The May Dawn Bird Concert

For the better part of the last century, Quad-City area birders looked forward to this day, the first Saturday in May, to enjoy the May Dawn Bird Concert. This unique springtime event was started by J.H. Paarman of the Davenport Academy of Sciences in 1924, who “insisted that some of the finest bird music was to be heard in their waking song at dawn before they started on the routine of hunting food for breakfast.” (“May Bird Dawn Concert to Be Given,” Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), April 25, 1931, p. 9).

Participants would hike in small groups along the shores or through the woods of Davenport’s Credit Island (flood conditions permitting) to hear and see spring migrating birds in the earliest hours of the day. Humans could make reservations ahead of time for their breakfasts.

The RSSC Center is fortunate to have among its archival collections the papers of Dr. Herbert James “Jim” Hodges (Acc#2014-03), one of the founders of the Tri-City Bird Club. Because his group jointly sponsored the May Dawn Bird Concert with the Davenport Public Museum (earlier the Academy of Sciences, later the Putnam) beginning in 1950, the collection includes plenty of information about the event specifics over the years. Below is a report on the species sighted at the 1956 Concert, a sheet handed out to participants in 1957, and an announcement of the event in the 1960 Tri-City Bird Club Bulletin.

Club programs like these from the 1950s listed the events for the year, including the May Dawn Bird Concert.

A brief history and purpose of the May Dawn Bird Concert is given in this 1962-1963 “Year Book.”

The annual Bird Concert continued after the Tri-City Bird Club became the Quad City Audubon Society in 1976, and the event was held on into the 1990s.

Serving often as a leader of the May Dawn Bird Concert hikes was just one of many ways Jim Hodges expressed his passion for birds and birding. He kept extensive field notes, including these he jotted down in 1944 at the age of 15:

He also published over 50 articles on birding in scientific journals and was an avid bird photographer. The slides in the Hodges collection merit another blog post altogether!

In addition to his papers, we have on our shelves these titles on birds authored by Hodges: The Bird Life of the Quad-City Area , 1950 (SC 598.2 Hod) and The Breeding Birds of the Upper Mississippi Valley: A Summary and Checklist, 2005 (SC 598.0977 Hod).

The RSSC Center also has other publications on Scott County and QCA bird life by local authors, including those by Hodges’ fellow Tri-City Bird Club member and Davenport Public Museum curator Peter C. Petersen, Jr., and by J. H. Paarman, the founder of the May Dawn Bird Concerts.

Get outside early one of these May mornings and hear this year’s concert for yourself, visit us at the Davenport Public Library, and check out the Putnam Museum’s exhibit Birds and You!

(posted by Katie)

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