History of Detroit Audubon

In Detroit in 1939 Evelyn Kelly (Mrs. George A Kelly), and Miss Grace Sharitt (later Mrs. Alymer Nelson) founded a new organization, Detroit Audubon Society* with the following “objects,” stated in our constitution:

  • To provide for members, both indoors and afield, the opportunity to become acquainted with birds and other forms of wildlife, to understand their life histories and to appreciate their economic and aesthetic values;
  • To encourage and assist in the establishment and preservation of natural sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife forms, to encourage all other land management, farm and conservation programs that seek to preserve a balanced wildlife population;
  • To promote better understanding among members and the public generally of the balance of nature and of the tragic waste that almost invariably follows when the principle of balance is ignored;
  • To establish and encourage the establishment of nature centers where all phases of wildlife study, land management and conservation may be offered to members and the general public.
  • To encourage members and others in the use of the arts, science and literature, to record the intellectual values and beauty to be found in nature;
  • To encourage the conservation of all natural resources and to cooperate with other organizations having similar purposes;
  • To establish or encourage and assist in the establishment of groups, associations and institutions dedicated to nature study and nature recreation and to give particular support to such groups dealing with youth.

In 2014, we celebrated 75 years of dedication and hard work by many volunteers to fulfill the mission those two visionary women described above in our constitution.

In the intervening years, Detroit Audubon has introduced thousands of people to the wonders of birds and the natural world as a whole, and helped those people develop a basic understanding of ecology through as many as 30 field trips each year, an Annual Conservation Conference or Symposium, Spring Campouts, a Junior Audubon Club, sporadic school and general public programs, and through the Detroit Audubon Nature Cabin at the Detroit Zoo, which was supervised by my father, Wilbur T. Bull. With the nature cabin, Detroit Audubon taught not about birds, but about native Michigan snakes, which children and adults got to hold as well. That exhibit led to the zoo deciding to build the Holden Museum of Living Reptiles. Before the advent of the ubiquitous nature documentaries on television, Detroit Audubon also opened people’s eyes to nature around the world through its live narrated Audubon Wildlife films at the Rackham Auditorium (across the street from the Detroit Institute of Arts).   We have promoted citizen-science with our two Christmas Bird Counts: The Detroit Audubon Count in Oakland County, and the newer Rockwood Count in the Downriver area.

On the conservation/ policy front Detroit Audubon has helped preserve thousands of acres of habitat for native species including creating our St. Clair Woods Nature Sanctuary. Along with Michigan and Pontiac Audubon Societies, Detroit Audubon helped create the first Kirtland’s Warbler Management Area in the Huron National Forest. We went to bat to keep Common Tern habitat on Belle Isle, and along with the Sierra Club fought the Detroit Incinerator for almost two decades. Along with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the Michigan Federated Garden Clubs, Detroit Audubon was a key leader on the citizen –initiated referendum known as the “bottle bill,” making Michigan one of the first states in the country to establish a deposit on soft drink and beer containers. You may be surprised to know that we were in the forefront of the campaign that led to the certification of “Dolphin-Safe” Tuna. One of our board members still has a “Boycott Tuna” bumper sticker produced by Detroit Audubon. We also had stickers to fit on empty tuna cans to send to congressional representatives. Other environmental groups picked up on that idea, purchased quantities from us or made their own. We also helped save Point Rosa Marsh at Lake St. Clair Metropark from development. In more recent years we were in the forefront of the fight to save Humbug Marsh and create the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge. One of our signature programs of late is Safe Passage, which has elicited pledges from many tall building owners to shut off their lights at night during spring and fall migration to protect migratory birds. Another recent involvement is our partnership with National Audubon, Michigan Audubon, and the Kalamazoo Nature Center in Michigan’s Important Bird Area (IBA) program, including a project to monitor and help black terns on Harsen’s Island, which seem to be on a steep decline in population.

*We dropped the “Society” as part of our name in 2013.