Last Monday, February 15th, our nation celebrated Presidents' Day. It is a holiday that is celebrated here on the third Monday in February. The holiday of President's Day was originally established in 1885 in honor of President George Washington, and was traditionally celebrated on February twenty-second, the actual birthday date of George Washington, which is today.
According to history.com, "the holiday became popularly known as President's Day after it was moved as part of 1971's Uniform Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three day weekends for the nation's workers."
Be that as it may, George Washington's was born on February the twenty-second, and the switching of the day to observe this, was a topic E. B. White wrote about in his correspondence with Gluyas Williams in 1971. White's humorous attitude toward our government's switching the celebration is something I discussed in my post this past President's Day and I included E.B. White's musings on the matter. On another note, George Washington has been linked to the creation of our American flag, and that is the reason I'm including photo-ops of my patriotic friends within my entry for GeorgeWashington's birthday.
However, it seems there is some controversy over Washington's involvement with the creation of our flag, which you can read about in a Wiki Page by clicking here. For my focus in this blog post honoring George Washington's birthday is to provide information on an interest I share with him which is birds.
I recently learned that "Besides parrots, several types of North American birds were captured and kept as pets by the Washington’s. During George Washington's presidency, affairs at his Virginia estate were managed by one of his favorite nephews, George Augustine Washington. In the summer of 1790, George Augustine wrote his uncle to say that 'I fear the season is too far advanced to procure young Mocking Birds but shall endeavor to do it.' Whether George Washington wanted these young birds for himself or someone else is unknown, but they were clearly intended as pets, possibly because they could be taught to sing."
I find it interesting that one believes they could teach a mockingbird to sing! As some of you may know, from a number of my 2015 Facebook and Pinterest postings, I had a Northern mockingbird visit my urban (NYC) garden on a nearly all day basis from January 4 2015 through May 5th 2015, and never heard him sing! (Of course it did not occur to me to teach him to sing!) I named "my" mocker Harper, and a few pictures of him are posted below.
I miss the presence of this avian fellow in my garden and can certainly understand why George Washington wanted to have this bird type in his midst!
But evidently this was not the only bird type that George Washington admired! I've also read that "a long-enduring friendship between George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette often featured exchanges of favors, as well as gifts. In the spring of 1787, for example, Washington wrote that he had learned that 'red birds' (presumably male cardinals) were unknown in France, while wood or summer ducks, while common in Virginia were also rare. This information led Washington to send 'two pair of the latter and several of the former' to Lafayette... Five months later, Lafayette responded with thanks and a request for additional birds: 'I thank you, my dear General, for the fine Birds. . .you Have sent to me—the poor ducks died at the Havre on their Arrival—I Beg you will send me some Again—and Beg leave to add a petition for an envoice of Mocking Birds.'''
It's hard for me to fathom George Washington sending our beloved cardinals or ducks to the Marquis de Lafayette (or to anyone for that matter). It saddens me to think that ducks "died at the Havre on their arrival."
And now that I've learned about this matter, I will probably think of it every time I see ducks in New York's Hudson River (pictures one and two) as well as in the lake in Central Park (pictures three and four) below.
The correspondence about the fate of the ducks that were sent by Washington to Marquis de Lafayette does not say what happened to the male cardinals, but it probably wasn't good, especially if they were shipped off without their mates! For I've seen — in my garden — how much male cardinals enjoy their mate as well as their children, as evidenced in the images below.
In any event, the admiration of the bright red male cardinal was/is not exclusive to George Washington! There are many who admire this bird type and gender, which was the motivator behind the book I helped Cam, "my" female cardinal (seen in the first two of the three pictures above) create.
Our book is called Words In Our Beak Volume One. Its goal is to open readers to a simple understanding of the winged world and their environment. Set in a rooftop urban garden in New York City, the story is told in the voice of Cam, a female cardinal, who visits it. "Words In Our Beak" is directed to children and adults who are curious about birds, and want to learn about them from a unique perspective. The book includes hundreds of images of flora and fauna, links to movies, as well as to informative narratives that have been created by the author.
Words In Our Beak Volume One is available in Apple's iBooks Store as well as on Amazon. Additionally it has been reviewed in both places as well as on Goodreads.
However, the only reference we made in Volume One re George Washington is to the bridge named for him (seen below).
At the time of our publication we had no idea about George Washington's interest in the avian community, but we are glad to have the opportunity to honor his birthday — even if he did ship birds to places that caused their death!
ADDENDUM FALL 2018:
The digital versions of Volume One within the Words In Our Beak book series that are mentioned in this entry may only remain available for a limited time, but hardcover versions of Volume One, Two and Three can now be found wherever books are sold.
Please click here to go to my blog post that provides details as to where you can get these books.
Additionally, I have rendered some images from these books into other formats and they are available via Fine Art America (FAA). Some of my other photographs (Black & White Collection, Kaleidoscopic Images and the famous Mandarin duck who visited NYC) can also be found on my FAA pages.
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