About Jessie Maye Smith

Jessie Maye Smith was known as "The Bird Lady of Tarrant County." Born in Wilbarger County on April 8, 1907, Jessie Maye was the daughter of Robert Fair and Alta Jean Lay Cooke. She grew up in Chillicothe, Hardeman County, and studied English at West Texas State in Canyon circa 1923. In the 1920s, her family moved to Fort Worth where she met Wade Austin Smith. The couple married on May 19, 1928.

While accompanying her husband on a fly-fishing trip, Jessie Maye saw a red bird that was not a cardinal. Her efforts to identify the bird spawned a life-long passion for birding and conservation. Jessie Maye learned to recognize over 1000 different birds.

Jessie Maye was a charter member of the Fort Worth Audubon Society (1941) and the Texas Ornithological Society (1953). In the 1960s, she was instrumental in creating the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge.

In 1947, author/naturalist Roy Bedichek suggested that Smith offer a weekly feature to one of the Fort Worth newspapers. In March 1949, her article entitled "Number of Feathered Visitors Enjoy Texas," was published in the Fort Worth Press. Two birding stories soon followed, appearing in 1951 issues of Texas Game & Fish. In 1953 she approached James R. Record at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram with a sample column. Her weekly "Birds and Watchers" column was a regular feature in the Sunday edition of the Star-Telegram for more than 21 years, running from October 4, 1953, through October 13, 1974. One last column ran on March 9, 1975.

Although Texas birding was usually the topic of her columns, Jessie Maye discussed birds from all over the United States, Central America and the Caribbean.

Jessie Maye Smith passed away in Fort Worth on April 5, 2005.

Read more: The Bird Lady of Tarrant County...

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Photo Courtesy Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, The University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections, Arlington, Texas

Jessie Maye Smith: In Her Own Words - Click to listen to audio excerpts from a 2004 interview with Mrs. Smith.

How interest in birding developed (4:28 - 3.1 MB)

A typical day of birding (1:25 - 1 MB)

Working with Girl Scouts (13:15 - 2.3 MB)

Creation of the birding column (9:47 - 6.9 MB)

Creation of the Fort Worth Nature Center (5:12 - 3.7 MB)

Protecting parklands and the golden cheek warbler (4:22 - 3 MB)

John Graves (2:56 - 2 MB)

Full interview (01:10:28 -- 48.3 MB) Right-click here to save file