Ralph Hoffmann on Massachusetts Birds, IV:
Berkshire County Birds, 1900

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
August 6, 2005 First Edition
February 20, 2008 Second Edition


Berkshire is the westernmost county of Massachusetts and extends across the state, from Connecticut on the south to Vermont on the north. Its western border is formed by the New York line, and on the east it is bordered by the counties of Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire. Its length from north to south is about fifty miles; its width, though fairly constant, varies from twenty-four to fourteen miles.

The authors have not attempted to give any account of the life of the birds listed, unless such information applies particularly to Berkshire County. It has not seemed desirable to repeat here facts already available in a number of manuals of ornithology. Occasionally, however, the authors have inserted some items of general import which have not found their way into the manuals.

Meagre as the results may be, the authors feel that the fairly complete list of summer residents, justifies publication, and they venture to hope that some resident of the county may be stimulated to make careful and continuous observations over an extended period.

1. Sialia sialis. Bluebird. The Bluebird is a fairly common summer resident in Berkshire ... The Berkshire Bluebirds, in common with the rest of their kind, suffered lamentably from the effects of the winter of 1894-95 in the south. Their recovery, however, was quick; by the third summer (1897) they had, to all appearances, regained their normal numbers.

2. Merula migratoria. American Robin. Abundant summer resident, arriving March 8 to March 20. Departs in November. Although not so often seen in winter as it is near the sea-board of Massachusetts, the presence of the Robin in sheltered places in Berkshire in February and even in January is attested to by both Dewey and Emmons.

3. Hylocichla mustelina. Wood Thrush. Fairly common summer resident, mostly found at the lower levels, and even there unequally distributed. One found breeding at so high a level as 2400 feet (Graylock mountain). Arrives from the south about May 10. (See below, under Hermit Thrush.

4. Hylocichla guttata pallasii. Hermit Thrush. Prior to the winter of 1894-95, the Hermit Thrush was a common summer resident.

5. Hylocichla ustulata swainsonii. Olive-backed Thrush. Not uncommon summer resident on the Greylock range, from 2800 feet up to the summit, 3505 feet; .........

6. Hylocichla aliclae bicknelli Bicknell's Thrush. This bird is a very rare summer resident near the summit of Greylock Mountain (altitude 3505 feet). On the 6th day of July, 1888, the senior author of this paper shot a male there as recorded in the "Auk" VI. 1888, 106.

7. Hylocichla fuscescens. Veery. The Veery, or Wilson's Thrush is the most abundant of the Hylocichlae in Berkshire County, .......

8. Regulus calendula. Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Rather common transient visitant in the spring and autumn.

9. Regulus satrapa. Golden-crowned Kinglet. Not uncommon permanent resident in the spruce forest of Saddle Mountain.

10. Parus hudsonicus. Hudsonian Chickadee. Rare winter visitant. Greylock Mountain, December, 1889.

11. Parus atricapillus. Chickadee. Permanent resident. Common.

12. Sitta canadensis. Red-bellied Nuthatch. Not uncommon permanent resident in the spruce belt of Saddle Mountain and Hoosacs .....

13. Sitta carolinensis. White-bellied Nuthatch. Permanent resident. Not uncommon.

14. Certhia familiaris americana. American Brown Creeper. Breeds in considerable numbers in the coniferosu forest on Grelock Mountain.

15. Cistothorus palustris. Long-billed Marsh Wren. Very rare summer resident. July 17, 1897, the junior author heard one or two singing in the marsh at the upper end of Pontoosu Lake, Lanesboro. There were none there in 1898 and 1899.

16. Cistothorus stellaris. Short-billed Marsh Wren. The Short-billed Marsh Wren is a summer resident in Berkshire county of local distribution.

17. Contopus borealis. Winter Wren. Chiefly a spring and autumn migrant..

18. Troglodytes aedon. House Wren. A fairly common summer resident in some parts of the county.......

19. Harporrhynchus rufus. Brown Thrasher. Summer resident, not very rare, yet not nearly so common as in the eastern part of the state.

20. Galeoscoptes carolinensis. Catbird. Common summer resident .....

21. Mimus polyglottos. Mockingbird. Very rare, perhaps accidental, summer visitant.

22. Anthus pennsilvanicus. American Pipit. Transient visitor in spring and autumn .....

23. Helminthophila rubricapilla. Nashville Warbler. Abundant migrant ......

24. Helminthophila peregrina. Tennesee Warbler. Rare spring migrant, ... found in apple orchards .....

25. Mniotilta varia. Black and White Warbler. Not uncommon summer resident. Rarer in the more elevated.

26. Cistothorus stellaris. Northern Blue Yellow-backed Warbler. Summer resident, not common, and local, its distribution controlled by the growth of Usnea.

27. Dendroeca aestiva. Yellow Warbler. Abundant Summer resident, ...

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.

Supplement to the Afterword of 2005
Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek

Suffice it to say that this brief sentence will be added to later, but for now it can be said that the narraitve on the Robin and Hermit Thrush were added, as well as the the last two paragraphs of the Introduction, and a correction of the spelling of Ralph Hoffmann, in the title from its former appearance as "RALPHOFFMANN."