Gene wrote, “Character Sketches of Twelve Birds” as part of the Biennial Report of Game and
Fisheries of Indiana, 1908. These sketches were taken from the book “What I Have Done with
Birds” by Gene.
Gene Stratton-Porter wrote, “The greatest thing possible to do with a bird is to win its
confidence. In a few days’ work about most nests the birds can be taught to trust me, so that such studies can be made as are here presented of young and old, male and female.”
The Limberlost Swamp which surrounded the town of Geneva was her inspiration and “outdoor classroom” for 25 years. With her photographs and writings she made the Limberlost famous.
Gene was proud that in all her field work studies she never caused a bird harm, nor did she ever damage any eggs or nests. She wrote about carrying “a notebook, handful of wheat and soul of a poet” as being good characteristics for doing this type of work.
She photographed numerous birds perching, with their young and on their nests. According to
Gene, “my closet contains hundreds of negatives.” She believed in using “nature’s background
which has strong contrasts of light and shade......I use four cameras suited to every branch of
field work, and a small wagon-load of long hose, ladder, waders, and other field paraphernalia.”
“I was born in the country and grew up among the birds in a place where they were protected and fearless. A deep love for and comprehension of, wild things runs through the thread of my
disposition, peculiarly equipping me to do these things.”
The twelve birds she wrote about were: cardinal, vulture, king rail, great blue heron, dove, barn owl, quail, purple martin, robin, cuckoo, blue jay and shrike. Each sketch included a photograph of the bird by Gene. They were all photographed at Limberlost. Gene went into detail about the birds, their habits and their habitats. She was interested in learning all aspects about the birds.
Ten of the twelve species Gene named visited Limberlost in 2015; only the barn owl and quail
were missing. Today, the great blue heron are a common sight at the wetlands, lakes and river; there is a heron rookery at Rainbow Bottom. The cardinal, purple martin, dove, vulture, and blue jay are also commonly seen. Limberlost has a few yellow-billed cuckoo and there has been evidence of a shrike.
The king rail was rarity in Geneva during Gene’s time just as it is today. It is a bird that is mostly heard and not seen. Not only did she see a pair of king rail, she photographed the “queen” rail on her nest. Gene had extraordinary patience to be able to do this. We are pleased that there have been king rails in Geneva the past two summers.
Gene would have been amazed at how many rare birds have visited Limberlost in the past year: avocet, Hudsonian godwit, glossy ibis, glaucous gull and a lesser black-backed gull to name a few. The bald eagle was extirpated from Geneva when Gene lived here. Today it is unusual if you do not see at least one eagle at the wetlands.
Jane Brooks Hine, another Indiana Bird Woman who was a generation older than Gene, wrote
“Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm” for the Biennial Report of Game and Fisheries of
Indiana, 1911. Jane wrote about a lifetime of observations of birds. On the USGS Bird
Phenology website, Jane is given credit for over 400 bird sightings.
Cheers to these two bird women of northeastern Indiana!