The Knoxville Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society has deep roots stretching back to the early 20th Century. Magnolia Woodward, a local teacher, was credited for recording the first Christmas bird count in the state in 1902. During the next decade, those interested in birds and the protection of wildlife areas were likely involved in the East Tennessee Audubon Society, an organization that took the opportunity to stage a large educational “Bird Court” at the National Conservation Exposition held in Knoxville in 1913.
Following World War I, enthusiasm for birding was again riding high, prompting Magnolia Woodward herself to report that, in 1922, “a 1,000-acre bird reserve in South Knoxville was being established.” The heart of the reserve was a farm on the south bank of the Tennessee River near where the Holston and French Broad rivers meet. Owned by Harry P. Ijams, the 20-acre farm was dubbed by the local newspapers as “The City of Birds” due to its abundance and diversity of both resident and migratory bird species. Members of the local Audubon Society began to meet there regularly and, with approval of Mr. Ijams, constructed a member’s lodge overlooking the river.
Back in 1915 in Nashville, interest in birding had already galvanized into a fledgling state-wide organization named the Tennessee Ornithological Society. By 1923, a break-away group of disenchanted Audubon Society members in Knoxville began to follow suit and felt that a new club focused more on bird study should be formed. In January 1924, the East Tennessee Ornithological Society (ETOS) was created (later becoming a formal chapter of TOS in 1942.)
The charter members of ETOS were officially recorded as follows: H.P. Ijams (President), G.N. Bentley (VP), Paul J. Adams (Secretary/Treasurer), S.A. Ogden (Curator), Brockway Crouch, C.L. Gibson, Charles Seacress, George Knopt, and Gus Burgett.
Over the ensuing decades, the club grew from strength to strength, and through interest and enthusiasm for birding coupled with that special Tennessee Volunteer spirit, has accomplished many educational and conservation efforts and contributions to citizen science.
- In 1924, the club’s logo, likely designed by H.P. Ijams, incorporated a barn owl banded on Dickinson Island in 1923. Before the club was formed, local naturalists were fascinated with tracking the owls and one barn owl band was returned from southern Alabama, a migration record for the species at that time.
- TOS co-founders, Albert Ganier and Dr. George Mayfield, were frequent visitors to early ETOS meetings.
- The club first met at Magnolia Woodward Lodge before moving meetings to Brockway Crouch’s florist store on Gay Street, then met at the News-Sentinel office before moving again to Crouch’s store on West Church Avenue.
- In 1925, founding member Paul Adams and his famous dog Cumberland Jack managed the first campsite on Mt. LeConte.
- In 1927, Spring Field Count began at 5:00 am and ran until dark. 108 species were recorded.
- In 1928, dues were $1.00 per member, and if a member missed three consecutive meetings or field trips, their membership was terminated. Members were also required to know 17 orders and 64 families of birds.
- ETOS published an educational booklet for Boy and Girls Scouts entitled, How to Know Our East Tennessee Birds. Scouts had to earn their badges by visiting the Ijams Bird Sanctuary.
- The club moved its meeting night to Wednesday evenings in the early ‘30s because there was little on the radio that night! The club still meets on Wednesdays!
- In 1935, H.P. Ijams produced a new cover design for The Migrant, TOS’s quarterly journal. The design captured the broad diversity of Tennessee bird life so well that despite a brief pause in 1940 when fellow club member Earl O. Henry’s artwork was used (during the 25th anniversary), Ijams’ cover ran for an incredible 57 years until 1991.
- In 1940, the Migrant covers were illustrated by ETOS club member Dr. Earl O. Henry, a talented taxidermist and artist who left behind an impressive collection of bird paintings before his tragic death on the USS Indianapolis during WWII in 1945.
- In 1940, ETOS members joined a state-wide chimney swift banding effort totaling 2,000+ swifts between UT campus and the News-Sentinel building.
- In 1942, ETOS became a formal chapter of TOS and hence was known as KTOS!
- In May, 1949 KTOS held “Harry Ijams Day” in his honor resulting in a record breaking total of 123 bird species observed within the Knoxville area.
- In 1950, the club’s first field trip to Hiawassee Island Game Refuge witnessed 5,000 Canada Geese!
- In 1952, the club moved meeting location again – this time to UT where it still meets!
- Around 1955, James T. Tanner, noted for his extensive research into the ivory-billed woodpecker, joined the club. He also created the Evolutionary Biology program at UT.
- In 1958, the Spring Bird Count set a new record of 139 species.
- In 1962, longtime KTOS member Jim Campbell attended his first meeting.
- In 1965, the club met at the new city-owned Ijams Nature Center – the former home of founder H.P. Ijams who died in 1954.
- In 1965, member Terry McGown started a Bluebird trail in Hardin Valley.
- In 1966, Black-crowned night herons were first recorded nesting in Knox County near Concord.
- In 1972, a new Spring Bird Count record of 159 species was recorded.
- In 1973, Chuck Nicholson recorded the first House Finch in Knox County at his own feeder.
- In 1980, KTOS hosted the annual state meeting at Norris Dam.
- In 1983, Jim Tanner spoted a rare black rail on the UT Farm.
- During a fall hawk watch, Linda Fowler and Marcia Davis recorded 2,464 broad-winged hawks at the Thorn Hill site on the Clinch River.
- In 1984, during National Preservation Week, KTOS was awarded a Conservation Award by Knoxville Heritage for its extensive projects and advocacy efforts.
- KTOS supported local and state efforts to protect Sharp’s Ridge and House Mountain.
- In 1990, great blue herons were found nesting in Knox County for the first time.
- In 1990, Jim Tanner hosted the 75th anniversary of TOS in Memphis.
- In 1990, KTOS members watched an immature peregrine falcon nest at the downtown Riverview Tower.
- In 1991, bald eagles were found nesting on Tellico Lake
- In 1990, J.B. Owen, Jim Tanner, and Joe Howell received the Distinguished Service Award by TOS.
- In 1992, Chuck Nicholson received the Distinguished Service Award from TOS.
- In 1998, the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Tennessee by Chuck Nicholson was published. The book was a six-year effort.
- In 2002, KTOS established the J.B. Owen Fund to support projects that promote the welfare and conservation of birds.
- In 2004, KTOS formally adopted Sharp’s Ridge and began annual conservation efforts.
- In 2006, KTOS began supporting the banding program at Seven Islands Refuge (now Seven Islands State Birding Park).
- In 2010, KTOS partnered with Ijams Nature Center to host the first annual Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival.
- In 2012, KTOS launched an educational series targeting local school children based on the Discover Birds Activity Book, written and illustrated by member Vickie Henderson. 4,000 books had been printed and distributed by 2014 plus, thousands of children have participated in this project ever since!
- In 2013, KTOS hosted the Spring TOS meeting.
- In 2014, KTOS began doing monthly bird walks at Seven Islands State Birding Park.
- In 2015, KTOS funded a stone chimney cwift tower at Seven Islands State Birding Park.
- In 2017, KTOS hosted the Spring TOS meeting.
- In 2018, KTOS established the Marcia Davis Memorial Fund to award grants for bird educational projects.
- In 2019, KTOS created a birder’s information bulletin board at Seven Islands State Birding Park.
To learn more about the history of KTOS, refer to:
Our First 70 Years – the History of KTOS 1924-1994 by J.B. Owen, 1994.
Copies of The Migrant, TOS’s quarterly journal.
90th Anniversary KTOS Celebration Presentation by Vickie Henderson
Ijams Nature Center by Paul James, Arcadia Publishing (Images of America Series), 2010.