Monday, May 08, 2006

Intelligent Birder

Given the current flap over the impending appointment of a new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, I started to reflect back on a former Director of that agency (February-July 1973) who counts birding as one of his principal interests. James R. Schlesinger, who also served as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (1971-1973) and Secretary of Defense (1973-1975), was and remains an avid birder.

Schlesinger’s interest in birds was well-publicized in the mid-1970s. In this reflective essay on the history of Missouri’s Websters Grove Nature Study Society (WGNSS), James P. Jackson describes an impromptu visit by then-Secretary of Defense Schlesinger:
Fast forward to the spring of 1973. Well-known WGNSS birder Dick Anderson gets a phone call from the Pentagon. Could he show Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger the Eurasian Tree Sparrow for his listing?

Dick explains where the birds might be located and agrees to be there at the designated time. The Secretary is dropped nearby via helicopter, then whisked to the site by limousine. Dick shows him the Eurasian Tree Sparrow and they bird together for an hour.

In that relaxed setting, Dick poses the question, "Mr. Secretary, is birding your favorite pastime?" Schlesinger's response: "These days, with all the pressures on my time, it's how I maintain my sanity."
Schlesinger continues his long-time interest in birds by serving as a member of the advisory council of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute (PDF). It’s too bad that more of today’s top officials haven’t developed an interest in birds. It would be a great way to promote international diplomacy!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, John! I didn't know about your blog until I saw your post on BirdChat! I am looking forward to catching up. Much to my delight, your story today is about Schlesinger. As a fan of stories that involve birders and ornithologists, I have been trying in vain for a couple of years to remember a story about a Secretary of State who was a birder. On my first visit to your blog, I find it right away. You probably already know the stories about Leopold and Loeb and about Alger Hiss, but just in case you don't, I'll send them to you.


May 09, 2006 8:54 AM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

Thanks for the comment, Ellen, especially the references to Leopold and Loeb. Way back in May 2002, I wrote a piece about the Alger Hiss affair. It's available at

May 10, 2006 9:38 AM  

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