Guess Eleanor Birchett (1881-1979)

Inducted in 1989

Birchett 89

“I think I have kind of a happy disposition. Oh, you know, not vivacious or anything like that, but just naturally happy. So in these later years, I’ve given a good deal of my life trying to make other people happy, especially the children.”  — ‘The Birdlady of Tempe’, Undercover, February 1978

Born on March 28, 1881, the fourth of 10 children in the family of George and Elizabeth Anderson, Mrs. Birchett explained her name, ‘When I was born, my father wanted to know whether the new baby was a boy or a girl. He asked, “What’s the name? and was told,’Guess’! It’s stuck with me all my life.”

Like so many others who came to Arizona to visit relatives, Guess Anderson had no idea that when she left her native San Antonio, Texas in 1903, she would stay. Arriving in Tempe to visit her sister, Mrs. Honor Anderson Moeur, wife of future Governor B.B. Moeur, young Guess had only settled in when she met Joseph T. Birchett, son of a prominent Arizona pioneer family. They were married at the Moeur home in 1904. They purchased a home at 208 East Seventh Street, Tempe and lived there for the rest of their lives.

Known as the “Birdlady” because of her love and care of birds, Guess was also very active in civic organizations. She was a charter member of the Tempe Women’s Club and served as vice president in 1915.  She was also a charter member of the Desert Botanical Garden, The Tempe Garden Club, William Bloys Post #2 American Legion Auxiliary, Tempe Historical Society, and the Tempe Art League.  In addition, Guess Birchett served as chairman of a subcommittee for the beautification of Tempe Butte on the Tempe Beautiful Board.  Guess was not just a “joiner”; she firmly believed in every organization to which she belonged. The City of Tempe benefited by her commitment in such projects as the development of Moeur Park north of the Tempe bridge (named in honor of her sister), one of the first roadside parks in the country. She served the city and the people of Tempe in many ways for a great many years.

Mrs. Birchett began studying ornithology in 1940 when she met a college student who was trapping birds in the back yard for the purpose of banding birds. Interested, she began studying birds on her own. Soon she applied to federal and state agencies for a special license for banding and caring for birds. During the 30 years that Guess was actively involved in banding, she banded an estimated 5,000 birds for researchers. Over the years Mrs. Birchett became an authority on the migratory patterns of’ birds, shared her findings with government agencies and private researchers and wrote copiously for Western Bird Banding Magazine and other local and regional publications.

Her home was designated a federally recognized bird sanctuary by the Fish and Wildlife Bureau in 1940 and carried that recognition until her retirement in 1970. Over the years, the Birchett Bird Hospital and Sanctuary was a popular practical classroom for thousands of children. Guess was also in great demand as a public speaker for the classroom and civic luncheons. The diminutive ornithologist told Dan Durrenberger of Undercover in an interview in 1974:

“The one thing I tried to teach them [children] was to use their eyes and ears and listen. And they’d be surprised that this great book of nature was right there with all the beauty everywhere, if they’d just take the time to investigate it.”

In her later years, Guess Birchett turned her considerable energies to painting, exhibiting a flair for delicate desert landscapes. It is evident in her paintings that she used her “eyes and ears” to capture the love and respect she felt for nature. Today, most of her paintings grace the homes of her friends.

The affection she felt for the desert, the wildlife and the City of Tempe were returned with warm regards. Throughout her long life, the people of Tempe honored the “Birdlady” again and again. In 1962, she was selected as the outstanding member of the Tempe Garden Club; in 1969 she was honored by the second grade of Broadmoor School on Mother’s Day for “mothering” injured birds; she was named Tempe’s Honorary Centennial Queen in 1971; and in 1975 she received the William Bloys Post #2, American Legion Annual Americanism Award in recognition of her significant service to boys and girls.

The Tempe Daily News wrote about Mrs. Birchett on her death:

“She had, like the birds and blossoms she loved and cared for, beauty and gentleness that enriched our desert Oasis. We’ll miss her.”