annually on May 4th (since 1894)
Charles Almanzo Babcock in 1894
In the late nineteenth century, eggs of game birds were regularly robbed from nests, and birds were killed to be stuffed and so that their feathers could adorn women's hats. The passenger pigeon, which had once blanketed the skies, had largely gone away. In 1894, Charles Amanzo Babcock, superintendent of schools in Oil City, Pennsylvania, established Bird Day, the first bird holiday in the United States. The holiday was born out of the concern for birds in the early conservation movement.
Babcock, who believed birds faced destruction from feather ornamentation in hats and from collecting eggs and killing birds, wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Morton that the establishment of a bird day would have a wholesome moral effect and "replace the barbaric impulses inherent in human nature by the nobler impulses and aspirations that should characterize advanced civilization." Secretary Morton approved of Babcock's idea and wrote a letter recommending that the day be observed in all schools in the United States. In a few months' time, a number of states passed laws making the holiday mandatory in schools.
From the outset, Bird Day focused on instilling conservation awareness and training, particularly with children. It was widely celebrated in the United States by the early twentieth century, often in conjunction with Arbor Day. While the holiday doesn't have the same public prominence it once had, it still focuses on birds and is concerned with their welfare.
How to Observe Bird Day
Some ways you could spend the day include picking up a bird guide, feeding birds, going birdwatching, and supporting a bird conservation organization such as the National Audubon Society. You could also follow some of the suggestions that Charles Babcock came up with for how to observe the day. These will be especially helpful if you are a teacher or student.
Babcock believed students should prepare programs that "contain as many original compositions or statements about birds, derived from personal observation, as possible." He suggested that in the weeks prior to Bird Day students could observe birds each day and record information about their size, shape, color, other features, interactions with other birds, voice or song, and nest-building and feeding routines. Babcock said that on Bird Day students could share compositions they've written about the birds they've studied, give personations where they describe a bird they've studied in the first person, or read aloud poems or prose that others have written about birds.