averaging 16 to 24 pages each, it has had only six editors: Gordon Wilson, Burt L. Monroe, Sr., Harvey B. Lovell, Anne Stamm, Herbert E. Shadowen, and Blaine Ferrell.  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.

Gordon Wilson

Burt L. Monroe, Sr.

Harvey B. Lovell

Anne L. Stamm
Editors of The Kentucky Warbler, 1925 - 1973 (Photos published in The Kentucky Warbler 49:28, 1973)

Currently, the journal is mailed to all members and, in addition, to 23 libraries, colleges, and schools that are paid subscribers, and to 29 state and national societies with whom an exchange of publications is maintained.  We have complete back files of The Kentucky Warbler.

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, Dr. Herbert E. Shadowen and Professor 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.

The holdings of the Society include four invested funds, one of which is the Endowment Fund initiated with the bequest of Dr. Pindar and augmented by payments of life memberships. Another is a fund honoring Dr. Gordon Wilson for his devoted service to the Society known as the Gordon Wilson Fund for Ornithology.  The income from the Wilson Fund is to be used for certain specific purposes outlined in The Kentucky Warbler (volume 64:59, 1958). The third fund is the Avian Research Fund in honor of Dr. Burt L. Monroe, Jr.  It has been supported by contributions from our own members and a generous annual contribution from the Beckham Bird Club. The fourth fund was established in memory of Anne Stamm for her tremendous contributions of service and expertise to KOS.  This fund is to support and encourage youth education.

Publication of our bird observations is a large part of who we are and what we do. Results of Mid-Winter 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. Anne L. Stamm compiled these reports until January 1995 and they are currently written by Fred Busroe.

Ray Harm has graciously allowed us to use his art work covers for The Kentucky Warbler for many, many years.

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, Kentucky 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-

Seven past presidents of KOS: Leonard Brecher, Evelyn Schneider, Gordon Wilson,
Brasher Bacon, Mary Lou Cypert (Frei), Harvey Lovell, and Mabel Slack (Kentucky Warbler 28:19, 1952).


Ganier, A. F. 1963. The contributions of the Kentucky Ornithological Society to ornithology. Kentucky Warbler 39:54-58.
Kingsolver, G. 1998. History of K.O.S.: 75th Anniversary, September 1998. Kentucky Warbler 74:77-83.
Schneider, E. J. 1973. The Kentucky Ornithological Society, 1923 - 1973. 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. Kentucky Warbler 15:32-33.
Wilson, G. 1940. Just to remind you. Kentucky Warbler 16:42-44.
Wilson, G. 1949. The Kentucky Ornithological Society, 1923-1948. Kentucky Warbler 25:50-54.
Wilson, G. 1963. The first forty years of the Kentucky Ornithological Society. Kentucky Warbler 39:51-54.

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