F.M. Bailey Lifetime Achievement Award – Barbara McKnight

Barbara C. McKnight came to New Mexico from the Chicago area in 1935 to enroll as a student at the University of New Mexico. She did not arrive with a developed interest in birds, choosing to major in anthropology. It was here that she met her husband-to-be, Daniel McKnight, also an anthropology student and an accomplished photographer. Soon after starting a family and establishing their home in Cedar Crest, NM, Barbara and Daniel began to develop a deep interest in birds.

In 1962 Boyd McLeod gathered a small group of bird enthusiasts for a meeting in Socorro, NM, when and where the New Mexico Ornithological Society (NMOS) was born. Barbara has always given credit to Boyd for getting the Society established on a solid footing. The McLeod Printing Company printed all bulletins and field notes for years at no charge to the Society. However Barbara deserves equal credit for the early development of the Society.

In 1963 Barbara was appointed Secretary of the NMOS, a position she held until her retirement in 1975. This involved the usual secretarial work — sending out announcements of coming meetings, requesting reports of bird sightings around the state, compiling and editing these reports, and delivering them to Boyd McLeod, who printed them. Barbara brought the printed reports home and laid the pages out around the table, where Barbara, Daniel and their three children turned it into a family project, walking round and round the table collating, so the materials could be stuffed in envelopes and mailed.

Also in l963, Barbara received a Federal Permit to band birds in New Mexico. She was mentored by Jim Travis, then president of the Society and a long-time bander. Barbara banded hundreds of birds at Cedar Crest, in Glenwood where she and Daniel retired in 1975, and elsewhere in the state until 1991 when she turned in her permit. The banding effort at Cedar Crest, in particular, was extremely productive; in addition to coming up with a number of ‘first state records’ (e.g., Winter Wren, Magnolia Warbler), a sampling of Barbara’s banding efforts at Cedar Crest that provided new ornithological information include the following. (1) She was first to document Flammulated Owls in the Sandia Mountains, banding 22 of these birds between 1967 and l975. (2) Barbara showed that the ‘black-eared’ Bushtit (at that time recognized as a separate species) was an age and color variant of the common bushtit. She had netted, banded, and photographed an immature male with black ‘ears’; this bird was recaptured a year later as a normal bushtit without black ear marking! (3) An Evening Grosbeak banded by Barbara at Cedar Crest in April 1969 was found dead at Lake Almanor, CA, in January 1970, demonstrating extensive east-west wandering or nomadism. (5) A gray-headed Dark-eyed Junco banded at Cedar Crest in January 1964 was recaptured annually until 1972. This stood for many years as the longevity record in all banding areas for this species.

In addition to the NMOS Florence Merriam Bailey Award presented in 1982, Barbara was the recipient of the Leopold Conservation Award from The Nature Conservancy in October, 1981. Finally, it is Barbara’s own view that her most important contribution to the field of ornithology was that she “… kept the NMOS together…” when it was young and fragile.

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