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Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


Elizabeth "Bird Lady" Dickens

Elizabeth Dickens was born on December 2, 1877. She spent her entire life on Block Island, Rhode Island, until her death in 1963. She lived on a small farm, on the southwest corner of the island, not far from the ocean bluffs.

Miss Dickens had a great love for the nature of the island, especially birds. For fifty years, Dickens kept meticulous daily records of bird observations, in addition to maintaining a mounted bird and skin collection. Her records and collection of birds provide a scientifically valuable picture of bird life during the first half of the 20th century for Block Island. Her journals, which she began in 1912, were bequeathed by Elizabeth Dickens to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and are housed at their offices in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

Of equal importance to Miss Dickens was teaching in the Block Island schools. She taught ornithology to all of the local school children every month. She was well-known in the community as the "Bird Lady" and was greatly respected. Miss Dickens taught for many years, to several generations of Block Island school children, which ultimately grew from her own feelings of stewardship into a strong culture of conservation on the island. The children she taught, grew into adults who were committed to conservation. Due in part to the attitude Miss Dickens instilled on the island, nearly 40% of the island is now protected. Miss Dickens' education legacy lives on in the Block Island schools. Inspired by Elizabeth Dickens' story, The Nature Conservancy now helps fund a place-based educator who leads students in natural history and local conservation programs, including a focus on Conservancy land.

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