Ralph Hoffmann and Rhode Island:
Bluebirds in January

Dedicated to Dick Ferren
Rhode Island Avifauna Expert
Berkshire College Professor
in the
Hoffmann Hall - Environmental Center

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293

Notes on Rhode Island Ornithology, Volume 1, Number 1, Page 8, April, 1900

Bluebirds in January. - On January 5, 1900, I went by train from Providence to Wickford Junction, and saw between those points Bluebirds, once surely and on two other occasions, I believe. After the first two flocks, I got a seat on the other side of the car where the sun was behind me and then I got the bright blue. The others were identified by size, shape and flight. Perhaps half a dozen in all. Belmont, February 28, 1900. RALPH HOFFMANN

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek

Ralph Hoffmann made this fascinating observation of the Bluebird in Rhode Island, not too far from Massachusetts. He was 30 years old when he saw these beautiful birds and wrote this scientific article. He resided near Boston and he was a school teacher in 1900.

It is interesting to compare this avian article about Rhode Island with Hoffmann's article on New Hampshire. It appears at this time, from this preliminary research, that Ralph Hoffmann seldom left the state of Massachusetts. Thus far, I can only document two trips out of the state, until he moves away to Missouria and then later to California. There is one trip north into New Hampshire, where he recorded a Goshawk and another trip south in Rhode Island, that documents the bluebirds. Perhaps his letters, journals, and other notes, if they are discovered, will show us many more places that he journeyed to, in more states of New England.

The result of his recording the Bluebird in Notes on Rhode Island Ornithology is not only a contribution to science and natural history, but also serves today, in 2006, as a contribution to geography, history, and biography, because it helps piece together the journeys and travels of Ralph Hoffmann more than 100 years ago. Mr. Hoffmann wrote up his observations of the Eastern Bluebird on February 28 (1900), about 54 days after observing them on January 5 (1900). And then, it took one month to reach publication in April (1900). All in all, by the time he wrote the article and submitted it for publication from his home in Belmont, Massachusetts, it took roughly 3 months before it was published in Notes on Rhode Island Ornithology.

It might be interesting to see what kind of correspondence exists between the editor of Notes on Rhode Island Ornithology and Ralph Hoffmann regarding his article? The editor was Reginald Heber Howe, Jr., but I know very little about him at this time. In any event, this article on bluebirds demonstrates clearly to me that Mr. Hoffmann was maturing and developing confidence as an experienced field-naturalist in New England, which would later serve him well for his culmination in a career as the director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, in California, 25 years later, from 1925 to 1932.

I acknowledge and dedicate this article to Dick Ferren because he enlightened me via an email message about Ralph Hoffmann (Ferren, pers. comm., 2 March 2005). He wrote me that Berkshire College honored Ralph Hoffmann by naming an Environmental Center for him. Dick Ferren wrote me that his book on Rhode Island Birds states: "In that bygone era Eastern Bluebirds were frequently encountered in winter near Providence, e.g., six during a train ride between Providence and Wickford Junction, 1/5/1900." Dick Ferren also wrote me that he has no other knowlege that Ralph Hoffmann was in Rhode Island. He also mentioned that "in those days" the railroad "was the best way to get from Boston to New York." Do we know if Ralph Hoffmann was on his way to New York for a meeting, work, or holiday vacaction in Rhode Island? I am not certain at this time. I would also like to acknowledge Mary Sears at the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology for assistance in finding this article in the library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was very courteous and gracious in her assistance.