Ralph Hoffmann on Massachusetts Birds:
Berkshire County Birds from 1892 to 1893

Dedicated to the Hoffmann Bird Club

Compiled and Edited
Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ballona Institute & Wetlands Action Network
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293

Auk, Volume XII: 87-89, January 1895, General Notes
Notes on the Summer Birds of Central Berkshire County, Massachusetts. -- The publication, in 1884, of Mr. W. Brewster's 'Notes on the Summer Birds of Berkshire County, Mass.' (Auk, Vol. I, pp.5-16), established the Canadian character of the avifauna of northern Berkshire. The lists published by Mr. W. Faxon (Auk, Vol. VI, pp. 39, 99), present a very full account of the distribution of the birds on Graylock, and gives in addition an account of the birds of the southern end of the county. Attention has not yet been called, I believe, to the very general distribution of certain northern birds throughout the central part of Berkshire County, particularly in the eastern half, so that the following notes, made in the summers of 1892 and 1893, may be of interest.

The character of the eastern half of the county differs in a marked degree from that of the western. The Taconic range, which forms the western boundary of the county, consists of a series of isolated peaks, separated by the Hoosick and the Housatonic Valleys from the high ground to the eastward. Here the surface is an almost unbroken plateau, falling gradually from an altitude of over 2000 feet, north of the Westfield River, to 1500 feet at the Connecticut boundary. Black spruce and balsam fir, which are absent in the Housantonic Valley and on the Taconic range, are characteristic trees of this plateau, and extend as far south as the town of Otis, about fifteen miles north of Connecticut.

The birds in the following list are either not reported in the published lists of Berkshire birds, or else were found in stations much further south than those hitherto noted. Unless otherwise specified the following observations were made between June 27 and July 16. Mr. W. Faxon has permitted me to use in the preparation of my list several of his manuscript notes.

1. Anas obscura. Black Duck. One pair seen in Stockbridge.

2. Aix sponsa. Wood Duck. A female with yonng in Stockbridge.

3. Ardea virescens. Green Heron. Not common.

4. Rallus virginianus. Virginia Rail. One in Stockbridge.

5. Porzana carolina. Carolina Rail. One in Stockbridge, May 30, 1892.

6. Fulica americana. American Coot. A pair was seen by Mr. W. Faxon in Cheshire Reservoir, June 21, 1892.

7. Totanus solitarius. Solitary Sandpiper. Two seen in Becket, July 8, 1893.

8. Colinus virginianus. Bob-white. Not uncommon in Stockbridge in 1892; none found in 1893.

9. Bonasa umbellus togata. Canadian Ruffed Grouse. Found by Mr. Faxon on Graylock.

10. Accipiter velox. Sharp-shinned Hawk. Two seen in June in North Adams by Mr. Faxon.

11. Asio wilsonianus. American Long-eared Owl. A specimen in the Pittsfield Athenaeum, labelled "Pontoosuc Lake, April 30, 1879."

12. Asio accipitrinus. Short-eared Owl. A specimen in the Pittsfield Athenaeum, labelled "Pittsfield, April 17, 1879."

13. Megascops asio. Screech Owl. Young found in Stockbridge.

14. Bubo virginianus. Great-horned Owl. Nest with young found in Stockbridge, April 8, 1893.

15. Coccyzus americanus. Yellow-billed Cuckoo. One in Stockbridge.

16. Melanerpes erythrocephalus. Red-headed Woodpecker. One seen in Stockbridge, May 30, 1892.

17. Contopus borealis. Olive-sided Flycatcher. A nest with young found in Hinsdale, June 30, 1893.

18. Zonotrichia albicollis. White-throated Sparrow. Not rare from Becket northward.

19. Junco hyemalis. Snowbird. Not rare on the Hoosac Plateau.

20. Vireo flavifrons. Yellow-throated Vireo. Three or four in Stockbridge.

21. Dendroica coronata. Myrtle Warbler. One in Becket, two in Stockbridge, in white pine woods.

22. Dendroica maculosa. Magnolia Warbler. Not rare among spruces from Becket northward.

23. Dendroica blackburniae. Blackburnian Warbler. Stockbridge; not rare in spruce woods from Becket northward.

24. Dendroica virgorsii. Pine Warbler. Mr. Faxon shot a female in North Adams in the breeding season.

25. Troglodytes hiemalis. Winter Wren. One heard in Great Barrington, fourteen miles north of the Connecticut line; heard also in Becket and Washington.

26. Cistothorus stellaris. Short-billed Marsh Wren. Locally common in Stockbridge.

27. Regulus satrapa. Golden-crowned Kinglet. Found in spruce woods in Becket, Washington, and northward.

AUK, April 1895, Vol. XII, p.200:--CORRECTION. In the January number of 'The Auk' (Vol. XII, pp. 87-89), the article entitled 'Notes on the Summer Birds of Central Berkshire County, Mass.,' was inadvertently attributed to Mr. Francis H. Allen. It was contributed by Mr. Ralph Hoffmann, to whom it should be credited.

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek


There is so much to interpret regarding Ralph Hoffmann, birding, history, and synergy. From a careful perusal of the above article, for example, we can ascertain that Ralph Hoffmann departed Boston after his annual teaching assignment was completed, to find himself back in his boyhood haunts of Berkshire County in western Massachusetts.

I have recently enjoyed researching and reading the various writings of Mr. Hoffmann during his young adult years in Massachusetts, particularly his observations on Berkshire County. It is clear that Ralph Hoffmann was interested in avian ecology, particularly distribution and movements. He shows an interest that is focused on the spring and summer season with breeding birds in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. He grew and emerged in his natural philosophy as an ecologist and natural historian, with an interest in avian ecology, rather than avian taxonomy. He does not describe new species of birds, but instead he reports on their behavior and ecology, or what is often called scientific natural history. At the time of this publication in 1895, Ralph Hoffmann was 25 years old, still a young man, and a teacher in Boston. He was a recent graduate of Harvard, two years earlier in 1892, with a degree in Latin/English, not in the sciences. He would continue birding throughout his life, an amateur hobby that began as a child in Stockbridge (Berkshire County), Massachusetts. His interest in scientific natural history of birds and plants, together with an interest in conservation is demonstrated by his involvement in the American Ornithological Union (AOU) as a member of committees and participation as an officer in the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which lasted about 20 years, before moving first to Missouri, and then on to California, two years later, where he would continue his scientific natural history studies of birds and plants for the rest of his life.